I’m quite confused which preposition should come after the word spend.

Like for this exam question in my school, the answer is “on” (B). But I don’t know why not other prepositions for the answer(s) in the question below?

People spend a lot of time and money _______ physical activities.

A. for

B. on

C. in

D. at

  • 1
    It just a fact of English that we spend money for a reason, on a thing, in a place, at a time, Commented May 21 at 14:42
  • @MichaelHarvey You mean there are no rules in this? Commented May 21 at 14:43
  • 3
    No rules, just 'usage'. Commented May 21 at 14:47

2 Answers 2


To be clear, the differences are fine gradations of meaning, and your question is not easy to answer.

Many times in English, efforts and expenditures are "spent on" the object of the verb, when the object is concrete. "I wasted a day on those expense reports." "She put five dollars on red." (This last one is an allusion to playing roulette.)

Sometimes in English, if the object is a state or a condition, we might say "spent in", as follows. "I spent a week in contemplation." "I spent a day in trepidation that my expense reports might be rejected."

These are C1 and C2 type questions, and I am sure that many native English speakers would have trouble explaining these differences.

  • 1
    +1 for your opening sentence that this is not an easy question. I actually think some of the other answers/comments are perhaps simplistic. I also think the exam question is not fair. We spend money on something, but we can spend time in (doing) something. So when time and money are combined, which one is it? I'm a native English speaker, and my first instinct on reading the OP was that I could argue for each of the 4 choices if I put my mind to it. Commented May 22 at 6:24

There certainly are "rules" - or at least principles.

You spend money in a shop if you're buying a packet of sweets that the shop sells.

You spend money on a shop if you're buying the actual shop itself.

You spend money buying things for a shop if you already own the shop, and you're buying stock that you intend to sell in it. But that could be expressed as spend money on [buying] things for the shop, so you can see that for doesn't directly refer to the relationship between spending money and the thing bought - it refers to the relationship between the act of spending and the reason for it.

And you'd nearly always spend money on physical activities, which as @MichaelHarvey's comment implies, are "things" (albeit abstract things, not tangible things).

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