31. Prepositions after Action Nouns 1



An action noun linked to a second noun by “of” (or irregular equivalent) is like a verb with its object



In this blog, “action nouns” are nouns that are made from verbs and express verb-like meanings. For example, movement is made from the verb MOVE and can mean “moving”, and existence is made from EXIST and can mean “existing”. Full details of action nouns can be read about in the posts 14. Action Outcomes and 131. Uses of “Action” Nouns.

It is not just meanings that action nouns share with verbs. They can also be linked with their subjects and objects – other nouns that either initiate or are affected by the action or state being expressed. These other nouns cannot be called the “subjects” and “objects” of action nouns as they can of verbs, because association with a verb is a defining feature of those terms. However, they can still be called “subject-like” and “object-like” because if the action noun is changed into its equivalent active verb, they will become either its subject or object.

English has various ways of marking a noun as subject-like or object-like. One of these is with prepositions – special ones in each case. In this post I wish to examine what these prepositions are with object-like nouns, and how they can be used. The prepositions needed for subject-like nouns are considered separately in the post 49. Prepositions after Action Nouns 2. For details of prepositions in general, see 84. Seven Things to Know about Prepositions.



Verb objects are analysed within this blog in the post 8. Object-Dropping Errors. In the following sentence, demand is the object of the verb may create:

(a) Lowering the price of a commodity may create demand.

The action noun related to may create is creation. How might it be linked with demand in the following sentence?

(b) … can stimulate economic growth.

One possibility is demand creation, with the object-like noun placed directly in front of the action noun (see 136. Types of Description by Nouns). Sometimes, though not here, you can even add an apostrophe ending to the first noun, e.g. the atmosphere’s pollution (see 58. Optional Apostrophe Endings). An alternative to both of these, however, is to use the preposition ofthe creation of demand in (b).

The preposition that has to be used to mark an object-like noun is very commonly of, but not always: various other prepositions are sometimes found. We could say as a result that of is the “regular” object-showing preposition, while the others are “irregular”. As might be expected, combinations requiring of are rarely a problem for speakers of other languages trying to learn English, whereas those needing a different object-showing preposition can cause errors. These are the focus of the rest of this post.



There are two types of action noun that do not allow of before an object-like noun: those derived from prepositional verbs and those that are simply irregular. Both are also illustrated in the Guinlist post 111. Words with a Typical Preposition.

1. Object-Showing Prepositions after Nouns Made from Prepositional Verbs

A prepositional verb is a verb and a preposition combined together to express a particular meaning. The kind I am considering here is examined in detail in the posts 42. Unnecessary Prepositions and 44. Troublesome Prepositional Verbs. Examples are LOOK AT, DEPEND ON, FOCUS ON, LEAD TO, STAND FOR, REFER TO and END UP WITH.

Not all of these verbs can be made into action nouns, but with those that can the action noun uses the same object-showing preposition as the verb. Of the given examples, DEPEND ON and REFER TO have corresponding action nouns: dependence and reference. The preposition linking each of these to their “object” is thus not of, but on and to respectively.


2. Object-Showing Prepositions after Other Nouns

Irregular action nouns, which have an unpredictable preposition before an object-like noun, simply have to be memorised. Here is a sample list that I have made:

TO ATTACK SB/STH                      AN ATTACK ON SB/STH

TO ATTEMPT STH                         AN ATTEMPT AT STH

TO BAN STH                                   A BAN ON STH

TO DEMAND STH                          DEMAND FOR STH


TO ENTER A SPACE                       ENTRY INTO A SPACE            

TO FIGHT STH                                A FIGHT AGAINST STH

TO GUESS STH                               A GUESS AT STH

TO INJURE SB                                 INJURY TO SB


TO OPPOSE STH                            OPPOSITION TO STH

TO REQUEST STH                          A REQUEST FOR STH

TO RESPECT SB                             RESPECT FOR SB


Unfortunately, there is a hidden complication in a list like this. It is connected with the fact that some action nouns have a non-action meaning as well as an action one (see 14. Action Outcomes). For example, the noun receipt can mean either “receiving” or “written confirmation that something has been purchased”. The action meaning has the regular of before the object of the corresponding verb, like this:

(c) On receipt of news from Rome, Caesar hurried back.

However, the non-action use requires for:

(d) The receipt for the goods should be placed on file.

More on the possibility of the same word having different prepositions is in the Guinlist post 134. Words with a Variable Preposition.

The danger with nouns like receipt is that they might be classified as breaking the of rule when in fact they do not. Other examples, along with their non-action preposition, are a solution to a problem, an introduction to a text, a conclusion to a debate, a change in/to a quantity, an increase in a quantity, a comparison between two things, and a discussion about an issue. Now here is an exercise to help interested readers to assess their command of this preposition topic.



In the following, you have to decide what preposition should be written where indicated. Answers are given below.


1. Essays often involve definition ……… key concepts.

2. All requests ……… assistance should be made in writing.

3. The introduction ……… your topic should take no more than 5 minutes.

4. Feedback on a task should avoid undue emphasis ……… weaknesses.

5. A reference is needed with an application ……… postgraduate study.

6. Struggles ……… grammar are an unavoidable part of writing.

7. It is pointless to engage in comparison ……… past and present heroes.

8. There is no solution ……… some mathematical problems.

9. A last-minute change ……… plan has, unfortunately, been necessary.

10. Every approach ……… the problem of drug misuse has already been tried.

11. The management would not tolerate any opposition ……… their plans.

12. All enquiries ……… job vacancies are best made in writing.



1 = of;   2 = for;   3 = of (action meaning);  4 = on;   5 = for (from prepositional verb apply for);   6 = with (from prepositional verb struggle with);   7 = of (action meaning);   8 = to (non-action meaning);   9 = of (action meaning);   10 = to;   11 = to;   12 = about (from prepositional verb enquire about)


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