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This is an sentence in my english essay. What I want to say here is that I spent some time on math exam. And the time I spent on it is not that much, however is not short either. But "not a short period" looks strange to me in the sentence since I never saw anyone using this before.

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    Do you mean you spent some time studying maths before the exam, or was this an exam with a maths paper and a literature paper, and you spend some time on maths during the exam?
    – James K
    Commented Dec 18, 2022 at 10:06
  • Please clarify what you mean by "on [the] math exam". Do you mean that the math exam itselt took a long time, or that you spent a long time preparing for the math exam? Note that exam is a countable noun, so it needs an article (a/the).
    – JavaLatte
    Commented Dec 18, 2022 at 10:06
  • @JamesK great minds think alike
    – JavaLatte
    Commented Dec 18, 2022 at 10:07
  • "I spent a while" sounds much more natural. It's not very precise, though. Commented Dec 18, 2022 at 22:56

3 Answers 3

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Your sentence is a example of litotes. It is rather subtle and depends a lot on context (and in speech on tone or body language). The sense is "ironic understatement" and the purpose is to emphasise the point.

The classic example of litotes is saying something is "not bad". The can mean anything from "satisfactory" to "excellent" depending on context and tone.

So if you say "I spend not a short time preparing for my maths exam." That might mean "longer than expected".

You can avoid the litotes and say "I spent quite a long time". That is not very long, but not short either. Or "I spent enough time" (different meaning but may be acceptable). Or "I spent some time" (rather vague).

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  • Thank you James for your detailed explanation. That's a great help:)
    – Dada
    Commented Dec 18, 2022 at 10:56
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    I would also say, it sounds (to my American ear) like a very archaic example of litotes. Perhaps it sounds more natural to a commonwealth English speaker. Commented Dec 18, 2022 at 20:32
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    I would normally order them as "a short time" < "not a short time" < "a long time" < "quite a long time." But I agree that in certain tones, "not a short time" could mean "quite a long time"! Commented Dec 19, 2022 at 2:34
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    If I were using litotes, which is very unusual, I’d probably say, “I spent no short period of time preparing ....”
    – Davislor
    Commented Dec 19, 2022 at 3:09
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"I spent not a short period" could never be correct in that context.

If you want go into tiny detail more relevant elsewhere, "no short period of time" might be acceptable…

Almost separately "I spent (any description of time) for the math exam" is not correct.

Your idea requires an auxiliary, as for instance "I spent hours preparing…" or "… days revising" or "… weeks studying for the exam"

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  • Thank you Robbie for bringing up the auxiliary problem. I appreciate your help!
    – Dada
    Commented Dec 19, 2022 at 2:55
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I spent quite some time during the Math exam.

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    "quite some time" means a large amount of time. The question asks about a not too much/not too little amount of time.
    – JavaLatte
    Commented Dec 18, 2022 at 10:07

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