A sentence taken from a student's piece of homework.

I often happen to watch youngsters leaning simultaneously on their smartphones while they are in groups.

People on their phones

You can understand what he's saying can't you? It's also grammatical. But you don't ‘physically’ lean on a smartphone, do you?

It's a common enough phenomenon in today's society; we have all seen groups of teenagers huddled over their smartphones. But what about leaning? What preposition do I use with lean that fits with the meaning my student wanted to convey?

Do you lean over a smartphone?
Do you lean above it?
Do you lean forward?
That last one sounds OK, but where would you place the noun, smartphone, in the phrase?

I suggested huddled over but is there a better or a more appropriate verb I could have suggested?

  • 3
    I can see it being used in the figurative sense where they're leaning on their smartphones as in being dependent on them for what...entertainment? fitting in with the other students? Oct 20, 2015 at 20:41
  • 4
    "hunched over"?
    – deadrat
    Oct 20, 2015 at 20:43
  • @Josh61 more or less, I think my student wanted to convey the lack of eye contact between these young people, everyone is focussed on their display screens.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 20, 2015 at 20:44
  • 1
    It's perfectly fine for a writer to use a "new" metaphor to describe some phenomenon if the meaning is clear to the reader and the analogy is appropriate. While there may be better descriptive phrases to use, I seen nothing wrong with that one.
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 20, 2015 at 21:23
  • 2
    I leaned on my iPhone 6 ... And it bent. (True story)
    – Stan
    Oct 25, 2015 at 9:36

7 Answers 7


The actual physical posture, without imputing any behavior or moral characteristic to it, is "hunched". It often takes the preposition "over".

There are a bunch of kids hunched over their smartphones; I don't know if they're texting or playing a game.

While we're visiting your grandparents, I don't want to see you hunch over your phone.

Why is Jim all hunched over? I don't know - did he hurt his back?

Hunch (MW intransitive verb, definition 2a)

to assume a bent or crooked posture


Maybe it should be "slouched over their smartphones", because "leaning on their smartphones" doesn't make sense, you can't lean over your smartphone. When you are leaning on something, you are leaning on a wall or something, therefore, leaning over is more like bending over/tilting over. Slouched is more like bending, but not a lot.


  • ^ because when you are leaning on something, you are leaning on a wall or something, leaning over is more like bending over/tilting over. slouched is more like bending, but not a lot.
    – Damien F.
    Oct 21, 2015 at 9:16
  • 2
    "Lean on" makes perfect sense in its figurative sense of "Rely on".
    – Chenmunka
    Oct 21, 2015 at 12:52

bent over

If you bend your head or if it bends, you move it forward and downward without moving your body downward: The three of them sat there with their heads bent over their books.

(Macmillan Dictionary)

Your sentence:

I often happen to watch youngsters bent simultaneously over their smartphones while they are in groups.

  • "bowed over" is a close alternative to this that might be worth including -- indicating intense concentration, like pouring over a book. Dec 3, 2016 at 5:08
  • 1
    The advantage of "heads bent" is that it is accurate, versatile, and less judgmental. People reading their phones bow their heads out of necessity, but it is not true to say they are always "hunched" (about the shoulders") or invariably "slouched" (poor posture). Those negative descriptions allow us to implicitly critique behavior we disapprove of by implying it indicates bad habits and poor self-control. If four youths in identical poses to the OP photo were holding novels instead of phones, would we say slouched? "I can't stand those readers, always slouching over their books in the park!" Dec 3, 2016 at 5:18

Seinfeld called it "the blackberry head-down", which could be updated to "the smartphone head-down". Although he was referring specifically to the discourteous phenomenon of someone gravitating toward their phone mid-conversation, it could still apply to someone engaged in said posture. Here's a suggestion- just call it "the phone zone". i.e. "I just walked by a bunch of teens unnoticed because they were all in the phone zone." or "He didn't really pay attention to the lecture. He was in the phone zone." "A great example of the increased isolationism in modern society is when you see a group of teens hanging out together, but they are all in the phone zone."


I would suggest the word "cradle" as in, "I often happen to watch youngsters cradling their smartphones while they are in groups."

The literal definition of "to hold or support protectively" works plus it implies the importance of the phone to the typical teen.


Why can't we simply use 'buried themselves in their smartphones' if you wan't to convey the lack of eye contact between the young people, as you've mentioned.

  • I like the suggestion, but it doesn't really convey their physical posture, although having one's head buried deep in books is very evocative. And to be buried in something almost implies an imposition.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 8, 2016 at 3:55

Cringe upon? "The teens cringed upon their smartphones." I guess hunch upon would work as well: "The teens hunched upon their smartphones."

Sometimes people stand up straight and look at their phones, so stalking would work as well.

  • What dialect of English does this represent? Dec 2, 2016 at 17:24
  • None of these examples make sense to me in the American English I'm familiar with -- I didn't think you could cringe upon or hunch upon anything, although I suppose you can huddle over something like a fire. If someone said "The people were stalking their phones" I would have no idea what they were talking about. Dec 3, 2016 at 5:26

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