Basics of writingConfusing words

Grammar and style tips for authors: Part 2a—Problem prepositions

From Rick:

In this part of the Grammar and Style Tips series, I’m going to cover a list of words and associated prepositions that often give problems. The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) has a two-page section called “List of words and the prepositions construed with them.”

What do we mean by this? An example should help clarify this.

“How is the 17th edition of the CMOS different from the 16th edition?”

Here the word in question is “different” and the preposition is “from.” Some of you may recall from your English grammar that it’s considered wrong to use “different than” here, even though a lot of people say it (and write it) that way. However, we’ll see in Part 2b of this series that “different than” can be used acceptably in certain cases. The CMOS list covers over 80 words and their associated prepositions. I’m going to cover only the ones where that get misused or where you might be unsure, and I’ll break up the list into at least three parts.

In some cases, more than one preposition is acceptable, and in some cases one preposition is preferred over another. I will also give examples. Many of these words also have different senses of use, and I’ll give examples of each.

Even with my being selective, the list will be somewhat long, so I’m going to break it into two parts (2a and 2b), with the second part next week.

In the list I will also indicate (as does the CMOS) the part of speech as a noun (n), verb (v), or adjective (adj). Following each word is the preposition, the part of speech, and the sense of the usage after a dash. Where “none” is indicated for the preposition, the verb is used transitively, that is, takes a direct object instead of a prepositional phrase after it. The first word demonstrates that plus two different prepositions with it.

NOTE: The abbreviation M-W used below refers to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

As we go through these, try to think about how many of these you’ve misused in your writing in the past.

ABIDE with (v): [stay]
—While he is visiting the US, he will abide with me.

ABIDE by (v): [obey, accept]
—I will abide by your decision.

ABIDE (v): [tolerate, wait for, accept without objection]
—I cannot abide such behavior in an employee of mine.
—“I will abide the coming of my lord.” (quote by Alfred Tennyson)
—I will abide your decision.
(This latter sentence is different from the previous “abide by” in that it carries a more forceful sense of obedience and an unquestioning acceptance.)

ABOUND in, with (v): [resources]
—This new land abounds in/with beauty and natural resources.

ACCOMPANIED by (not with) (adj): [someone or something]
—The prince was accompanied by three bodyguards.

ADEPT at (v): [an activity]
—He’s adept at the game of chess.

ADEPT in (n): [an art]
—He’s an adept in the game of chess.

Note: The use of ADEPT as a noun is older usage and was more common than its use an adjective, which is the more prevalent usage now.

ADMIT (none) (v, transitive): [acknowledge]
—He admitted being there when the accident occurred.
He admitted to being there when the accident occurred.

ADMIT to, into (v): [let in]
—She was admitted to the concert.
—She was admitted into the sorority.

ANXIOUS about, over (preferably not “to”) (adj): [a concern]
—He was anxious about/over going to the doctor.

However, this is one of those cases where the CMOS differs from M-W. We often hear “anxious” used in the sense of “eager” to do something, even though “anxious” carries the connotation of uncertainty or worry. M-W includes a definition of “anxious” as “eagerly looking forward to doing something,” a meaning that they say goes back to the 17th century.

BADGER into (v): [doing something]
—The older boys badgered Tommy into ringing the old lady’s doorbell if he wanted to hang with them.

BADGER about (v): [a situation]
—John’s wife badgered him about going shopping with her to pick out new wallpaper instead of sitting home in front of the TV.

BASED on (not “upon”) (adj): [a premise]
—His novel is based on his boyhood experiences.

BASED in (adj): [a place, a field of study]
—The story is based in Philadelphia.
—He works in several cities but is based in Philadelphia.
The phrase “He is based out of Philadelphia,” is not only not standard English, but it could be misconstrued to mean that he’s not based IN Philadelphia but is based somewhere else. So avoid “based out of.”

BASED at (adj): [a place]
—Some jobs are based at home.

BESTOW on (not “upon”) (v): [a recipient or honoree]
—The cheap genie bestowed only two wishes on me instead of three.

BINDING on (preferably not “upon”) (adj): [a person]
—The contract is binding on all parties involved.

BLASPHEMY against (n): [a religious tenet]
—His statement was blasphemy against everything I believed.

We’ll do more next time.


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