Consider the phrase "Don't waste time with American literature." Is it legitimate to interpret it as meaning, spend your time cautiously while reading American literature, and don't spend too much time read it?

A definition of the word waste is "use or expend carelessly, extravagantly or to no purpose," which lends some credence to the second interpretation. But, idiomatically, "don't waste your time" in my experience always means "don't spend any time on."

Am I properly understanding the idiom? Or can one simply use the words "waste time" outside of an idiomatic context, valuing their denotations separately?--thereby making the above phrase a caution against spending time poorly, rather than not spending any. What would most listeners or readers understand the phrase to mean?

  • The usual idiom is Don't waste time on; are you specifically asking about waste time with? Jun 23 '14 at 13:50

Don't waste time on suggests a strong idea of avoiding doing something because it is just not worth doing it.
To convey the idea of don't spend to much time on something I suggest you use other expressions like:

  • don't focus too much on
  • don't concentrate all you time on

I take it as "don't read American literature, as it is not worth your time".

If something is not worth your time, if you do it, it is time spent poorly.

Therefore, you do not spend time doing it.

I think you can safely assume then it means you should not read American literature at all.

  • 1
    Yes; "Don't waste time Ving" is taken to mean "Don't waste time doing Ving": "Don't waste [your] time talking to him" = "It's a waste of time talking to him: don't bother". "Don't waste time when Ving" on the other hand means "V wisely". Jun 10 '14 at 6:55
  • In this context it's definitely "don't do it" but I don't think the phrase "don't waste time" has to mean that. In "we're in a hurry, don't waste time in the shower", for example, it could well mean "be quick in the shower"
    – Rupe
    Jun 10 '14 at 9:22

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