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H.W. Fowler (1858–1933).  The King’s English, 2nd ed.  1908.

Chapter II. Syntax

PREPOSITIONS



IN an uninflected language like ours these are ubiquitous, and it is quite impossible to write tolerably without a full knowledge, conscious or unconscious, of their uses. Misuse of them, however, does not often result in what may be called in the fullest sense blunders of syntax, but mostly in offences against idiom. It is often impossible to convince a writer that the preposition he has used is a wrong one, because there is no reason in the nature of things, in logic, or in the principles of universal grammar (whichever way it may be put), why that preposition should not give the desired meaning as clearly as the one that we tell him he should have used. Idioms are special forms of speech that for some reason, often inscrutable, have proved congenial to the instinct of a particular language. To neglect them shows a writer, however good a logician he may be, to be no linguist—condemns him, from that point of view, more clearly than grammatical blunders themselves. But though the subject of prepositions is thus very important, the idioms in which they appear are so multitudinous that it is hopeless to attempt giving more than the scantiest selection; this may at least put writers on their guard. Usages of this sort cannot be acquired from dictionaries and grammars, still less from a treatise like the present, not pretending to be exhaustive; good reading with the idiomatic eye open is essential. We give a few examples of what to avoid.


  1. After adjectives and adverbs.

    Another stroke of palsy soon rendered Sir Sampson unconscious even to the charms of Grizzy's conversation.—S. Ferrier.

    Being oblivious to the ill feeling it would be certain to engender.—Cheltenham Examiner.

    To me it is incredible that the British people, who own one-half of the world's sea-going ships, should be so oblivious to the manner in which...—Times.


    Insensible to, but unconscious of; indifferent to, but oblivious of.

    The adjectives different and averse, with their adverbs or nouns, differently, difference, aversion, averseness, call for a few words of comment. There is no essential reason whatever why either set should not be as well followed by to as by from. But different to is regarded by many newspaper editors and others in authority as a solecism, and is therefore better avoided by those to whom the approval of such authorities is important. It is undoubtedly gaining ground, and will probably displace different from in no long time; perhaps, however, the conservatism that still prefers from is not yet to be named pedantry. It is at any rate defensive, and not offensive pedantry, different to (though 'found in writers of all ages'—Oxford Dictionary) being on the whole the aggressor. With averse, on the other hand, though the Oxford Dictionary gives a long roll of good names on each side, the use of from may perhaps be said to strike most readers as a distinct protest against the more natural to, so that from is here the aggressor, and the pedantry, if it is pedantry, is offensive. Our advice is to write different from and averse to. We shall give a few examples, and add to them two sentences in which the incorrect use of from with other words looks like the result of insisting on the slightly artificial use of it after different and averse.

    My experience caused me to make quite different conclusions to those of the Coroner for Westminster.—Times.


    It will be noticed that to is more than usually uncomfortable when it does not come next to different.

    We must feel charitably towards those who think differently to ourselves.—Daily Telegraph.

    Why should these profits be employed differently to the profits made by capitalists at home?—Lord Goschen.

    Ah, how different were my feelings as I sat proudly there on the box to those I had the last time I mounted that coach!—Thackeray.

    What is the great difference of the one to the other?—Daily Telegraph.


    From would in this last be clearly better than to; but between the two would be better than either.

    The Queen and the cabinet, however, were entirely averse to meddling with the council.—Morley.

    Perhaps he is not averse from seeing democrats on this, as on railway rates, range themselves with him.—Times.

    In all democratic circles aversion from the Empire of the Tsar may be intensified by the events of the last few days.—Times.

    To no kind of begging are people so averse as to begging pardon.—Guesses at Truth.

    This averseness in the dissenting churches from all that looks like absolute government.—Burke.

    I deeply regret the aversion to 'conscience clauses'.—Gladstone.

    But she had no sort of aversion for either Puritan or Papist.—J. R. Green.


