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Problems with Prepositions

Prepositions are certain words that go directly before nouns. They often show direction; for example, below, above, over, under, around, through, in, out, between, among, to, toward(s), etc. Other common prepositions include of, for, from, with, like.

Rule: You shouldn’t use or end a sentence with an unnecessary preposition, i.e., when the meaning is clear without the preposition. Sentences may end with necessary prepositions.

Correct: That is something I cannot agree with.
With is a necessary preposition.

Incorrect: Where did he go to?
Correct: Where did he go?
To is unnecessary because the meaning is clear without it.

Rule: Don’t follow like with a subject and verb because prepositions are followed only by nouns that act as the object of the preposition. Use as, as if, as though, or the way instead of like when a subject and verb follow.

Correct: I wish I could be more like her.

Incorrect: It doesn’t look like she will show up for dinner.
Correct: It doesn’t look as if (or as though) she will show up for dinner.

Incorrect: Do it like I taught you.
Correct: Do it the way I taught you.

 

Pop Quiz
Which sentence is correct?

1A. Where did you get this at?
1B. Where did you get this?

2A. I will go later on.
2B. I will go later.

3A. Take your shoes off the bed.
3B. Take your shoes off of the bed.

4A. Cut it up into small pieces.
4B. Cut it into small pieces.

5A. I look like my sister.
5B. I look as my sister.

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1. B
2. B
3. A
4. B
5. A

Posted on Saturday, July 19, 2008, at 12:31 am


53 Comments

53 Responses to “Problems with Prepositions”

  1. Joel says:

    Hmmm. I was always taught that one should never end a sentence with a preposition. For instance, the sentence, “That is something I cannot agree with” should be changed to read, “That is something with which I cannot agree.” Are both correct? Is the latter correct in more formal documents, while the former in more informal situations?

    Thanks.

  2. Jane says:

    Hi, Joel.
    It’s really just a myth that we can’t end sentences with prepositions, even in formal writing.

  3. Maureen says:

    Can you please clarify the following: Should it be “The details follow or follows”?

  4. Jane says:

    “The details follow” because it is like saying “They follow.” See the Subject and Verb Agreement page of Grammarbook.com.

  5. Krista says:

    Which is correct?

    Is my child the right age for school, or is my child at the right age for school?

    Is the word “at” an unnecessary preposition?

  6. Jane says:

    The word “at” is an unnecessary preposition here.

  7. Krista says:

    Why is “at” considered unnecessary?

    Thanks!

  8. Jane says:

    I can’t answer that as I’m not a linguist. It’s not wrong, just unnecessary.

  9. Tom says:

    Which is the correct usage of a preposition? We will meet on tomorrow. we will meet tomorrow.
    Another example would be: The testing will begin on tomorrow. The testing will begin tomorrow.

    • Jane says:

      Do not use “on” with either sentence.
      We will meet tomorrow. The testing will begin tomorrow.

      • Jacalyn says:

        Here is a sentence that I don’t quit understand completely.

        My work experience and education combined with your need for an experience landscape supervisor has resulted in a relationship that would profit both parties.

        It told me to change has resulted to would result, but why?

        • Jane says:

          “Has resulted” indicates something that has happened in the past. “Would result” is needed in a conditional sentence to express a contingency or possibility that something might happen in the future. Also, use the word experienced as the adjective to describe landscape supervisor. You might also consider changing the word profit to benefit.

          My work experience and education combined with your need for an experienced landscape supervisor would result in a relationship that would benefit both parties.

  10. Surfia says:

    Hi!

    I’m confused.

    Is it “tackle on a step-by-step manner” or “tackle in a step-by-step manner.”

  11. Tish says:

    Hi!
    When is it appropriate to use toward vs. towards? My sentence is…

    He behaved in an inappropriate manner toward his supervisors.

    Should it be toward or towards?

    Thanks,
    Tish

  12. Jane says:

    Either “toward” or “towards” is correct.

  13. Don Gryte says:

    The story has it that Winston Churchill, when accused of ending a sentence with a preposition, replied, “That is something, up with which I will not put!” What a great sense of humor…

    Thanks, Jane, for your efforts to preserve correct grammar. I’m 55, and I still think of my 7th grade English teacher, Mrs Grenberg, at least once every week as I encounter others making common grammatical errors, both in speech and in writing.

    Keep up the good work!

  14. Natalie says:

    When is it appropriate to use a comma before the word “because”? For example, could you use a comma before “because” in the following sentence?

    She ran the race as fast as she could because she wanted to show everyone how thoroughly she had trained.

    Thanks.

    • Jane says:

      The word “because” follows an independent clause and begins a dependent clause. Do not use a comma when the independent clause comes before the dependent clause. See Rule 9 under Commas.

  15. irene weiner says:

    Which is correct: It is between he and I, or It is between him or her. Why?

  16. Tamara says:

    Is she irritated by, or irritated at, or can it be either way?

  17. Daffie says:

    Do we say the analysis was done ON a national level or AT a national level?

  18. Rowaida says:

    is it wrong to say healthy food is good to people?

  19. song wah says:

    hi
    Can I ask which sentence is correct :

    “It will be useful to the poor.” or
    “It will be useful for the poor.”

    Appreciate the comment and advice

    • Jane says:

      I would recommend the first sentence. Your second example sounds like an incomplete sentence unless you add more words.

      A new irrigation system was installed. It will be useful to the poor.

      It will be useful for the poor to use the new irrigation system.

  20. G.Queen says:

    Lately, I’ve noticed a lot of writers using “arrive to” a place. Shouldn’t it be “arrive AT” a place, or are we changing “modern” grammar to appease the masses who don’t know or care to learn any better?

