Grammar Quiz #5: Prepositions

By Mark Nichol

All but one of the following sentences demonstrate incorrect use of a preposition; revise as necessary.

1. She is about to dive in to the pool.

2. I fell onto the platform.

3. When we disagreed, they turned in to our enemies.

4. John handed the paper into his teacher.

5. Do you have to hang up on every word he says?

Answers and Explanations

Generally, use “(verb) in to (noun)” to indicate location and “(verb) into (noun)” to indicate movement; the same rule applies to “on to” and “onto.”

1.
Original: She is about to dive in to the pool.
Correct : She is about to dive into the pool.

One can dive in a pool (this wording refers to one’s location) or dive into a pool (this wording refers to one’s movement), but “dive in to a pool” has redundant prepositions.

2.
Original: I fell onto the platform.
Correct : I fell onto the platform.

This sentence was originally correct.

3.
Original: When we disagreed, they turned in to our enemies.
Correct : When we disagreed, they turned into our enemies.

The phrase “turn in” refers to an action involving a turn, but to turn into is to change or transform. (“Turned in” remains open in the sentence “They turned us in to our enemies,” in the sense of a betrayal.)

4.
Original: John handed the paper into his teacher.
Correct : John handed the paper in to his teacher.

This sentence describes the action of delivering or submitting something, for which the idiom is “hand in,” so to should be separate from in.

5.
Original: Do you have to hang up on every word he says?
Correct : Do you have to hang on every word he says?

Upon is technically correct but unnecessary in this idiomatic reference to someone giving undue attention to another’s comments — on is sufficient — but upon should be treated as two words only if the context alludes to someone ending a phone call abruptly: “Don’t hang up on me!”

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5 Responses to “Grammar Quiz #5: Prepositions”

  • venqax

    I can’t help but raise the specter of the worst prepositional crime afflicting the Anglosphere today: onaccident. This is a far, far greater threat to civilization and the well-being of man than global warming, supervolcanoes, or nuclear war.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Oh, venqax, you are so right!
    “On accident” is bad, and so are “in hospital” instead of “in the hospital” or “in a hospital”. There are also slightly different shades of meaning in the latter two, and omitting the article discards that information.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Mr. Nichol, this article was one that was really needed, and perhaps it is long overdue. However, it is here now. The common lack of correct and precise use of prepositions is a severe one. This is a threat to the well-being of mankind greater than global warming, vampires, and invasion by aliens from outer space.

    Many people have a very limited vocabulary in prepositions, too.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Many people have a very limited vocabulary in prepositions, too, and they don’t know any of them that are more than three letters long.
    What we need next are articles about the less-common prepositions – but still essential ones:
    about, across, around, before, beside, between, by way of, concerning, during, next to, over, per, through, towards (some people object to the “s”, oddly enough) , under, underneath, via…

  • Dale A. Wood

    I have also seen some statements that indicate that there are people who do not know that “up” and “down” are prepositions. Years ago, I learned a lot about prepositions from a cartoon about fish in an aquarium.
    In this cartoon were drawing of fish swimming:
    up to the surface, down to the bottom, around a rock, beside one another, between two plants, into a corner, next to the glass, over a rock, underneath a toy table, and through a seashell with a hole in it.
    There are some other prepositions with more abstract meanings, but nailing a lot of the spatial ones in one swoop was a good thing.
    Also, many people have trouble with the temporal prepositions like {after, before, during, at the same time as, simultaneously with}. Of course, these same people have trouble with the adjectives “spatial” and “temporal”.
    D.A.W.

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