Prepositions That Follow the Verb Alert

By Maeve Maddox

I first noticed the nonstandard use of the preposition of following alerted in this item on a site about uncompassionate government policies:

After the city council was alerted of the free lunches, it ruled that she would have to acquire a variance to give away food next summer – or pay a fine of $600 a day.

When I did a web search of the phrase “alerted of,” I found hundreds, mostly in headlines:

Todd County Sheriff’s Officials Alerted Of Phone Scam
Oil Company Was Alerted of Michigan Spill
PAC was alerted of chit fund scam in August last year
Parents alerted of whooping cough in Elmbrook School Dist.

The verb alert and its past participle form alerted are usually followed by the preposition to:

Police alerted to shooter in car
Newfane Community Alerted to Home Invasion
Parents alerted to improper internet use

The adjective alert is also followed by to:

Parents must be alert to child predators.
Be alert to any change in behavior.

The idiom “on the alert” is followed by for:

The troops were on the alert for land mines.
The book collector was on the alert for the missing Dickens first edition.

Alert entered English in the 16th century from French alerte, “watchful, vigilant.” The word originated in Middle French as a phrase used by the military: à l’herte, “on the lookout, on the watch.”

Alert is used as a noun to mean “a call or military signal to prepare for an attack; a warning of potential danger; an announcement to look out for.” Some examples of this use are: tornado alert, red alert, Amber alert.

As a verb, alert is transitive: The shopkeeper alerted police to the presence of the wanted man.

The nonstandard use of “alerted of” instead of “alerted to” may be the result of confusing alert with warn. People are warned of danger, but alerted to danger.

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21 Responses to “Prepositions That Follow the Verb Alert”

  • Dale A. Wood

    Note: “Parents alerted to improper Internet use”
    Maeve, I agree with you about “to” and NOT “of”, but you have left out several valid prepositions to be used with “alert”:

    1) Parents and teachers have been alerted about the improper use of prepositions by their students!!
    2) Editors and publishers have been alerted concerning the incorrect use of prepositions and pronouns by their writers!!
    3) Campers, alerted by the loud footsteps and foul stench of Bigfoot, found that the intruder in their campsite was simply a grizzly bear.
    4) Investigators were alerted due to clicking of their geiger counters at the site of the crash. The bomber had been carrying nuclear weapons.
    5) The soldiers at the outpost were alerted through the use of their automatic radar equipment that an enemy intrusion was imminent.
    6) The airmen at the base were alerted against the presence of alien UFOs by their radar equipment. Later on, it was found that the UFOs were merely large flocks of Canada geese flying overhead.
    7) The Highway Patrol was alert for intoxicated drivers on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

    So, alerted about, alerted concerning, alerted by, alerted due to, alerted through, alerted against, alert for — but never “of”. I believe that the root of the problem is the lack of working vocabulary by writers, and especially by journalists. One crucial point is that they are unaware of all prepositions that are more than three letters long and prepositions that are more than one word long. Take a look again at items #1 and #2.
    I am not sanguine about the state of our education system in the U.S., and friends have told me that the condition is just as bad or worse in Canada and the U.K.
    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Speaking of not being sanguine about the educational system:
    I was teaching a mathematics course, freshman level, at a college, and in an example, I said “Let’s take a number that is close to zero and divide by that.” I was greeted with hoots of “You can’t divide by zero!” I had to reply, “Nobody said anything about dividing by zero. I said ‘close to zero’.” In division, there is a whale of a lot of difference between a number that is close to zero and zero itself.
    For example, if I chose 10 to the minus 10 power (10^-10), I can divide by that anytime I want to. In fact, doing so gives me a factor of 10^10 = 10 to the tenth power. I was dismayed at my students’ prepartion for college.

    I have found that somehow, most people are aware of the prepositions that are two or three letters long, but they are unaware of the longer ones such as {through, around, concerning, against, due to, in order to, by means of}.
    I did read one article on English prepositions in which the author claimed that it is uncertain whether “concerning” is a preposition or not. My mental replies were “by all means it is one” and “of course it is one”. I can give you plenty of examples in which “concerning” is a preposition. Just look at example #2: “concerning the incorrect use”.
    To use a trite expression, it surely does quack like a duck.
    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Taking one of Maeve’s examples of the foul use of “alert” or “alerted”:
    “Oil Company Was Alerted of Michigan Spill” Let’s correct this one now.”
    Oil Company Was Alerted about Michigan Spill
    Oil Company Was Alerted concerning Michigan Spill
    Oil Company Was Alerted against Michigan Spill
    Next, just choose the one that fit the actual situation.
    D.A.w.

  • Dale A. Wood

    I believe that “Parents must be alert against child predators,” is much better than “Parents must be alert to child predators.”

