Some combinations of a verb + preposition need a noun or pronoun in between
ALTERNATIVE FORMS OF PREPOSITIONAL VERBS
Some English prepositions are able to combine closely with various verbs, which are then often called “prepositional”. Elsewhere in this blog simple verb-preposition combinations like DEPEND ON, COPE WITH and ATTEND TO are given extensive consideration (see, for example, 42. Unnecessary Prepositions, 44. Troublesome Prepositional Verbs and 108. Formal & Informal Words). Here I wish to examine prepositional verbs that have a noun or pronoun between the verb and the preposition, as in PROVIDE (noun) WITH, SUSPECT (noun) OF and BLAME (noun) FOR.
Perhaps the main problem with verbs of this kind is difficulty remembering what the preposition is. The reason may be that the noun in the middle somehow prevents it from being linked as easily with the verb as it is in two-word combinations. To help overcome this problem, the approach will be to list common verbs like BLAME, along with their prepositions, to indicate some subclasses, and to warn of possible confusions.
An initial point to appreciate is that the presence of the preposition also necessitates a noun or pronoun after it (see 84. Seven Things to Know about Prepositions), which means there are two nouns and/or pronouns altogether after verbs like BLAME, like this:
(a) Some theorists BLAME population growth FOR the world’s poverty.
Some grammarians suggest that the two nouns after verbs like BLAME are two different grammatical objects (for details of objects, see 8. Object-Dropping Errors). However, it is interesting to note that the noun after the preposition, along with the preposition itself – for the world’s poverty in (a) – can be left unmentioned if the meaning is clear from the context, whereas this is not usually a possibility with ordinary prepositional verbs like DEPEND ON.
VERBS WITH A VARIABLE OBJECT
Some verbs with a following object and preposition nearly always have the same noun for their object, while others allow more variation. Where variation exists, the object may be a person or a thing, but is more commonly a person. Here are some important verbs of this kind. The abbreviation SB means “somebody” while STH means “something”. What should each preposition be? (Answers below).
1. OF; 2. FOR; 3. WITH; 4 = FOR; 5. WITH; 6. WITH; 7. WITH/TO; 8. TO; 9. ON; 10. ABOUT/OVER; 11. OF; 12. OF; 13. INTO/BETWEEN; 14. TO; 15. IN; 16. WITH; 17. WITH; 18. OF; 19. TO; 20. IN; 21. FOR; 22. FROM; 23. WITH; 24. FOR; 25. TO; 26. OF; 27. FROM; 28. FOR; 29. WITH/FOR; 30. OF; 31. FROM; 32. TO; 33. FROM; 34. WITH; 35. OF; 36. FOR; 37. FOR; 38. WITH; 39. FOR/WITH; 40. OF/ABOUT; 41. WITH
The variability of some of these prepositions is notable. The choice between about and over after CONSULT seems a free one – either is correct. However, with REWARD, the meaning changes: with indicates the reward, for the action that won it, like this:
(b) Parents can reward their children with small presents.
(c) Parents should reward their children for good behaviour.
It is even possible for both of these preposition phrase types to appear together in the same sentence. Similarly, after TREAT, with shows the treatment, for the problem necessitating it. After WARN, of shows a potential or future problem, about an already-existing problem. TAKE can go not just with for but also with to or from, though these latter two are arguably not true prepositional verbs; TAKE … FOR … means “believe … to be …”.
DIVIDE … INTO is followed by the divisions, whereas BETWEEN (or AMONG) shows their recipients. INTO is also usable in the same way with the numerous synonyms of DIVIDE: BREAK, CATEGORISE, CLASSIFY, GROUP, ORGANISE, SEPARATE, SORT and SPLIT (see 162. The Language of Classification).
The way of putting verbs like the above into the passive voice is fairly consistent: the subject becomes the first noun/pronoun after the verb – the one with no preposition in front. This is children in (b) and (c). One verb to be careful with is EXPLAIN. Consider this:
(d) Teachers must sometimes explain grammar to students.
The passive equivalent is:
(e) Grammar must sometimes be explained (by teachers) to students.
