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Should "at" or "in" be used in the following sentence?

Attention is more like a gas tank that refills during short breaks from the task at hand, according to Lleras' study.

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    I was shocked to see that "task in hand" gets a reasonable number of hits on Google. I've only ever heard "task at hand".
    – cruthers
    Dec 7, 2021 at 6:27
  • Not only that, dictionaries also list "task in hand": ldoceonline.com/dictionary/in-hand
    – Apollyon
    Dec 7, 2021 at 6:30
  • And OALD's definition of "in hand": the job, question, etc. in hand is the one that you are dealing with oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/…
    – Apollyon
    Dec 7, 2021 at 6:31
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    "at hand" means "needing to be dealt with." So a task at hand is one that has not been dealt with.
    – Apollyon
    Dec 7, 2021 at 6:32

1 Answer 1

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The "task at hand" is an idiom that means "the work someone is doing" (according to Merriam Webster AmE). That definition fits for the example you provided. Searching "task in hand" on Merriam Webster (AmE) will not result in an answer.

According to Cambridge in regard to the "matter at hand", a similar idiom, "at hand" is AmE and "in hand" is BrE, which is why MW may not have a definition for the latter.

As you have additionally noted below, Longman has the definition of "at hand" as "needing to be dealt with now". "In hand," is defined as "being done or dealt with."

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  • Of course "task in hand" exists. "Our officers have to concentrate 100 per cent on the task in hand." ldoceonline.com/dictionary/in-hand
    – Apollyon
    Dec 7, 2021 at 6:34
  • I have literally never heard this; I do also think this example should be "task at hand".
    – myacorn
    Dec 7, 2021 at 6:35
  • Do you equally reject "job in hand"? oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/…
    – Apollyon
    Dec 7, 2021 at 6:36
  • Actually, yes... I may be incorrect, of course. To me, as a native speaker, both sound equally wrong.
    – myacorn
    Dec 7, 2021 at 6:44
  • In your example, task at hand is correct meaning something that is to be done. A search shows that task n hand can be used in the same sense. But I think there is another sense of task in hand: No worries. I have the task in hand. means that I'm managing it competently. Dec 7, 2021 at 7:53

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