    We must also be alert against Nazi sympathizers, against terrorists, against dictatorships, against pickpockets, and against all sorts of evils. Some people feel that they need to be alert against vampires…
    D.A.W.

  • Nelida K.

    I second Dale’s suggestions of additional acceptable prepositions to follow the transitive verb “alert”. Dictionaries seem to have a predilection for “to”, though. Regarding “against”, though it is widely used, I much prefer to use “against” with “warn” rather than with “alert”, but this is just a matter of personal preference, maybe because to my mind, “warn”, although a synonym, is stronger than “alert” and would thus warrant the use of the confrontational “against”. But, I repeat, this is just a matter of entirely personal interpretation.

    @Dale: I enjoyed your math-teaching anecdote. I believe that your students committed a syntactical, rather than mathematical, error, in that they assumed that “that” referred to “zero”, while it clearly referred to “a number that is closed to zero”. 🙂

  • Nelida K.

    Ooops. Typo. “close” to zero, not “closed”. Sorry.

  • venqax

    What about *via*. You listed all those other prepositions and just rudely ignored via. Like in, “I was alerted via telegram”. Is because it starts with V? Do you have a prejudice of V words…or names? Hmmm?

  • Dena

    I have observed that difficulties with prepositions often come when people are not native language speakers or they are influenced by other languages in a very bilingual environment. I speak French as well as my native English, and in my region (Ottawa-Gatineau) you find native language speakers adopting the construct of the other language, often in the use of prepositions. In French there is a term for this – “calc”, I don’t know if there is an equivalent term in English. This many explain, in part, the source of the problem.

  • venqax

    @DAW: Can you think of anything else we should be alert against? Where do you stand on vampires– you didn’t really say.

    In 1) Parents and teachers have been alerted about the improper use of prepositions by their students!!

    The preposition for alerted is still by, yes? The sentence could read:

    Parents and teachers have been alerted by their students about the improper use of prepositions

    You just have an interjection before the preposition.

    But he real point is not what it could be instead of TO, but that it cannot be OF. That is just wrong. If you explore why you’ll find things like this (from TalkEnglish):

    ”The preposition TO is used to indicate relationship:

    This letter is very important to your admission.
    My answer to your question is in this envelop.
    Do not respond to every little thing in your life.

    The preposition OF is used for connection like possession or ownership:

    That is a place of ill repute.
    Mary is the mother of Jesus.

    Alert TO falls into the first category, not the second. You are not alerted “of” something, but “to” it. But some other words can substitute for to.

    To, Of, and From seem to get special treatment as prepositions, as if they are the “biggies” and all the others are merely variations on what they mean. Another post on here noted the darkly creeping OF with “embarrassed of” and of ON with “on accident”. We must find a poison for such vermin! I have lamented the lazy use of On when other words like About or Regardig are better.

  • Dane Zeller

    Dale and Nelida,
    You are right Nelida that the problem with Dale’s student response was syntactical. The unclear reference, however, was in the sentence, not in their minds. That is to say, he created the problem. His students were only following his instructions.

  • Warren

    A long time ago I learned that a preposition was “wherever a mouse can go”. You know, like over, under, through, to, by, etc. Hard to see “concerning” as an action a mouse would take. Happy trails!

  • venqax

    @Warren: I think we have a comprehension problem (again) in regard to the author who, “claimed that it is uncertain whether ‘concerning’ is a preposition or not,” and the response that,
    “I can give you plenty of examples in which ‘concerning’ is a preposition. Just look at example #2: ‘concerning the incorrect use’.” That’s like saying of course irregardless is a word and I’ll prove it by showing you a sentence where it’s used like, “I use a hammer, irregardess of the job.” Proven!

    No one said that *concerning* is not used as a preposition. Obviously it is. The question is whether it should be used as one. The argument, for better or worse, is that *concerning* is NOT a preposition and so should not be used as if it were. You should not say, “I’m writing concerning the incorrect use of ducks”. That is bad English. You should say. “I am writing about the incorrect use of ducks”, or something else that IS a preoposition. Similarly, cf. *impact* is not a verb so one should not say, “I think this will really impact the problem”. Although, again obviously, people DO use it that way all the time. People do wrong things all the time.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Venqax: No, NOBODY stated that “concerning” is not a preposition.
    It was just a case of someone’s saying that he wasn’t sure.
    The same thing applies to “regarding”.
    My firm opinion is that “concerning” can be used as a preposition, though it has other uses, such as being the present participle of “to concern”: “We are concerning ourselves with that problem this afternoon.” “They will be concerning themselves with that issue tomorrow.”

