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I just lighted upon this sentence in a book:

Academic attention has focused in two main directions.

This sentence reads slightly odd to me, because although "direction" needs the directional preposition "in", "focus" usually collocates with "on". The only context in which "focus" is followed by in, as far as I know, would be such sentences as:

You need to stay focused in the game.

Try to focus in the book on that particular chapter.

This, of course, is a different story.

The first sentence makes me wonder about the rules governing preposition choices in a situation like this. Are there any rules that say, for example, "prepositional verbs take precedence and cannot change their prepositions based on the object" (which means that sentence from a book is stilted and should've had better editing) or "prepositional phrases rule sometimes" (which means that sentence is okay)?

How does that sentence strike you?

  • You mean you lit upon that sentence? I've given up on the notion that there is one true set of prepositions since the British pick wacky ones which the commonwealth sometimes also uses and other times they strike out on their own path. – Eric Sep 4 '18 at 2:01
  • @Eric Been saying "lighted upon" for I don't know how long. I don't know why you consider the alternative past tense invalid. See here dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/… – user253154 Sep 4 '18 at 2:26
  • I don't think it is incorrect. I was just using a heavy handed way to illustrate that the English language has more than one set of conventions. – Eric Sep 4 '18 at 2:37
  • @Eric Gotcha. I agree. Maybe "rules" is not the right word to center my question on. – user253154 Sep 4 '18 at 2:38
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To me, to focus in a direction sounds normal. I think focus is a complex word and these idioms derive from focusing light. Light can be focused on something, in a direction, or at something.

The boy was uncomfortable being at the center of attention. Having so much attention focused at him made him nervous.

The sun rises in the east. In the early hours, the attention of sun worshippers is focused in the east.

The review of the movie did not do the movie justice. It focused purely on the bad parts.

  • We can use comments to post our opinions. – Kris Sep 4 '18 at 8:23
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It’s not possible to focus on two things simultaneously. Focus is derived from the Latin word for hearth, of which there is only one per dwelling.

However, there is more than one academic in the world, and academics have time to focus first on one thing and then on another. It’s not unreasonable for the “academic focus” to be centered on multiple points.

Figuratively, the academics are a group of people looking outwards at the things they are studying, so focusing in two main directions is appropriate.

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The sentence is correct.

It can still take the preposition on that the OP considers more natural.

It only depends on how the preposition connects.

Consider:

Academic attention has (been?) focused in two main directions, on scholarship and on character-building.

What is focused on is in a particular direction.

Hope it's clear that both prepositions have their uses and either or both can appear.

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