Much like my lifetime of seemingly random decisions, there is no rhyme or reason with which preposition to use when following any verb, noun or adjective. It is, more or less, a memory game, solidified by practice, then, sadly, easily forgotten. The only solution? Quit and give the French language a try.
Only kidding, of course. Spanish is much easier than French and far less stressful on your nasal passages. However, if you insist on sticking with English, my advice with regard to memorizing prepositional phrases is to limit the number of them you wish to learn, and focus on the grammar structures that follow them.
First of all, what is a preposition? According to the Hunter College Reading & Writing Center here in New York, a preposition is defined as "a connecting word that shows the
relation of a noun or a noun substitute to some other word".
NOTE: In the sentence “the squirrel in the tree”; the preposition “in” shows the relationship between the squirrel and the tree.
By relationship, I’m not implying that the squirrel and the tree are lovers, though it does bring to mind a distant cousin, aptly nicknamed “Simple” Simon, who was, according to his doctors, “inappropriately fond of” his miniature boabob tree.
Over ninety percent of preposition usage involves these nine prepositions: “with”, “at”, “by”, “in”, “for”, “from”, “of”, “on” and the most often confused one, “to”. The other ten percent, including words like “between”, “through” and “into”, are far less used, and because of this rarely get invited to cocktail parties.
While prepositional phrases are infamous for being elusive, there are, thankfully, a few exceptions to that rule. For example, anything “good” or “bad”, at least relating to your skill level, is always followed by “at”. This includes any and all synonyms of these adjectives (“I’m good/wonderful/fantastic/amazing or bad/horrible/hopeless/miserable AT something”). Likewise, if you’re scared or frightened or afraid or petrified, it’s always OF something. And there’s a definite connection between being sorry, apologizing, blamed or forgiven FOR doing something.
But then, just like that, at the moment you feel capable of conquering these phrases, you are confronted with a word like “sympathy”, which goes off willy-nilly in all directions with only a change of suffix. Why, I ask you, must we “have sympathy FOR”, “sympathize WITH” and feel “sympathetic TOWARDS” someone? I mean is that fair? If you are truly interested in or fascinated by or have a craving for unearthing this answer, you will be digging, my dears, for a very long time, and may ultimately resort to giving up completely.
But don’t despair. You can take pride in (or be proud of) everything you do know, even if you’re prone to fixating on what else you wish you knew. As you consider that, here are a few hard and fast rules that can applied to prepositional phrases that are worth keeping in mind:
|1||As you can see above, prepositions are ALWAYS followed by either gerunds, nouns or noun phrases. The choice on which to use, thankfully, is yours! I like to mix mine up, sometimes using a gerund, other times a noun phrase, or to keep things lively, just a plain, simple noun.
|2||Because it can also be used as an infinitive, “to” is a very tricky preposition. “To” when collocated as a set phrase (“adapt to”, “relevant to”) or phrasal verb (“look up to”, “come round to”) acts as a preposition and follows the first rule above.
You can “look forward to seeing me” (gerund) or “look forward to our date” (noun phrase) or even just “look forward to Tuesday” (noun -- presumably the day of our date), but you CANNOT, under any circumstances, “look forward to see me”.
|3||Possessive pronouns (my, our, his, her, their...) are often used after a preposition to better clarify a situation, especially when reporting something.
Let’s say you and I want to go to Siciliy, but my brother, who’s joining us for no good reason, has other strong ideas. So I come back to you and tell you that “My brother insists on going to the Canary Islands”. This is fine, but if I wanted to make it clear who that insistence includes, it would be better to say ”My brother insists on our going to the Canary Islands”. As you can see, my brother is a real pain in the neck.
So, let’s recap
A preposition is a connecting word that shows the relation of a noun or a noun substitute to some other word.
Prepositional phrases must be memorized
Prepositional phrases can only be followed by a noun, a noun phrase or a gerund.
“To” can be part of an infinitive (“to do” something), but it can also act as a preposition (“accustomed to”, “look forward to”, “addicted to”...) and is always followed by a noun, a noun phrase or a gerund.
My brother is a pain the neck
Are you ready for a task? Click below and try your luck!
Below are a bunch of verbs, nouns and adjectives. First, identify whether the word is a verb, a noun or an adjective. Then, see if you know or can figure out the preposition that collocates with it.
And, finally, create a sentence that includes it.
“Cater” is a verb meaning “to provide specialized service”. Sentence: “The hotel caters to (“to” preposition) the needs of its business guests.” (noun phrase)