Bothersome Prepositions

People are weird with prepositions. Here’s a list of offenses that irk me. Granted, many are idiomatic and likely escape your definition of “mistake,” but why use an idiomatic preposition when a plainly sensical one will do?

  • “different than” -> “different from” (or “different to” in England)
  • “based around” or “centered around” an idea -> “based on” or “centered on” (If one idea is the base or location for another, the other idea and its center are “on” it.)
  • “based off of” an idea -> “based on”
  • “based out of” a city -> “based in”
  • “on this view” -> “in this view” (“On” is needless philosophical jargon. “On this argument” can be replace with “With this argument.”)
  • “working from home” -> “working at home” (I’m ambivalent about this one. “From” makes sense for some tasks, like emailing, but not others, like completing a spreadsheet. Completing it from your home to another location?)
  • “between X to Y”, or “between X-Y” -> “between X and Y”
  • “speak to” a topic -> “speak about” (Speaking “to” something sounds especially silly when you’re speaking to someone. Do you say “speak to that to him,” or “speak to him to that”?)
  • “do right by” someone -> “do right for”
  • “want for” something, “lack for” something -> “want,” “lack”
  • “ask after” someone -> “ask about”
  • “worry over” someone -> “worry about”
  • “know from X” -> “know about X” or “know Y from X”
  • “for all that” -> “despite all that”
  • “that big of a deal” (or any “[adverb] [adjective] of a [noun]”) -> “that big a deal”
  • “prove something out” -> “prove something”
  • waiting “on line” -> “in line”
  • “march on” a location (like Washington) -> “march in” (If you don’t walk, shop, or drive “on” a city, why would you march “on” it?)
  • “for cheap” -> “cheap” (“Cheap” is an adjective and adverb, not a noun. Technically, “for free” should be “free,” but “for free” is a more accepted idiom.)
  • “pretend like” -> “pretend” (To “pretend” X is to “act like” X, so to “pretend like” X is to “act like like X.”)
  • “vice president of” a department -> “vice president for” a department (If you’re the Vice President of Marketing, who has the title of President of Marketing? Not the company President, who is just President. You’re not the VP of Marketing; you’re a VP of the company who is there for marketing, aka the VP for Marketing.)
  • “as told to” -> “as told by” or (better) “as retold by” (“As told to” makes sense if it’s a verbatim transcription, but in that case, does a mere transcriber really deserve a byline?)
  • “in” a magazine (referring to a web article) -> “for” a magazine or its website (If you wrote an article for, say, newyorker.com, don’t say it was published “in The New Yorker.” Articles are “on” websites, not “in” them.)
  • “from” x to y, a range of sources -> “from from,” or “from places ranging from” (Let’s start with this question: Does it seem like there’s a word or two missing from this sentence: “I’ve held jobs fry cook to head chef.” Yes, it’s missing “ranging from” or just “from” after “jobs.” Now how about this: “I’ve ordered food from McDonald’s to Momofuku.” Here the missing “from” in the chunk of sentence describing the range of restaurants is not so obvious, because there’s a “from” in “I’ve ordered food from.” So it’s a common type of mistake. Adding the necessary “from” even makes the sentence sound funny: “I’ve ordered food from from McDonald’s to Momofuku.” One solution: “I’ve ordered food from places ranging from McDonald’s to Momofuku.” Unless of course you are sitting at Momofuku and ordering food from McDonald’s, in which case stick with “food from McDonald’s to Momofuku,” and please vacate the establishment immediately.)
  • “epicenter” of an outbreak -> “center” of an outbreak (“epi” is a prefix meaning “above” or “upon,” both prepositions. “Epicenter” describes the surface point above the center of an earthquake, which is underground. When taken literally, describing a city as a disease outbreak’s “epicenter” is incorrect; the city is actually the outbreak’s center, not a point above the center. When taken figuratively, as an earthquake metaphor, it’s cliché. Try “center.”)

Bonus: Conjunctions

  • “try and” -> “try to”
  • “if” -> “even though” or “while” (In cases such as: “If Alice is happy about the situation, Bob is miserable,” where Bob’s feelings don’t depend on Alice’s. Sure, the dictionary says “if” can mean “even though,” but why not keep it clean and reserve “if” for conditionals to avoid any potential confusion?)
  • “the reason is because” -> “the reason is that” (If A causes B, then the reason for B is A. The reason isn’t something that’s because of A; it actually is A. If B goes on to cause C, then you can say the reason for C is because of A, since the reason for C (B) is because of A.)

Originally published at https://silverjacket.typepad.com.

Science writer, fire dancer, guy on the Internet.

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Matthew Hutson

Matthew Hutson

Science writer, fire dancer, guy on the Internet.

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