It is not possible to say *Students must sometimes be explained grammar. The probable reason for this common error is the fact that some near-synonyms of EXPLAIN, which are not prepositional verbs, allow more choice about the subject noun. For example, TEACH and SHOW in (d) could both be made passive with either students or grammar as their subject. The power of synonyms to cause errors is considered more closely in 140. Words with Unexpected Grammar 2 (#b). For full details of verbs like TEACH and SHOW, see 126. Verbs with an Indirect Object).
One way to start (d) with students and still use EXPLAIN is by using HAVE: … must sometimes have grammar explained to them (see 116. Rarer Uses of HAVE).
Four verbs, BLAME, PRESENT, PROVIDE and SUPPLY, can reverse the positions of the two nouns after them, changing the preposition in the process. Compare:
BLAME SB FOR STH = BLAME STH ON SB
PRESENT SB WITH STH = PRESENT STH TO SB
PROVIDE SB WITH STH = PROVIDE STH FOR SB
SUPPLY SB WITH STH = SUPPLY STH FOR/TO SB
PRESENT, PROVIDE and SUPPLY need to be handled carefully because their meaning is close to that of many verbs, such as GIVE, which can have two following nouns without any preposition at all (see 126. Verbs with an Indirect Object). The closeness in meaning does not mean that the preposition can be similarly dropped!
VERBS WITH A FIXED OBJECT
Combinations of a particular verb with a particular object and a particular preposition, e.g. MAKE USE OF, fall into the category of collocations – non-grammatical word partnerships (see 16. Ways of Distinguishing Similar Words and also a worksheet downloadable from this blog’s Learning Materials page). Other examples are:
ATTACH IMPORTANCE TO
CATCH SIGHT/A GLIMPSE OF
DECLARE WAR ON
GIVE AN ACCOUNT OF
GIVE/PAY ATTENTION TO
GIVE WAY TO
HAVE AN EFFECT ON
HAVE TROUBLE WITH (for more with HAVE, see 116. Rarer Uses of HAVE)
KEEP PACE WITH
KEEP TRACK OF
LOSE TOUCH WITH
LOSE TRACK OF
MAKE ALLOWANCE(S) FOR
MAKE AMENDS FOR
MAKE AN EXAMPLE OF
MAKE FUN OF
MAKE MUCH OF
PUT AN END/A STOP TO
PUT/PLACE EMPHASIS ON
PUT THE BLAME ON
SET FIRE TO
SET ONE’S HEART ON
TAKE ACCOUNT OF
TAKE CARE OF
TAKE NOTE OF
TAKE STOCK OF
An interesting feature of these expressions is that many are longer equivalents of a single verb. For example, catch a glimpse of corresponds to glimpse, keep track of to track, and take note of to note. For suggestions about their use, see 39. “Decide” or “Make a Decision”?. For more on the the verbs that they include, see 173. “Do Research” or “Make Research”?. For more examples with HAVE and MAKE, see 116. Rarer Uses of HAVE and 141. Ways of Using MAKE.
Note that GIVE ATTENTION and PAY ATTENTION mean different things. Consider this:
(f) Einstein gave/paid attention to the problem of gravity.
Gave here suggests that Einstein merely turned his attention away from something else. Paid, however, suggests that he increased his attention to the maximum: perhaps he had been only a little interested before in the problem of gravity, or even daydreaming! There is an option of adding his (or other possessive adjective) after GIVE. An alternative to GIVE is TURN, though then his or equivalent must be present.
Also noteworthy about GIVE/PAY ATTENTION TO is the need for any following verb to have -ing: one must say, for example, to solving, not to solve, the reason being that to here is a preposition, not the to of infinitive verbs. This is the same kind of problem that can occur with two-word prepositional verbs like TAKE TO (see 35. “To Do” versus “To Doing”). Other object-containing verbs that might give it include ATTACH IMPORTANCE TO, PUT A STOP TO and INTRODUCE (sb) TO.
Finally, caution is needed with TAKE CARE OF. Its common meaning is not “supervise” or “give caring attention to” (English uses LOOK AFTER for that), but rather “resolve” or “deal with”, as in take care of complaints.