    • Jane says:

      I agree that arriving “at” a place is correct. In the case of a city, you could even use “He arrived in New York at 3:00.” The only time I would use “arrive to” would be arriving to do something, such as “He arrived to help fix George’s car.”

  21. bong leuterio says:

    what is correct? “resulting TO” or resulting “IN” can anyone give me a feedback?

  22. Jane says:

    The correct usage would be “resulting in.”

  23. Mary says:

    A colleague and I were debating this sentence this morning. Which is correct?

    The children must stay in the store or the children must stay at the store.

    Thanks.

    • Jane says:

      Either one is grammatically correct, but they convey slightly different meanings. “The children must stay in the store” indicates that the children must stay inside the building. “The children must stay at the store” conveys that the children must stay at the store as opposed to going elsewhere, but that they do not necessarily have to stay inside.

  24. Phani says:

    which one of the following is correct?

    Are you in the bus stop? or
    Are you at the bus stop?

    I feel both at different instances are right. Please someone clarify.

    Thanks.

    • Jane says:

      The term bus stop is defined as “a point (as a street corner) on a bus route at which buses stop and which is often marked by an overhead sign.” Therefore, “Are you at the bus stop?” would be correct. Sometimes bus stops are located inside an enclosed shelter, but you would not say you were in the bus stop.

  25. Polly says:

    Which is correct…I wrote them both down OR I wrote down both of them. I know the rule of thumb that you should not end a sentence witha preposition, but isn’t there another rule being broken here? Something about splitting something? I can’t remeber. Can you help?

    • Jane says:

      Regarding ending a sentence with a preposition, the rule in our blog on Problems with Prepositions says, “You shouldn’t use or end a sentence with an unnecessary preposition, i.e., when the meaning is clear without the preposition. Sentences may end with necessary prepositions.” The only example of a preposition in your sentences is of. Neither of your sentences ends with a preposition, but one ends with a prepositional phrase (of them). Chicago Manual of Style recommends limiting the use of prepositional phrases by stating, “Prepositions can easily be overused. Stylistically, a good ratio to strive for is one preposition for every ten to fifteen words.” Therefore, I would recommend “I wrote them both down.”

  26. Bin says:

    Your web site is great.

    I’m confused, should we say “I am going to meet him in the market.” or “I am going to meet him at the market” ?

    Thanks

    • Jane says:

      In most cases, you would say “at the market.” If you were specifically meeting somebody inside an actual market building, you could use the phrase “in the market.”

  27. Andre says:

    I would like to know why in the sentence bellow the “FOR” comes at end of sentence?

    Who is this book for?

    • Jane says:

      The word for is a preposition. It’s ok to end a sentence with a preposition. As The Chicago Manual of Style says, “The traditional caveat of yesteryear against ending sentences with prepositions is, for most writers, an unnecessary and pedantic restriction.”

      That said, I need to tell you that your sentence is grammatically incorrect. Our rule for Who vs. Whom states, “Use who when you could replace it with he. Use whom when you could replace it with him.” Your sentence is just another way of writing This book is for whom? Since you would write This book is for him, whom is the correct word to use rather than who.

  28. Bryon says:

    I have noticed my British mother-in-law omitting prepositions and chalked it up to her Lancashire upbringing, or the differences in a common language. It always felt wrong and rankled my sense of propriety. Now I notice the same omissions commonly in American speech.

    She says, “I graduated college,” and “I graduated high school.” I hear these frequently from people in this country. The worst of my mother-in-law’s omitting is, “Give it me.”

    • Jane says:

      You are probably right that dropping the prepositions by your mother-in-law is due to what she heard growing up in her part of England. As for American speech, I agree with The Associated Press Stylebook which says, “Graduate is correctly used in the active voice: She graduated from the university. It is correct, but unnecessary, to use the passive voice: He was graduated from the university. Do not, however, drop from: John Adams graduated from Harvard. Not: John Adams graduated Harvard.

  29. Bryon says:

    I have noticed my British mother-in-law omitting prepositions and chalked it up to her Lancashire upbringing, or the differences in a common language. It always felt wrong and rankled my sense of propriety. Now I notice the same omissions commonly in American speech.

    She says, “I graduated college,” and “I graduated high school.” I hear these frequently from people in this country. The worst of my mother-in-law’s omitting is, “Give it me.”

    • Jane says:

      You are probably right that dropping the prepositions by your mother-in-law is due to what she heard growing up in her part of England. As for American speech, I agree with The Associated Press Stylebook which says, “Graduate is correctly used in the active voice: She graduated from the university. It is correct, but unnecessary, to use the passive voice: He was graduated from the university. Do not, however, drop from: John Adams graduated from Harvard. Not: John Adams graduated Harvard.

  30. Mick F. says:

    Thanks for the newsletter, it is great. I have a question someone asked me and I couldn’t answer it.

    “It’s a good place to be” or “it’s a good place to be at”. Which one is correct, or are they both correct but used for different reasons?

    • Jane says:

      “It’s a good place to be” is correct. The reason is explained in the first rule of “Problems with Prepositions”: You shouldn’t use or end a sentence with an unnecessary preposition, i.e., when the meaning is clear without the preposition. Sentences may end with necessary prepositions.

      The word “at” is an unnecessary preposition that adds nothing to the meaning of the sentence.

  31. carlos says:

    hi, its a nice website. do you have a list of obligatories prepositions for the adjetives?
    at least the most uses
    regard

  32. Kathy says:

    How come agree has lost its preposition (with, to, on) everywhere recently? For example, ‘we must agree the details before we can move on’ or ‘the two nations are agreeing arrangements for cooperation.’ I see this even in the NYT and on the BBC news site.

    • The word agree without a preposition is used chiefly in British English. The definition is “to settle on by common consent: arrange.” Example: I agreed rental terms with him. We agree that your examples sound grammatically incorrect in American English.

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