Tag Archives: prepositions

Interesting prepositions

Something odd is happening to the way that prepositions are used in English, and I think I may be the only person noticing it.

Prepositions are small words that add nuance, usually by modifying the verb or adjective that comes before them, or else by modifying the noun that comes after. It is simplest to give you examples. Please consider the differences between:

  • gone to seed
  • gone with the wind
  • gone down hill
  • gone up in the world
  • gone off with the milkman
  • gone along with the idea
  • gone by Saturday
  • gone across to France
  • gone over it again and again
  • gone off in the heat
  • gone over to the dark side
  • gone in a jiffy
  • gone on the train
  • gone for good
  • gone off white wine
  • gone off of the edge of the cliff (hmmm)
  • gone out of control (as demonstrated)

I hope this list shows what prepositions are, and how powerfully they do their job. These examples are unusual because most words that need a preposition are associated with just one or two and not with a myriad of the buggers.

However I have become increasingly aware of prepositions being chosen seemingly at random. I find the whole thing interesting, so I decided to make a space where I could keep a list of odd prepositional usage out there in the wild. It says something depressing about my listening habits that so many examples come from Radio 4: I guess I could print this out in green ink and post it to the BBC.  Or start listening to podcasts again.  I add more to the top of the list as I hear them.

What they said Who said it What I expected Comment
All sharps boxes must be returned to the pharmacy where patient picked them up from My local GP’s surgery, July 2007 … where patients picked them up Oddly I quite like this – “where patients picked them up” is so much better than “where they were dispensed” or any of the other horrors which could have been inflicted on us.  All that’s wrong with this is the extra “from” on the end.
… please keep [your belongings] with you while on or around the station Train announcer, East Coast Mainline, July 2007 in the station Nothing really wrong with this, he just said the same thing twice.  To my ear, “in” sounds more purposeful than “around” which sounds as if you are just hanging out with da boyz.
… that has the potential to be absolutely transformative of this area David Cairns MPthe World this Weekend, 08/07/2008 … that has the potential to absolutely transform this area Actually I think that the problem is the choice of ‘transformative’.  I’ve no idea what preposition I’d expect with that.
… we made a promise with her … Radio Wave Morning Show, Sunday 08/07/2008 … we made a promise to her …. or …. we promised her that … I rather like the usage here. I’ve used ‘talk with’ in preference to ‘talk to’ for a couple of decades and I hope it hasn’t made me sound insincere. It very rapidly became habitual.
… in anticipation to Michael Simkins in A Good Read, 01/07/08 … in anticipation of One would expect Simkins to have a good ear for language because he is an actor and author so this example in particular suggests that this is about language shifting and not a matter of education.
Your character, Lucy, how different is she in this film than she was from the first film? Natalie Barrass, Go for it, 29/06/08 I was taught that something was ‘opposite to’ and ‘different from’ but I’ve certainly heard ‘different than’ before. And of course I was expecting ‘in this film …. in the first film’. Barrass seemed unaware of just how difficult it was to start a question with the words ‘Your character, Lucy…’.  She’d have been better with a simpler formation altogether: ‘how different is Lucy in the two films?’ or ‘how much does Lucy change between the two films?’  It is interesting to hear someone using two completely different usages within seconds: ‘in this film / from the first film’.
There’s a real apathy to this kind of thing My boss Amazing work Aphra; have a pay rise Nah, just kidding. I expected ‘a real apathy about this kind of thing’.
I am absolutely fascinated in British behaviour … I am still fascinated by [it] Lee Campbell, Midweek 25/06/08 … fascinated by Again, it is interesting to hear someone using different prepositions in the same context within about 15 seconds – did Campbell genuinely not know which one to use, or was the second time a correction?  Incidentally, Campbell’s an artist rather than a writer.
… I have no intention to do so David Benioff, Front Row 25/06/08 … I have no intention of doing so Presumably a corruption of ‘I don’t intend to do so’.  Benioff is a playwright, and one would expect him to be aware of the language he’s using.
Point of Inquiry is … recorded from St Louis, Missouri D J Grothe, Point of Inquiry, 21/06/08 … recorded inor
… recorded at
Possibly a confusion based on ‘broadcast from’?. Interestingly, Grothe said ‘Point of Inquiry is produced from‘ in another edition.
since many years I have not seen a rifle in your hand… Abba – Fernando – This is a little unfair, because Bjorn and Bennie were not writing in their first language. Apart from the fact you hold a rifle in two hands? Either: … for many years I have not seen …. or … it’s been many years since I’ve seen …. For some reason since/for is a common mix-up for speakers of English as a second language, and one you hear from a wide variety of people with a wide variety of mainly European first languages.  I guess the since/for choice is confusing.

Let me stress again that I’m not saying these usages are wrong, I have a distressingly post-modernist view that language is by definition local and that it’s ok to say just about anything so long as it works.  It’s also noticeable that all these examples come from unscripted conversations.

But am I the only one who finds these usages odd? If you find this sort of thing odd too, then please add your examples.

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