Which is correct?

The average time spent on reading in my country is disappointing.


The average time spent reading in my country is disappointing

Generally for this sentence, do we need a preposition?
Is "on" correct here, or might it be "in"?

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    Both are correct, with perhaps a slight difference in meaning. In most contexts the slight difference of connotation would not be sufficient to make one choice incorrect or ther other. Using the preposition "in," however, is rather odd. If I saw it, I would assume that the text had been written by a non-native speaker.
    – phoog
    May 19, 2016 at 19:13
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    @phoog "time spent in contemplation", though? May 19, 2016 at 20:32
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    @ProfYaffle good point. "Contemplation" is generally thought of as a state, while "reading" is not. If the context, however, made it clear that "reading" was being used to denote a state, then "time spent in reading" would be more appropriate. That said, even though I don't think of "I am reading" as denoting a state of reading, at a certain logical level it nonetheless does. Someone may well have an explanation. Do you?
    – phoog
    May 19, 2016 at 21:18
  • @phoog All I can postulate would support your thoughts - that it's external vs internal, that you'd spend time on an activity but in a state of being. May 20, 2016 at 8:08
  • @ProfYaffle that makes a lot of sense. I was more wondering about the contest between the form with the proposition and the one without ("spend time reading," for example).
    – phoog
    May 20, 2016 at 16:40

1 Answer 1


If you don't use a preposition (e.g. 'on') - i.e. if you say 'I spend time [ing verb]' - what you are saying is that you are 'spending time by [ing verb]'. For example, if I 'spend time reading books', I 'spend time by reading books'. If, however, you do use a preposition and say, 'I spend time on [ing verb]', you are 'using time' to [bare infinitive of ing verb] - so if you 'spend time on reading books', you are 'using time to read books'. Practically, these are saying the same thing, but there are few subtle differences in their thorough meaning. These subtleties, for example, can be exploited in literature texts. For instance, saying, 'he spent months studying physics' (unless in explicit context) is emphasising that he was studying physics out of his own interest and curiosity; 'he spent months on studying physics', on the other hand, may be hinting that he is dedicating some of his free time to studying physics and improving in that area for educational purposes.

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