Monday, March 6, 2017

Perspicacious Prepositions

Image result for preposition

by Lisa Lickel

Preposition—one of those words you hear all the time, but when asked point blank to define, you stutter, right? About the only thing you remember about a preposition is that we’re not supposed to end a sentence with one. Of course, that depends on knowing for sure what it is and how you’re using it.

One of my new favorite grammar guides, the Blue Book of Grammar, defines a preposition as a word or brief phrase that defines a relationship between words in a sentence. They may be words of location (near, on, toward, past) which requires an object. They may indicate direction (to, along, upon), or placement (amid, next to, in front of); they will generally be placed in front of a noun or pronoun. They will answer how? (with, regardless, in spite of) or where? (inside, behind, down) or when? (at, on, in).

If you’re not having fun yet, Grammar Revolution offers a list prepositions organized by—yes! song! Or 70 of them just alphabetically.

The English Grammar Club lists 150 prepositions which you can memorize and pat yourself {preposition alert} (on) the back. 

Problems occur most often when our lovely English mutt language fails us in precision. We have many words that have multiple functions and meanings. “Like” is one of the most common. It can be a verb (I like you, you like me…) which is an action, or it can be preposition of comparison used to relate two words which are noun/pronoun/object, but not noun/verb. (Your glasses look like mine. NOT Your glasses look like mine do. [Which makes us want to ask, do what?]) “Onto” is also often misused for a similar reason. In its verb form, into is a verb of motion. Grammar Girl says if you can’t jump onto whatever you’re describing, then don’t use onto. I’ll go a step further to point out if you can eliminate on or to or both, go ahead.

“Hold onto the rail!” is so wrong… Hold on to the rail. “Hold the rail” is the simplest form but can be misleading since “hold” is a word with multiple meanings. “Hold” and “Hold on!” is the shortest version of the sentence, with “on” an adverb that describes the way to hold and “to” joins the verb to the noun “rail.” “Here, hold my purse.” is a sentence which needs no preposition. Generally, sentences describing motion do not need a preposition.

Problem two is colloquialism. You might hear someone mouthing off at the local tap something like, “You should of done it, Hank.” No, Hank would never of done that when he should have done this. Of is a preposition which if necessary would show a relationship between Hank and the object of the sentence, “it.” "Have" is an adverb that attaches to the verb “done.” Prepositions attach to nouns.

Capital Community College Foundation has a great page with particular examples and quizzes about prepositions here.

Image courtesy of K5 Learnng
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