Prepositions: Use and Misuse

In this excerpt from David Thatcher's book Saving Our Prepositions, we learn the real reasons people have trouble with prepositions.

Mignon Fogarty
6-minute read
Episode #452

One of the most common misuses these days is to say “bored of” rather than “bored with.” Could it be that “bored of” is subconsciously modelled on a phrase (similar in sound and meaning) like “tired of”? Or that the strange-sounding “in jeopardy of” (not found in the OED) is based on the more familiar “in danger of”? Or that “comment about” (instead of comment on) is patterned on “talk about”? Or “centre around” (instead of center on) stems from “revolve around”? As W.T. Webb wrote as far back as 1925: “A not infrequent source of error is the fact that sometimes words related to each other in form and meaning are followed by different prepositions.” The examples he gives are “consequent upon, but subsequent to,” “equal to, but equally with,” “contrast (noun) to, but contrast (verb) with,’ and “full of, but filled with.”

The temptation to add a redundant on to the verb “infringe” can possibly be attributed to the crossover from “impinge on” and/or “encroach on.” In a sign which reads “you are prohibited to smoke in the playground” the preposition to (it should, of course, be “from smoking”) has been lifted from the expression “it is forbidden to do” something (as, conversely, the incorrect “forbidden from” has been lifted from the correct “prohibited from”). Crossover is also at work in the phrase “innate to” as in “conscience is said to be innate to human beings.” Here, “innate to” should be “innate in,” the to possibly borrowed from the cognate “intrinsic to.”

Noting that the preposition for is “the common preposition most rarely misused,” in the Penguin Guide to Plain English, Harry Blamers offers an instance of crossover or what he terms “constructional transfer”: “Local Tory and Labour leaders share a fierce pride for their city.” He comments: “Because we speak of affection, fondness or love for a city, the writer wrongly transfers this usage to the word “pride.” It should be “pride in not “pride for.” He gives further example, citing “a father who has an obsession for sport.” You can say a person has a love for sport, but the preposition which governs “obsession” is not for but with. Again, in “we were proud and thrilled for Canada’s gold medal” by should replace for (and, incidentally, of should follow “proud”).

“My parents never paid any interest to me.” There appears to be a double mix-up here, the expressed grievance blending “pay attention to” and “show interest in.” You don’t “take umbrage with” someone’s racist remarks, you “take umbrage at” them (here the crossover appears to be with “take issue with” an alien viewpoint).


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show.

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