25 Words and Their Prepositional Pals

By Mark Nichol

You probably know a preposition — a word that shows a relationship between two words or phrases by demonstrating place, time, or another quality — when you see it, but that’s grammar. What about usage? Which prepositions go with a given verb or adjective, and when?

Some choices are no-brainers, but others can present a challenge. Here’s a guide to various words that require writers to choose from more than one preposition depending on meaning and sentence construction:

1. Abide “with us for a while,” “by the rules” (or “I can’t abide him”).

2. Answer “to him for what you’ve done,” “for what you’ve done.”

3. Caution “about unsafe conditions,” “against the rash proposal.”

4. Compare “with other products that make the same claims,” “apples to oranges.”

5. Confide “in her about my problems,” “to him what I really think.”

6. Conversant “about climate change,” “in several languages,” “with aspects of technology.”

7. Differ “from other species in their diet,” “with them about the cause of the company’s failure,” or “about public policy,” “on public policy,” or “over public policy.”

8. Different “from what he was used to,” “than he was used to.” From is the preferred usage, but than substitutes for “from what.” (“Different to” is a Britishism.)

9. Dissent “against the status quo,” “from the majority opinion.” (To or with are not considered standard usage.)

10. Dissimilar “to her previous sculpture.” (From is considered incorrect.)

11. Enamored “of every woman he meets.” (With is considered incorrect.)

12. Equivalent “in amounts,” “to the earlier result.” (With is not considered standard usage.)

13. Excerpt “from their book was reprinted without their permission.” (Of is considered incorrect.)

14. Forbid “him from attending,” “him to attend.” (To is considered the more correct of the two choices.)

15. Identical “to the one she saw yesterday,” “with the one she saw yesterday.” (Language purists consider with more correct, but use of to is significantly more common.)

16. Independent “of the group, he protested the plan.” (From, as in “Independent from her family,” is considered incorrect.)

17. Instilled “instilled a few drops of the solution into the wound,” “in him a drive to succeed.” (With, as in “Instilled with a drive to succeed,” is considered incorrect.)

18. Oblivious “of the warning signs,” “to the noise”; the choices are often interchangeable. (About is often used in association with oblivious, but it’s not considered standard usage.)

19. Vexed “about her behavior,” “at her behavior.”

The correct preposition to use with the following words depends on whether the object is a person or a thing:

20. Comment “about her” or “to you about what happened,” but “on the issue.”

21. Impatient “with him,” but “about the delay,” “at the delay,” or “with the delay.”

22. Inquired “of him where he was going” and “after her whereabouts,” but “into their progress” or “about the vacant apartment.”

23. Mastery “over all other competitors,” but “of the skill.”

24. Reconcile “with her boyfriend,” but “to the loss of her boyfriend.”

25. Succeed “as a businessperson,” but “to the position.”

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8 Responses to “25 Words and Their Prepositional Pals”

  • Ed Buckner

    This post helps greatly. I have struggled with how to use the word dispose. In my work, I use it on a constant basis because it has a specific, legal meaning regarding hazardous waste, but how to use it in a sentence has bothered me. Dispose takes the preposition of, but when do you use the word of. Very often I see people end sentences with the phrase dispose of. “That is the waste the company disposed of.” That seems very awkward. Is that correct? Certainly using an active voice would help that, and I was taught to never end a sentence with a preposition. Wouldn’t dispose of need an object to be correct?

  • Kathryn

    Mark–what’s the source for “conversant about”? “Webster’s New World College Dictionary” lists only “with” and “in”, as does The Third New International.

    Also–Neither of them lists “dissent against” and the Third accepts “enamored with,” while WNWCD does not comment on preposition usage for enamored. Is there another standard reference source on prepositional usage? It is certainly a vexing area–more and more frequently I read work written by folks who seem to believe that all prepositions of two or three letters are interchangeable.

  • Mark Nichol

    Ed:

    You have permission to end sentences with prepositions, though you may ask, “What has the word come to?”

  • Mark Nichol

    The only authority I could find for “conversant about” is a one-hundred-year old edition of Webster’s, so I should have listed that phrase not in alphabetical order, but at the end, as a fringe choice. But it, and “dissent against,” are common phrases that do not raise any hackles for me, though I have plenty of such pet peeves.

  • paula tavolaro

    Thanks for this post! I stumble over prepositions everyday. I am not and English native and work as an English to Portuguese / Portuguese to English translator. Sometimes the urge to use the wrong preposition – just because it is the right one in my native language – is almost unbearable!
    Thanks again.

  • Kathryn

    Mark:
    Ah! Interesting. It is becoming increasingly clear to me that prepositions serve, in addition to their actual grammatical function, as a form of shibboleth. One learns what prepositions to use (or not use) with any given word almost entirely by hearing and reading the speech and writing of others, and the preposition used is in its turn used by the audience as a measure of the extent to which the speaker or writer belongs to the club of educated native speakers of the language. And because there is no standard reference source, those judgments can be to a degree arbitrary (I know mine sometimes–perhaps frequently–are). Hm.

  • Gildawie

    In my mind, you would need to add:
    “Answer him! He’s talking to you.”
    “Vexed with a person” ” .. by an activity”
    “Succeed in life”

  • Sergio Ureña

    Even though I’m reading this 4 years later it still has helped me. I’m not a writer and not native either, but my work as designer/marketing person requires me to have good writing, so I essentially read as much as possible these tips and hope to remember them when doubtful. Thank you 🙂

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