Consider the following excerpt from an imaginary letter:

Dear Margaret,

I apologize for not having replied to your letter sooner. I have been traveling for the past month and circumstances precluded me from corresponding with you. This time I did spend thinking about our last conversation...

The context is: The author had a weighty conversation with Margaret, after which Margaret sent him a letter. By circumstance, he could only reply a month after reading her letter, but he spent the month thinking about the conversation and composing a reply.

I became confused while trying to construct the bolded part of this. My intended meaning is: "in the month that I was traveling, I didn't just forget about you, instead I spent this time thinking constantly about what to say to you". However, the example I provide seems confusing to read: It sounds like the meaning is "in this instance". Ie. it's a bit of a garden path phrase.

My intention is not to confuse the reader, so I don't want a garden path sentence. I though I could un-garden path it by writing:

This time, I did spend thinking...

But the comma strikes me as an irregular usage, and I'm not sure if it even helps.

There are certain solutions I see, but they strike me as deficient:

  • "this month I did spend" - I do not want to specify the timespan.
  • "this time I spent" - I would like to emphasize by using did.

Is it possible to do better than this?

  • "I did spend this time..."?
    – intcreator
    Feb 17, 2016 at 4:44
  • 4
    If you don't want to emphasize the timespan, why is it mentioned first in the sentence? The more usual word order would be "I spent the time". To include the "did", use "I did spend the time". Rather than "did", however, choose a word that emphasizes what you did: "I devoted the time to thinking".
    – JEL
    Feb 17, 2016 at 4:47
  • 'I have been thinking over (thinking on, thinking through) our last conversation....' These are modifications of thought that exceed the more common usage of 'to think about'. You could also choose a more complex verb than think, such as 'This has, however, given me time to fully consider (to mull over, to ponder, etc.) our last conversation....'
    – Egox
    Mar 18, 2016 at 15:07
  • The construct "This time I did spend" has sort of a poetic cadence to it, seeing as the object is before the verb. I don't think it's technically wrong, but it definitely sounds like you're going to write a poem. Generally you don't use the object before the verb unless you need to in order to make a rhyme work. Ex: "This last year I did spend, having no money with which to lend."
    – Jason Bray
    May 17, 2016 at 20:52

1 Answer 1


I took it to mean precisely what you actually meant: that you were reassuring her you weren't just wasting the time preceding your reply.

But if you permit, I'd like to humbly make two observations and a suggestion:

1) the sentence is deadly dull; 2) it's obvious the girl means something to you, if you've been thinking so much about what to say.

So I'd back out of the--as you call it--garden-path construction and come up with something more heartfelt and vulnerable. You're a guy, and Margaret's a girl, and girls like guys who are willing to let their guards down.

So how about: "I'm worried that you might be thinking I just forgot about you. I didn't, believe me. Nothing could be further from the truth. I can't tell you how many times I've gone over and over in my head exactly what I want to say to you." Etc. You and your heart can take it from there.

Now take one guess at which a girl would like more: a letter that contains the phrase "circumstances precluded me," or a letter about a guy who has been agonizing over the words he wants to say to her?


Good luck--and update us on how it goes!


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