Wordsleuth (2002, vol. 35, 4): Quiz on Prepositional Usage

Sheila Sanders
(Terminology Update, Volume 35, Number 4, 2002, page 34)

Does one say immune from death or immune to death? Is one free of headaches or free from headaches? Why is preplanning redundant? When should decision making be hyphenated? If these questions leave you stymied, you will be happy to learn that help is available.

In June 2000 the Translation Bureau launched Writing Tips, an expanding on-line language guide that offers succinct solutions to common language problems, including the puzzlers above. In addition to dealing with prepositional usage, redundancies and hyphenation, the guide offers advice on subject-verb agreement, abbreviations, geographical names and gender-neutral language.

For those who like to challenge themselves, here are some examples of prepositional usage taken from Writing Tips. The answers are listed at the end of the article, with more thorough explanations available on-line.

Fill in the blank with the correct preposition.

  1. New mothers and fathers are often anxious ____ their parenting skills.
  2. Tristan was anxious ____ Iseult’s delay.
  3. Entrepreneurs are anxious ____ cordial relations with emerging Central Asian nations.
  4. The United Nations designated 1999 ____ the International Year of Older Persons.
  5. Hockey players are no longer associated ____ the same team for many years.
  6. I differed ____ Ashley about our bike club’s budget.
  7. Denzil’s answers to the math questions differed ____Samantha’s.
  8. The east and west coasts of Canada differ greatly ____ climate.
  9. As long as he lives, Juan will labour ____ the freedom of his homeland.
  10. I must get another job (beside or besides) ____ this one to make ends meet.
  11. The students floundered ____ aimlessly in a sea of grammatical rules.
  12. There exists a strong mutual sympathy ____ people who have experienced similar hardships.
  13. Hans is sympathetic ____ victims of car accidents but is not sympathetic ____ the idea of cameras being installed at intersections.
  14. Shall we divide the project ____ six or seven small tasks?
  15. Nunavut was created by dividing the Northwest Territories ____ two.
  16. The best thing about vacations is being free ____ the daily grind.
  17. Eric has been free ____ headaches for several weeks.
  18. No one is immune ____ death.
  19. Julie thought she was immune ____ chicken pox, but there she lies, itching and uncomfortable.
  20. They’ll arrive in Saskatoon inside ____ a week.
  21. Lemuel was the only one inside ____ the old barn when the roof caved in.
  22. The failed entrepreneur was now liable ____ her company’s $500 000 debt.
  23. Travellers who smuggle drugs are liable ____ arrest and imprisonment.
  24. These hybrid roses are suited ____ colder climates.
  25. With his scientific background, Canadian Chris Hadfield is suited ____ his job as an astronaut.
  26. Economically, Canada developed in parallel ____ the United States.

Each month the Translation Bureau features three tips on its Web site free of charge: simply click on Writing Tips of the Month at www.btb.gc.ca. The entire collection of Writing Tips is available to federal government employees on the extranet at btb.gc.ca, and to TERMIUM Plus® subscribers on the Internet at www.btb.termiumplus.gc.ca/tpv2guides/guides/wrtps.

Answers and explanations to the quiz

  1. anxious about
    • Anxious about refers to the subject of worry.
  2. anxious at
    • Anxious at refers to the cause of worry. About is plausible if Iseult’s delay is the subject of worry.
  3. anxious for
    • Anxious for indicates a positive concern or a desire for something. About could also be used.
  4. designated as
    • When designate means to select, it is followed by the preposition as.
  5. associated with
    • Associate to is non-standard English.
  6. differed with
    • When differ means disagree, it is usually followed by with or from.
  7. differed from
    • Differ from means being unlike.
  8. differ greatly in
    • Employ differ in to compare different elements.
  9. labour for or toward(s)
    • To labour at or over something implies that the task is difficult. To labour for or toward(s) something emphasizes the goal.
  10. job besides
    • The preposition beside normally means by the side of while besides functions as an adverb meaning moreover, or as a preposition meaning in addition to.
  11. floundered or floundered about
    • Both floundered and floundered about are correct.
  12. sympathy between
    • Sympathy with indicates being in favour of something, or supporting a cause, a proposal, etc. Sympathy for suggests feeling sorry for someone, while sympathy between refers to an agreement in feeling.
  13. sympathetic to or towards
    • One may be sympathetic to or toward(s) an object or a person.
  14. divide into
    • Except for such phrases as divide in half and divide in two, the preposition into is used because divide emphasizes separating, breaking up or cutting up a whole into sections or parts, changing the state or form of something. When half and two are used as adjectives, the correct phrasal verb is divide into.
  15. divide in two
    • Divide in two and divide in half are standard phrases; use the preposition into when two or half is followed by a noun (e.g. into two pieces).
  16. free from
    • Employ free from when it means released from.
  17. free of
    • Opt for free of when it means relieved of.
  18. immune from
    • Immune from means exempt.
  19. immune to
    • Immune to means protected against or not affected by something, such as disease or other factors.
  20. inside of
    • The colloquial expression inside of means "in less than" or "within" when referring to units of time.
  21. inside the barn
    • Inside of is redundant when the meaning indicates being within a specific area.
  22. liable for
    • Liable for means to be responsible, often in a legal sense.
  23. liable to
    • Liable to indicates vulnerability and means likely to, especially when there is risk of an unpleasant outcome.
  24. suited to
    • The phrase suited to means appropriate or right for a purpose, person or activity.
  25. suited for
    • The phrase suited for indicates that one is qualified for a job.
  26. parallel with
    • When making a comparison, draw a parallel with another situation or draw a parallel between one situation and another.

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