    Disagree from (for with), and adverse from (for to), seem to have resulted from the superstition against averse and different to.

    A general proposition, which applies just as much to those who disagree from me as to those who agree with me.—Lord Rosebery.

    There were politicians in this country who had been very adverse from the Suez Canal scheme altogether.—F. Greenwood.


  2. After verbs.

    I derive an unholy pleasure in noting.—Guernsey Evening Press.

    We must content ourselves for the moment by observing that from the juridical standpoint the question is a doubtful one.—Times.

    The petition which now reaches us from Bloemfontein ... contents itself by begging that the isolation laws may be carried out nearer to the homes of the patients.—Times.


    I content you by submitting: I content myself with saying.

    'Doing one's duty' generally consists of being moral, kind and charitable.—Daily Telegraph.

    The external world which is dealt with by natural science consisted, according to Berkeley, in ideas. According to Mr. Mill it consists of sensations and permanent possibilities of sensation.—Balfour.


    The moon consists of green cheese: virtue consists in being good. Consist of gives a material, consist in a definition. Mr. Balfour's 'elegant variation' (see Airs and Graces) is certainly wrong, though nominalists and realists will perhaps differ about which should have been used in both sentences, and no one below the degree of a metaphysician can pretend to decide between them.

    A scholar endowed by [with] an ample knowledge and persuasive eloquence to cite and instance.—Meredith.

    I say to you plainly there is no end to [at] which your practical faculty can aim...—Emerson.

    He urged that it was an undesirable thing to be always tinkering with this particular trade.—Times.


    We tamper with, but tinker at, the thing that is to be operated on.

    You may hunt the alien from his overcrowded tenement, you may forbid him, if you like, from toiling ten hours a day for a wage of a few shillings.—Times.


    His toiling, or him to toil.

    His readiness, not only at catching a point, but at making the most of it on a moment's notice, was amazing.—Bryce.


    On the spur of the moment, but at a moment's notice. The motive was, no doubt, to avoid repeating at; but such devices are sins if they are detected.

    Nataly had her sense of safety in acquiescing to such a voice.—Meredith.


    We acquiesce in, not to, though either phrase is awkward enough with a voice; to is probably accounted for again by the desire to avoid repeating in.

  3. After nouns.

    There can be no fault found to her manners or sentiments.—Scott.


    I find fault with: I find a fault in. Write in or with, as one or the other phrase is meant.

    The Diet should leave to the Tsar the initiative of taking such measures as may be necessary.—Times.

    M. Delcassé took the initiative of turning the conversation to Moroccan affairs.—Times.


    We assume the right of turning, we take the initiative in turning.

    Those, who are urging with most ardour what are called the greatest benefits of mankind.—Emerson.


    Benefits of the benefactor, but to the beneficiary.

    A power to marshal and adjust particulars, which can only come from an insight of [into] their whole connection.—Emerson.

    From its driving energy, its personal weight, its invincible oblivion to [of] certain things, there sprang up in Redwood's mind the most grotesque and strange of images.—H. G. Wells.


  4. Superfluous prepositions, whether due to ignorance of idiom, negligence, or mistaken zeal for accuracy.

    As to Mr. Lovelace's approbation of your assumption-scheme, I wonder not at.—Richardson.

    A something of which the sense can in no way assist the mind to form a conception of.—Daily Telegraph.

    The Congress could occupy itself with no more important question than with this.—Huxley.


    After than, the writer might have gone on if it occupied itself with this; but if he means that, he must give it in full.

  5. Necessary prepositions omitted.

    The Lady Henrietta ... wrote him regularly through his bankers, and once in a while he wrote her.—Baroness Von Hutten.


    Write without to will now pass in commercial letters only; elsewhere, we can say 'I write you a report, a letter', but neither 'I will write you' simply, nor 'I wrote you that there was danger'. That is, we must only omit the to when you not only is the indirect object, but is unmistakably so at first sight. It may be said that I write you is good old English. So is he was a-doing of it; I guess is good Chaucerian. But in neither case can the appeal to a dead usage—dead in polite society, or in England—justify what is a modern vulgarism.

