On a daily basis, we see improper preposition usage. In fact, it drives us crazy when we hear supposedly well-educated people on national radio and TV misuse common prepositions in their reporting of the news and current events.
Just to be clear as to what we’re talking about here: a “preposition” is a word that is placed before a noun or pronoun to form a phrase by modifying another word in the sentence. The dictionary defines a preposition as: “…a word governing a noun or pronoun and expressing a relation to another word or element…” In less technical terms, prepositions are those little connector words that join words and/or phrases to other words and/or phrases.
Examples of common prepositions are: about, above, after, as, at, before, behind, between, beyond, but, by, down, during, in, into, of, off, on, under, until, up, upon, with, within, to name a few. These words almost always function as an adjective or adverb. Below are about a dozen typical preposition phrases misused in the news media and on popular TV shows.
agree (on), agree (to), agree (with) We now agree on the terms of the contract. I intend to agree to his proposal after the modifications. His observations agree with my findings.
answer (for), answer (to) He will have to answer for what he did last night. She will have to answer to her boss on that matter.
begin (by), begin (from), begin (with) I will begin by taking the oath of allegiance. The race will begin from the parking lot behind the car dealership. The project will begin with an environmental assessment.
bored (by), bored (with); NOT “bored of” She was really bored by last night’s concert. Over time, I became bored with the whole thing.
capable (of); NOT “capable to” I knew that they were capable of much more. The coach told me I was capable of playing at a much higher level. correspond (to), correspond (with) Once it is repainted it will correspond to mine. While away on course I made it a habit to correspond with my parents by e-mail.
impressed (by), impressed (with); NOT “impressed of” Jason was impressed by their new approach to the issue. Julia was quite impressed with Susan’s behavior.
graduate (from), graduate (to); NOT “graduated college” When do you expect to graduate from college? After the initial phase you will graduate to the next level.
invest (in), invest (with) Once I receive the funds I will invest in a mix of stocks and bonds. He decided to invest his savings with the bank.
live (off), live (on) Once they move to the farm they plan to live off the land. When I turn 65 I will start to live on a pension.
proceed (to), proceed (with) After that is done, I will proceed to the next step. Please proceed with what you were doing when we arrived.
report (on), report (to) After his assessment he will report on the situation. He will report to the recruitment center next Monday.
suited (to), suited (for) They seem very suited to each other. Brad is well suited for that accounting position.
The above are just a few examples of proper preposition usage in some of the more common preposition phrases. So, here’s a word of warning: if you are trying to improve your English by watching television or listening to the radio, don’t assume that everything you hear is correct. Often it isn’t. Really! So, if you read or hear something that doesn’t seem quite right, look it up.
Something we notice on a regular basis when we read business letters, memos, reports, and other such documents is the use of unnecessary words to over-describe a situation or condition. These are known as redundant or superfluous words. It’s very easy to get into this bad habit when writing.
In fact, using two or three words when one will suffice can weaken your point rather than strengthen it. For effective written communication, we recommend that you make every effort to avoid using unnecessary words and phrases.
The following is a short sample list of some of the more common redundant words and phrases that we often see, alongside shorter alternatives:
absolutely essential ………………… essential accounted for ………………………….. caused by actual experience …………………… experience attached please find ……………….. attached is at your earliest convenience …… soon consequent results …………………… results despite the fact that ……………….. although few in number …………………………. few for the purpose of ………………….. for free of charge …………………………. free in advance of …………………………… before in the process of being …………….. being in the near future ……………………. soon is suggestive of ………………………. suggests make a decision to ………………….. decide make the acquaintance of ……….. meet mutual cooperation ………………….. cooperation on behalf of ………………………………. for on the grounds that …………………. since perform an analysis of ……………… analyze provided that ……………………………… if take under advisement …………….. consider under no circumstances ……………. never until such time as ………………………. until within the realm of possibility …… possible
We should mention that the words and phrases shown on the left-hand side above are not wrong. They are just a more cumbersome way of saying something that can be stated more simply. Nevertheless, for style reasons, there may be situations where the phrase shown on the left is more appropriate in a particular context. Or, there can be situations where one may choose to alternate between the two approaches, in order to avoid repetition.
A couple of years ago we posted a series of articles about words that are often used incorrectly. This is the beginning of another multi-part series on a similar subject but with even more confused and/or misused words than before. We’ll start the list of words in alphabetical order and expect to cover three or four letters per post.
