I’m not so familiar with the expression ‘he was (time) in doing’, but it seems to be used here and there and obviously mean ‘it took him (time) to do. When would you want to use the phrase? Are they exchangeable?

Here’re the examples.

(from Google search)

He threw a famous feast which he was a year in preparing for and invited all the warriors of Ulster to it but…

(Harry Potter 3 [US Version]: p.327)

They reached Hagrid’s cabin and knocked. He was a minute in answering, and…

3 Answers 3


I'd say it can be used when the time means how long something took to do but not how long something lasted - particularly when followed by a verb. Therefore to write "The film was 90 minutes in running" looks distinctly odd (although to write "the film was 90 minutes in duration" would be fine). I'd say it was a structure more used in a literary context than in business communication.

I love P G Woedhouse's: "I dressed, which was, for me, the work of a minute" - which is definitely a distinctive literary style.

  • Hi, thanks. Would you mind a quick question? What is the PGW’s book saying “I dressed ….” because I’d like to find its Japanese version if possible. I’m very interested in what words the Japanese translator chose to express the literary tone.
    – user7493
    Commented Sep 24, 2011 at 2:34
  • I'll try to dig out the old paperbacks when I'm home, although this turn of phrase can be found in many of his books and short stories.
    – Matt
    Commented Sep 26, 2011 at 11:36
  • Thanks. I’m looking forward to it. Sorry to take up your time.
    – user7493
    Commented Sep 27, 2011 at 6:04

I wouldn’t say they were interchangeable, because the choice depends on the effect the writer is striving for. ‘He was (time) in doing’ has a somewhat literary flavour, whereas ‘it took him (time) to do’ is rather more pedestrian. Both constructions are grammatical.


To my ears, it's a slightly more literary usage (though obviously not overly so - this is Harry Potter, after all). I hear people use that construction in speech rarely, if ever.

More commonly heard would be 'He took time in doing X', where the word time is used in place of a specific amount of time. Grammatically, they're identical; one is just used more in spoken speech, in my experience.

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