  6. Compound prepositions and conjunctions.

    The increasing use of these is much to be regretted. They, and the love for abstract expression with which they are closely allied, are responsible for much of what is flaccid, diffuse, and nerveless, in modern writing. They are generally, no doubt, invented by persons who want to express a more precise shade of meaning than they can find in anything already existing; but they are soon caught up by others who not only do not need the new delicate instrument, but do not understand it. Inasmuch as, for instance, originally expressed that the truth of its clause gave the exact measure of the truth that belonged to the main sentence. So (from the Oxford Dictionary):

    God is only God inasmuch as he is the Moral Governor of the world.—Sir W. Hamilton.


    But long before Hamilton's day the word passed, very naturally, into the meaning, for which it need never have been invented, of since or because. Consequently most people who need the original idea have not the courage to use inasmuch as for it, like Sir W. Hamilton, but resort to new combinations with far. Those new combinations, however, as will be shown, fluctuate and are confused with one another. The best thing we can now do with inasmuch as is to get it decently buried; when it means since, since is better; when it means what it once meant, no one understands it. The moral we wish to draw is that these compounds should be left altogether alone except in passages where great precision is wanted. Just as a word like save (except) is ruined for the poet by being used on every page of ordinary prose (which it disfigures in revenge for its own degradation), so inasmuch as is spoilt for the logician.

    We shall first illustrate the absurd prevailing abuse of the compound preposition as to. In each of the following sentences, if as to is simply left out, no difference whatever is made in the meaning. It is only familiarity with unnecessary circumlocution that makes such a state of things tolerable to any one with a glimmering of literary discernment. As to flows from the pen now at every possible opportunity, till many writers seem quite unaware that such words as question or doubt can bear the weight of a whether-clause without help from this offensive parasite.

    With the idea of endeavouring to ascertain as to this, I invited...—Times.

    Confronted with the simple question as to in what way other people's sisters, wives and daughters differ from theirs...—Daily Telegraph.

    It is not quite clear as to what happened.—Westminster Gazette.

    Doubt is expressed as to whether the fall of Port Arthur will materially affect the situation.—Times.

    I feel tempted to narrate one that occurred to me, leaving it to your judgment as to whether it is worthy of notice in your paper.—Spectator.

    I was entirely indifferent as to the results of the game, caring nothing at all as to whether I had losses or gains.—Corelli.


    The first as to in this may pass, though plain to is better.

    German anticipations with regard to the future are apparently based upon the question as to how far the Sultan will...—Times.

    But you are dying to know what brings me here, and even if you find nothing new in it you will perhaps think it makes some difference as to who says a thing.—Greenwood.


    This is the worst of all. The subject of makes (anticipated in the ordinary way by it) is who says a thing; but the construction is obscured by the insertion of as to. We are forced to suppose, wrongly, that it means what brings me here. Worse than the worst, however, at least more aggressively wrong, is an instance that we find while correcting this sheet for the press:

    ...Although it is open to doubt as to what extent individual saving through more than one provident institution prevails.—Westminster Gazette.


    Another objection to the compound prepositions and conjunctions is that they are frequently confused with one another or miswritten. We illustrate from two sets. (a) The word view is common in the forms in view of, with a view to, with the view of. The first expresses external circumstances, existing or likely to occur, that must be taken into account; as, In view of these doubts about the next dividend, we do not recommend... The other two both express the object aimed at, but must not have the correspondence, a view to, the view of, upset.

    A Resolution was moved and carried in favour of giving facilities to the public vaccination officers of the Metropolis to enter the schools of the Board for the purpose of examining the arms of the children with a view to advising the parents to allow their children to be vaccinated.—Spectator.