So, here are some more frequently confused and/or misused words to add to your list.
accuracy, precision “accuracy” is how close something is to the true value and to what degree it is free of error. “precision” is the measure of the “fineness” of a value; usually measured in numeric terms. Examples: His shooting was very accurate in tonight’s game. The laser-cut the diamond to a precision of .005.
affect, effect “affect” is usually used as a verb, to mean “influence”. “effect” as a verb means to “cause” or “bring about” something. As a noun it means “impact” or “result”. Examples: The cost of prescription drugs has seriously affected the cost of public healthcare. His new strategy will certainly have an effect on the company’s bottom line.
allusion, illusion, delusion “allusion” is an indirect reference to something. “illusion” is when something appears to be real but isn’t. “delusion” is a persistent belief in something that is contrary to fact or reality. Examples: Her allusion to the manager’s wife was completely unfounded. The mist hanging over the river created an optical illusion. The delusion that all doctors are infallible still persists in some quarters.
alternate(ly), alternative(ly) To “alternate”, means to do something in turns, one after another. “alternative” refers to one or more choices or options. Examples: When training, every two minutes we alternate between wind sprints and jogging. Our only alternative at this point is to go back the way we came. (“alternate” can sometimes be used as a noun; e.g. we took the alternate route).
amount, number “amount” refers to a quantity of something. “number” is when something can be counted. Examples: A significant amount of snow fell last night. A large number of snow plows are out on the road today.
anyone, any one “anyone”, as one word, can only refer to people. “any one”, as two words, is used when referring to things. Examples: Anyone here is eligible for the draw. He couldn’t blame her illness on any one factor.
appraise, apprise “appraise” means to “assign a value” to something. “apprise” means to “make aware of” something. Examples: The mortgage broker appraised my house at well over $300,000. You should apprise him of what happened last night at the embassy.
approve, approve of “approve” means “to ratify” or “sanction” something. “approve of” means “to accept something” or “to think well of” something. Examples: Once they add the paragraph I requested, I intend to approve the agreement. The Mayor enthusiastically approved of the two new appointees.
assume, presume “assume” means to believe something based on a theory or hypothesis, without actual evidence. “presume” means to believe that something is true unless it is proven to the contrary. Examples: Let’s assume that he will do the right thing and appear at the preliminary hearing. I presume this cutback will result in significant reductions to plant output.
assure, ensure, insure “assure” means “to guarantee” or “be convinced” that something will happen. “ensure” means “to make sure” that something will happen. “insure” is used to describe covering something with insurance. Examples: I can assure you that the increase will be more than the rate of inflation. Fill your tank now to ensure that you can make the trip without having to stop. I plan to insure my new car for both collision and public liability.
attentiveness, attention “attentiveness” refers to the state of being attentive or considerate. “attention” refers to the act of focusing or concentrating the mind on something. Examples: The nurse’s exceptional attentiveness to her patients was noticed by her superiors. We appreciate your attention to this pressing matter.
beside, besides “beside” is a preposition that means “immediately adjacent” or “by the side of” something. “besides” can mean “moreover” or “in addition to” something. Examples: The man sat beside his daughter while they waited. He’s not eligible for coverage. Besides he’ll be changing jobs next month in any case.
biannual, biennial, semi-annual “biannual” means for something to occur “twice a year”. “biennial” means for something to occur “every two years”; or to last for two years. “semi-annual” means for something to occur “twice a year” or once “every six months”. Examples: We conduct a mini-audit of the business on a biannual basis. I believe that environmental conference is a biennial event. We review our hardware inventory levels semi-annually.
characteristic, distinctive, typical “characteristic” is a quality that distinguishes and identifies. “distinctive” is a feature that sets a person or thing apart from others in its group. “typical” is a characteristic specific to a group, type or species to which a person or thing belongs. Examples: Novak always made his characteristic fist pump and bow after winning a match. That designer has a distinctive style when working with recycled wood. That long-winded letter was typical of a government bureaucratic.
cite, quote To “cite” something is to refer to it or repeat it as proof of what was said. To “quote” something is to repeat it, verbatim. (enclosed in quotation marks). Examples: He cited numerous legal precedents while making his argument. To quote John Lennon on that, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”
common, mutual “common” means belonging to many or to all. “mutual” means “reciprocal”; feelings or actions felt or done by two or more parties with reference to the other parties in the group. Examples: Miscommunication is a common problem among online users. Their feelings for each other were mutual.
compare, contrast “compare” should be used when referring to likenesses or similarities. “contrast” is correctly used when pointing out differences. Examples: Those numbers compare favorably with those of last quarter. In contrast to my measured approach, his is to rush forward, full steam ahead.
compliment, complement “compliment” is an expression of praise, admiration or flattery. “complement” is when one person or thing is combined with another, they form a complete unit. Examples: Frank complimented Sharon on her new hair style. The addition of the new pergola really complements the patio.
comprise, constitute, compose “comprise” means “to consist of” or “to be made up of” something. “constitute” and “compose” are equivalent; and mean “to make up” or “account for” something. Examples: A baseball game comprises nine innings. The land mass of Canada constitutes more than 60% of North America. Those ten provinces and three territories constitute the country of Canada.
continual, continuous “continual” implies a close recurrence in time; a rapid succession of events or constant repetition. “continuous” uninterrupted in time or sequence. Examples: His partner’s continual complaining eventually drove him away from the business. The continuous barrage of heavy metal music eventually broke him down.
council, counsel “council” is a decision-making governing body, advisory board, or board of directors. “counsel” refers to the provision of advice or guidance. Examples: Last night, City Council rendered its decision on garbage pick-up days during the summer. I sought him out in order to seek his counsel on these latest developments.
Okay, that’s enough for the first installment. As I mentioned above, I’ll be making additional posts like this one — three or four letters of the alphabet at a time — every few months over the next year or so.