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October 4th, 2008

Prepositions quiz explained

by Barbara Wallraff

Here’s an annotated version of the September 2008 prepositions quiz. The phrases that are correct are in boldface. I don’t have anything to say about some of the phrases because there’s no quick logical explanation for them. What’s correct is just a matter of what’s traditional, or “idiomatic.”

-- Take exception to: I take exception to the idea that prepositions don’t matter.

-- Envious of: I am envious of people who never make mistakes.

-- Bored of: Please don’t tell me you’re bored of this already!
“Bored of” seems to be catching on by analogy with “tired of.” “Bored with,” however, is standard.

-- Abstain from: Clever people abstain from using words and phrases they don’t understand.

-- Forbidden from: You’re not forbidden from looking something up if you’re uncertain.
Although “forbidden from” has become fairly common, the standard, traditional usage is “forbidden to.”

-- Center on: Many problems with prepositions center on idiom – what’s usual – rather than grammar.
Grammar teachers have been known to harp on this one. People sometimes say “center around,” but since the center is in … well, the center, the word isn’t a good match for “around.” “Center on” is better usage.

-- Lacking of: Admittedly, even some of the correct sentences here are lacking of elegance.
Should be “lacking in” – or, better yet, just “lack”: “lack elegance.”

-- Hinder from: Using prepositions in peculiar ways may hinder others from understanding what you mean.

-- Substitute with: Sometimes you can correctly substitute one preposition with another – and sometimes not.
Should be “substitute for.” “Substitute” and “replace” are not synonyms: when one substitutes A for B, it means that one replaces B with A, not the other way around.

-- Equivalent to: Phrases can be equivalent to each other in meaning even if they’re completely different in form.

-- Receptive to: It’s good to be receptive to learning new things.

-- Similar to: This sentence is similar to the next one.

-- Different to: This sentence is different to the previous one.
As some readers pointed out, “different to” is good usage in British and Canadian English. But it doesn’t pass muster in these United States.

-- Prefer to: Do you prefer this phrasing to alternatives that come to mind?
“Prefer A to B” is preferred, except when A and B are infinitive verbs: “I prefer to quote to to paraphrase,” for instance, is hopeless. “I prefer quoting to paraphrasing” is a good work-around. Second best would be “I prefer to quote over paraphrasing.”

-- Excerpt from: This quiz might be an excerpt from a book, except that I haven’t written the book yet.
“Excerpt of” is sometimes seen and heard, but “excerpt from” is better form.”

-- Tired of: By now, you’re probably tired of this – so let’s stop.

© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.

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