  • Dale A. Wood

    No, Venqax, the preposition “by” is not the primary one (of interest) in the following sentence”
    1) Parents and teachers have been alerted about the improper use of prepositions by their students!!
    I will show this by eliminating the word “by” and shortening the example: Parents and teachers have been alerted about the improper use of prepositions!! “About” is the primary preposition of interest because it is the one that follows directly after “alerted”.

    Now the sentence is less specific, but this is O.K. because parents, teachers, and students all misuse prepositions. Let’s blame everybody.
    Note that “about” could be replaced by “concerning” or “regarding”, but NOT by “to”, “of”, or “for”.
    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    No, Venqax, I do not see any reason to be alert against vampires, werewolves, or ghosts, or to be alert against kidnapping by the denizens of UFOs. I also think that Satan is very questionable!
    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    THANK YOU, Nelda, for stating things clearly:
    “I enjoyed your math-teaching anecdote. I believe that your students committed a syntactical, rather than mathematical, error, in that they assumed that ‘that’ referred to ‘zero’, while it CLEARLY referred to ‘a number that is close to zero’.”

    As you stated, the students misheard, and not that I misspoke.
    In a mathematics class, “Let’s take a number that is close to zero,” means something because we are not going to choose such a number without planning to DO SOMETHING WITH IT. Well, I was planning on dividing by my tiny number to see what would happen.

    To be clear, I had a number of students who thought that when they graphed the function f(x) = 1/x, they would get a straight line. Hokey Smokes, as Rockey the Flying Squirrel said! The graph of that function has a lot of curvature to it, so there is no way that it could be a straight line. To be more specific, it is a hyperbola. Please try sketching the graph yourself, or looking up this book in an algebra textbook if you have access to one.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Oh, concerning words that start with “v”. I had a colleague in teaching who had been born and raised halfway around the world. He had a lot of trouble with the “v” sound at the beginning of words, and it came out of his mouth as “w”. For example “woltage” instead of “voltage”.
    I composed a couple of tongue-twisters for him to practice on:

    “Scientists from Virginia were attacked by vicious Venezuelan vampire bats.” This one turned out to be too easy, so I made up a harder one.
    “A team of veterinarians from Virginia has found new species of vicious, venomous, Venezuelan pit vipers.”
    With practive, my friend did well with everything except for “vipers”.
    That one got stuck on “pit wipers”.
    D.A.W.

  • venqax

    Venqax: No, NOBODY stated that “concerning” is not a preposition.

    Yes, they did. The reference was to arguments by some (not all, but some) who take the position that “concerning” is not a preposition. Those who take the position that it is not are quite sure of themselves, rightly or wrongly.

    It was just a case of someone’s saying that he wasn’t sure.

    The reporter on the combat wasn’t sure. The combatants are.

    My firm opinion is that “concerning” can be used as a preposition,

    Well, that’s good to know but I don’t think matters. We’ll put your vote in the “Yes” column, though.

    1) Parents and teachers have been alerted about the improper use of prepositions by their students!! Note that “about” could be replaced by “concerning” or “regarding”, but NOT by “to”, “of”, or “for”.

    Yes, IT COULD be replaced by “to”. But it couldn’t be replaced by “of”. That is the whole point of this posting.

    I also think that Satan is very questionable!

    Me, too! That’s why I wouldn’t trust him for a minute!

    To be more specific, it is a hyperbola.

    I think you’re still not getting what Nelda said. Are you sure your claims about hypebola are not exaggerations?

  • Dale A. Wood

    We have pressed Venqax’s argumentative button again. He just wants to argue about things whether that has any benefit or not.
    In the context that I was writing. “I also think that Satan is very questionable!” has the meaning “I also think that the existence of Satan is very questionable!”

    I just think that lots of people want to use the excuse of “The Devil made me do it!”

  • Dale A. Wood

    Also, Venqax does not perceive that in context, NOBODY meant “Nobody in the present conversation.”
    It did not mean “Nobody in the entire Solar System,” or “Nobody on the whole planet.”
    The assignment of the day for Venqax: “Practice hard on reading sentences and words in context.” For example, “Let’s take a number that is close to zero,” must be read in the context of a math class.
    The implication is that we will choose this number and then do something with it. D.A.W.

  • venqax

    …Venqax…just wants to argue about things whether that has any benefit or not.

    No I don’t!

    The question is not whether or not any denizen of the solar system objects to concerna as a preposition but whether knowledgeable and thoughtful users of English do. And some of them do. Even though DAW has a “firm opinion” that it can be.

    “Let’s take a number that is close to zero,” is not the problem. The “then take that” that follows is the problem. They didn’t know that that that was the that that you were talking about. Just to be clear.

    Wait, are you saying the Devil makes people use unclear language? I do think that is questionable. Although I think he may well be behind nucular and irregardless.

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