Prepositions: The super-handy and horribly confusing widgets of language

To, from, of, by: The little linguistic bits that we use to fit in gaps and hold things together or keep them apart. But it's all rather arbitrary.

Line
(Image credit: Thinkstock)

Prepositions — connecting words such as to, from, and of — are basic bits of language with clear meaning and function. Right? After all, one of the quickest ways to know someone isn't a native speaker is if they use the wrong one: "Happy birthday for you!" "I'm going at the store during a few minutes."

But why do they use the wrong one in the first place? If the meaning of a preposition is as clear and natural as it seems to us, it shouldn't be so difficult. But it is. This is because prepositions are actually widgets — little bits that we use to fit in gaps and hold things together or keep them apart. We learn which one goes where, but most of the time it's at least a little arbitrary.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.

SUBSCRIBE & SAVE
https://cdn.mos.cms.futurecdn.net/flexiimages/jacafc5zvs1692883516.jpg

Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up
To continue reading this article...
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us