    The Sultan ... will seek to obtain money by contracting loans with private firms in view of beginning for himself the preliminary reforms.—Times.

    If Germany has anything to propose in view of the safeguarding of her own interests, it will certainly meet with that courteous consideration which is traditional in French diplomacy.—Times.

    Its execution is being carefully prepared with a view of avoiding any collision with the natives.—Times.

    My company has been approached by several firms with a view of overcoming the difficulty.—Times.


    Of these the first is correct; but the sentence it comes in is so typical of the compound-prepositional style that no one who reads it will be surprised that its patrons should sometimes get mixed; how should people who write like that keep their ideas clear? The second should have with a view to. Still more should the third, which is ambiguous as well as unidiomatic; the words used ought to mean seeing that her interests are safeguarded already. The fourth and fifth should again have with a view to (or with the view of).

    (b) The combinations with far—as far as, so far as, so far that, in so far as, in so far that, of which the last is certainly, and the last but one probably needless—have some distinctions and limitations often neglected. For instance, as far as must not be followed by a mere noun except in the literal sense, as far as London. So far as and so far that are distinguished by good writers in being applied, the first to clauses that contain a doubtful or varying fact, the other to clauses containing an ascertained or positive fact. So far as (and in so far as), that is, means to whatever extent, and so far that means to this extent, namely that.

    The question of the Capitulations and of the Mixed Tribunals is not in any way essentially British, save in so far as the position of Great Britain in Egypt makes her primarily responsible.—Times.


    Correct; but except that would be much better than save in so far as.

    Previous to 1895, when a separate constitution existed for the Bombay and Madras armies, possibly a military department and a military member were necessary in order to focus at the seat of government the general military situation in India, but in the judgment of many officers well qualified to form an opinion, no such department under present conditions is really requisite, in so far as the action of the Commander-in-Chief is thwarted in cases where he should be the best judge of what is necessary.—Times.


    Entirely wrong. It is confused with inasmuch as, and since should be written.

    The officials have done their utmost to enforce neutrality, and have in so far succeeded as the Baltic fleet keeps outside the three-mile limit.—Times.


    Should be so far succeeded that; we are meant to understand that the fleet does keep outside, though it does not go right away as might be wished.

    The previous appeal made by M. Delcassé was so far successful as the Tsar himself sent orders to Admiral Rozhdestvensky to comply with the injunctions of the French colonial authorities.—Times.


    As should be that. It is not doubtful to what extent or whether the Tsar sent. He did send; that is the only point.

    They are exceptional in character, in so far as they do not appear to be modifications of the epidermis.—Huxley.


    Should probably be so far exceptional that. The point is that there is this amount of the exceptional in them, not that their irregularity depends on the doubtful fact of their not being modifications; the word appear ought otherwise to have been parenthetically arranged.

    This influence was so far indirect in that it was greatly furthered by Le Sage, who borrowed the form of his Spanish contemporaries.—Times.


    A mixture of was so far indirect that and was indirect in that.

    He seemed quickly to give up first-hand observation and to be content to reproduce and re-reproduce his early impressions, always trusting to his own invention, and the reading public's inveterate preference for symmetry and satisfaction, to pull him through. They have pulled him through in so far as they have made his name popular; but an artist and a realist—possibly even a humourist—have been lost.—Times.


    In so far as leaves the popularity and the pulling through doubtful, which they are clearly not meant to be. It should be so far that.

    A man can get help from above to do what as far as human possibility has proved out of his power.—Daily Telegraph.


    This is a whole sentence, not a fragment, as might be supposed. But as far as (except in the local sense) must have a verb, finite or infinite. Supply goes.

    The large majority would reply in the affirmative, in so far as to admit that there is a God.—Daily Telegraph.


    So far as to admit, or in so far as they would admit; not the mixture. And this distinction is perhaps the only justification for the existence of in so far as by the side of so far as; the first is only conjunction, the second can be preposition as well.


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