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Author Topic: Dealing with annoying English grammar errors (16th in a series of 20)  (Read 80 times)
Joe Carillo
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« on: December 29, 2017, 01:45:33 AM »

This is the 16th in a series of 20 essays on what I consider as the most annoying English grammar errors. It is running consecutively here in the Forum from November 7, 2017 every Tuesday and Friday until January 5, 2018.


8 – The misuse of prepositional phrases and prepositional idioms

The eighth type of grammar error that I find most annoying is the misuse of prepositional phrases and prepositional idioms. To make our discussion of this kind of error more fruitful, however, we need to first make a clear distinction between prepositional phrases and prepositional idioms.

Prepositional phrase. A prepositional phrase, we will recall, is either (1) a phrase that begins with a preposition and ends with an object along with any associated adjectives or adverbs, or (2) a phrase that contains a verb form that ends in a preposition (the type that’s also variously known as “verb phrase”). In both kinds of prepositional phrase, the verb is meant to be taken in its literal sense in relation to the rest of the sentence.




Here’s an example of the first type of prepositional phrase: “The plane flew above the thick clouds for five minutes.”

In that sentence, “above the thick clouds for five minutes” is a prepositional phrase that functions as an adverb modifying the verb “flew.” It consists of the preposition “above,” the noun phrase “the thick clouds” as the object of the preposition, and the adverb phrase “for five minutes” (which by itself is another prepositional phrase) as a modifier.

And here’s an example of the second type of prepositional phrase: “How you spend your weekends is something we are not concerned with.”

In that sentence, “concerned with” is a prepositional phrase, one that by grammatical convention should always end with the preposition “with” and never with, say, “of,” “for,” or “about.” We don’t say:

“How you spend your weekends is something we are not concerned of.”
“How you spend your weekends is something we are not concerned for.”
“How you spend your weekends is something we are not concerned about.”

Prepositional idiom (phrasal verb). On the other hand, the prepositional idiom, also known as phrasal verb, is actually similar to the prepositional phrase in that it also consists of a verb followed by a preposition, but the big difference is that it has a nonliteral or idiomatic meaning—a meaning that’s determined by the preposition that comes after the verb.


PREPOSITIONAL IDIOMS ARE MORE COMMONLY KNOWN AS PHRASAL VERBS

Here, for instance, are just a few of the many prepositional idioms formed with the verb “shut”: “shut off” (to close), “shut in” (to confine), “shut up” (to stop talking), “shut out to prevent participation), and “shut off” (to cut off the flow).

Below are some sentences that show how these prepositional idioms are typically used:

“We shut off the lights last night only when the last customer had left.”
“The teacher shut in the rowdy pupils in the conference room for an hour.”
“Emily shut up only when her voice started to falter.”
“The women shut out the men from their more intimate discussions.”
“The engineer shut off the irrigation system when heavy rains fell on the area.”

After the discussion above, we should now be able to see why the prepositional idioms (phrasal verbs) are comparatively more vulnerable to misuse than the first type of prepositional phrases (meaning those that begin with a preposition followed by an object). In the case of the prepositional phrases, it’s because the specific preposition to use for one isn’t intuitive and doesn’t always follow a definite logic; and in the case of prepositional idioms, because their nonliteral meanings can be learned only after one gets adequately immersed in the language.

Consider the annoying prepositional phrase misuse in this sentence from a news item in a daily newspaper: “The scheme was developed long before the occurrence of this prolonged dry spell and resulted to below than normal water supply in most dams in Luzon…”

Or this one from the back of a cartoon character decal: “To avoid accidental suffocation among babies and children, dispose this bag immediately.”

The correct prepositional phrase usage in those two sentences are, of course, “resulting in” and “dispose of,” respectively:

“The scheme was developed long before the occurrence of this prolonged dry spell and resulted in below-than-normal water supply in most dams in Luzon…”

“To avoid accidental suffocation among babies and children, dispose of this bag immediately.”

Unless the writer is told of the mistake and is able to internalize the correct phrasal verbs, he or she is bound to commit it again and again to the consternation of more discerning readers.

As to the prepositional idioms, the English language actually has thousands of them and there’d really be no way for us to know all of them all at once. Just the single verb “come,” for instance, yields so many prepositional idioms, among them “come about” (to happen), “come across” (to produce an impression), ‘come along” (to accompany someone), “come around” (to change direction), “come through” (to get communicated), and “come off” (to acquit oneself or to succeed).

Indeed, to be able to use the prepositional idioms with confidence, we have no choice but to seriously study them and commit them to memory.

(Next: Misuse of commonly used verb-pairs)      January 2, 2018

This essay, 16th in a series of 20, first appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the November 11, 2007 issue of The Manila Times. It subsequently formed part of the book The 10 Most Annoying English Grammar Errors, ©2008 by the author, © 2009 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.
« Last Edit: January 01, 2018, 10:50:05 AM by Joe Carillo » Logged

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