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

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71 Comments on Problems with Prepositions

71 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”?

    • Alice says:

      A sentence can only have one word that ends with “s”. The details follow is correct. The detail follows is correct.

      • Your first sentence is overly general and is probably not what you really meant to express. In fact, your third sentence contradicts your first one. Consider other examples:
        Billiards is my favorite game to play with my friends.
        Ten dollars is what you owe me.

  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.

  33. Barb T. says:

    I have a question regarding question 7 on Prepositions Quiz 3:

    7. Choose the correct sentence.

    Correct Answer: A Which hotel did Laurie stay at while she was in town?

    Explanation: “at” is a necessary preposition here.

    Shouldn’t this instead be:
    At which hotel did Laurie stay while she was in town?

    • Is your concern that the preposition at comes at the end of the first clause? If so, please see our Rule 1 of Prepositions. Also, here’s a quote from last year’s post “Rules and Preferences”:

      There is no living English scholar who will defend “Do not end a sentence with a preposition,” yet the superstition is still believed by an alarming number of intelligent people.

      Either your sentence or our sentence A is acceptable.

  34. Fern says:

    What is correct? Waiting for you or Waiting on you?

    • If you are talking about the service provided in a restaurant, you would use “waiting on you.” Some people might argue for “waiting for you” in reference to waiting for someone to arrive, waiting for someone to finish a task, or similar situations. However, to us, they’re more or less synonymous. Waiting on for waiting for is common in many American dialects.

  35. Peggy G. says:

    I have difficulty distinguishing “in” and “on” in a sentence. For instance, are you on a conference call or in a conference call? Do you have any suggestions?

  36. Hongjeerkang says:

    I am interested in the second room / I am interested on the second roomwhich one is correct and why ?
    Thank you very much

  37. Trudy Lund says:

    I have always thought that “between” was used when there are two variables, and “among” was used when there are three or more variables. My question pertains to the year end quiz. “James is trying to decide between three college majors; accounting, finance, or economics.” What is the correct use?

  38. Tony Monty says:

    I have a question about “notwithstanding,” and I cannot find any entry that comes close to addressing the subject, so I hope this is close enough.

    What is the proper use (or uses) of notwithstanding? I don’t question how to get a grammatically correct sentence, but how to get the right meaning. Without being a language historicist, I would naturally have assumed that “notwithstanding” means the same thing as “not withstanding” which is the contrary of “withstanding.” In concept, it requires two terminus points for the action, a subject and an object, something to do the not-withstanding, and something to stand after the other one doesn’t. Many times one or the other of the terms is implied rather than stated explicitly. The problem seems (to me, anyway) to be confusion about which terminus entity is doing the withstanding. If the verb were “withstand”, then A being the subject and B being the object would mean A withstands B, A prevails over B. If there were a corresponding verb “to not-withstand”, and A were to “not-withstand” B, then B would prevail over A.

    This does not seem to be consistent with actual usage in legal circles, at least the ones I have to work in. Often the construction is used in the context of multiple directives, which might sometimes compete or be inconsistent:
    Rule 1: If condition A holds, do step alpha.
    Rule 2: if condition B holds, do step beta.
    Doing alpha is incompatible with doing beta.
    If natural language rules applied, we could be completely at ease understanding the instruction: Rule 3: Rule 1 does not withstand Rule 2. (I.E. Rule 1 not-withstanding Rule 2.) This would mean that when both conditions A and B hold, Rule 2 prevails and you are instructed to do step beta.

    Now let’s look at the variety of constructions that could be used with various implicit terms instead of a completely explicit expression:
    Follow Rule 1. However, follow rule 2, Rule 1 notwithstanding. (The latter clause standing for “Rule 1 notwithstanding Rule 2,” insofar as Rule 2 was already introduced in the sentence and thus is present to the context. Since Rule 1 cannot be anything other than the subject of the action of not-withstanding, Rule 2 must be the object, and thus prevails in a conflict between them.)

    Follow Rule 1. Rule 1 notwithstanding, follow Rule 2. (Here, clearly Rule 1 is the subject of the action of not-withstanding, and Rule 2 must be the object. Rule 2 prevails. The comma is necessary because the action of not-withstanding is a different action than that of the main clause, “follow.”)

    Follow Rule 1. Notwithstanding, follow Rule 2. (In this construction, the comma following the “notwithstanding” makes the expression into a dependent clause, and forces us to shift back to the antecedent sentence to find the subject that is to carry out the not-withstanding. Thus Rule 1 is the subject, and that leaves Rule 2 as the object of the action. Rule 2 prevails. The construction is shorthand for “Follow Rule 1. The prior instruction notwithstanding what is about to be stated, follow Rule 2.”)

    Now let me give examples of what I constantly find in regulations I work with, where the meaning is nonsensical unless the intention is that Rule 2 prevails over Rule 1:

    Rule 1. Notwithstanding Rule 1, Rule 2. (Apparently a direct inversion of the natural sense by having Rule 1 be the subject of the action of not-withstanding, even though it follows the word.)
    Rule 1. Notwithstanding Rule 2. (No comma follows the “notwithstanding.”)
    Rule 1. Rule 2 Rule 1 notwithstanding. (No commas anywhere.)
    Rule 2. Rule 1, notwithstanding. (No explicit subject or object of the action of not-withstanding in the dependent clause, following a comma; both rules are antecedents, though Rule 1 is the closest.)
    And even: Rule 2, notwithstanding, Rule 1. (Another apparently direct inversion of the natural meaning: with the comma, Rule 2 should be the subject of the action of not-withstanding, but this is not intended in the actual regulation.)

    Is there a special “rule” that inverts the subject – object relationship of “notwithstanding” that makes it the reverse of the natural sense? Or one that carves out legal uses as different from ordinary uses? Or are the above examples from regulations just plain using the word incorrectly?

    • The word withstand is a verb and withstanding is the present participle basically meaning “resisting; standing firm against.” The word notwithstanding can serve as a preposition, adverb, or conjunction with meanings such as “in spite of, although, nevertheless.” While the term not withstanding would basically mean “not resisting; not standing firm against,” the direct opposite of withstanding, notwithstanding has come to have a softer sort of lack of resistance, more of a choice of a different path regardless of the situation presented. From the dictionaries we have on hand, we do not see that notwithstanding carries any different meaning in the legal realm. However, you may want to check references recommended by The Chicago Manual of Style: The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, published by the Harvard Law Review Association; or the ALWD Guide to Legal Citation, prepared and published by the Association of Legal Writing Directors and Coleen M. Barger.

      You present some interesting reasoning. We may look further into how the word notwithstanding developed and possibly altered meaning over time, and include it in a future newsletter.

  39. Raj says:

    “Best before 3 months from the manufacturing date. ” Is this right?
    How can we use a product before it is manufactured? I think it should be
    ”Best within 3 months from the manufacturing date.“

    Am I right?

    • You are correct. The preposition within is a better choice here. It could be further clarified as: “Best (consumed or used) within three months after (or following) the date of manufacture.”

  40. Kath says:

    Is this sentence correct? It is this evolution that has made it possible for beings such as we to exist. Shouldn’t it be “beings such as us,” objects of preposition “for”?

    • We agree with you that us is a better choice because of the objective case (object of the preposition for). We would use the subjective case if the sentence were It is possible that beings such as we exist because of this evolution.

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