Common Preposition Errors in English, and How to Avoid Them

Errors Associated with Preposition

To start with, let us discuss a few errors associated with the use of preposition. Perhaps we could start off with what relates to the preceding sentence. I say, let us discuss, Not let us discuss about.

Ok. Now let move on.
  • We are discussing about the matter ❌
  • We were discussing about you ❌
  • We are discussing the matter ✔️
  • We were discussing you ✔️
Often, as learners/users of English, we say, we are discussing about the matter or we were discussing about you. Such expressions are wrong. The correct usage does not include about. In other words, we are supposed to say we are discussing the matter or we were discussing you

However, we can have discussion about some matter or about someone. The point here is that usage with respect to the two words (though with shared roots) differs. The verb discuss does not require a preposition whereas the noun discussion does.

Other verbs used in a similar way include seek, advocate, demand, solicit, order, request, clap, comprise, sit and so on. These verbs do not combine with the preposition for or of, as commonly used. Phrases such as seek for, advocate for, demand for, solicit for, order for, request (when used as a verb) for, clap for, and comprise of, are therefore wrong.

Simply, we seek something, we advocate something, we demand something, we solicit something, we place order for something, we request something, we clap a person, we/they comprise a group.

Please, note that order for as used in the last context is correct because it is used in collocation with place. We say place order for something. For example, we say The new manager has placed order for additional furniture. This is unlike when we say The police officer has ordered for the arrest of the suspect. In this case, the correct expression is The police officer has ordered the arrest of the suspect.

Examples of Common Preposition Errors and How to Avoid Them

Another very common example of wrong usage among Nigerian users of English, especially students, is when people say sit for examination. The correct expression is actually sit examination. Thus, we say I am planning to sit the next GCE examination or I sat GES 101 examination last session.

Interestingly, there are instances where prepositions are supposed to combine as particles with verbs to create phrasal verbs but are erroneously left out. Some examples are given below.

Example 1:
  • He dropped me at home. (wrong)
  • He dropped me off at home. (right)
Example 2
She opens the shop at noon. (wrong)
She opens up the shop at noon. (right)
Example 3
Dispose those pieces of paper. (wrong)
Dispose of those pieces of paper. (right)
Have you ever used or heard people use expressions like He always sits at the back, Go and sit at the back or I like sitting at the back? Is anything wrong with these expressions? Perhaps, yes. Perhaps, no. The question is, when do we use at the back. We use at the back when we refer to outside of an enclosure.

For example, The ram is tethered at the back of the house or The children are playing at the back of the kiosk. On the other hand, we use in the back when we refer to the rear part of an enclosure. Thus, we say I like sitting in the back of the classroom, NOT I like sitting at the back of the classroom; Go and sit in the back of the car, NOT Go and sit at the back of the car. Using the latter expression, as is quite common, suggests outside of the given enclosure.

How about You are standing under the sun or I am under the shade? Have you ever used or heard people use such expressions? They are incorrect. Apparently, these errors result from the notion that the sun is always above and whatever provides a shade is also always above.

Consequently, those things or people below are under them. While this reasoning may sound logical, the correct usage in English is in the sun or in the shade. Rules and conventions in language are not always logical. The correct way to render the ideas in the sampled sentences above, therefore, is to say You are standing in the sun or I am in the shade.

Another usage connected with preposition and often wrongly applied is result to. When we use result to to mean cause to happen, such an expression would be wrong. The preposition that combines with result to give this meaning is in. Thus, it is wrong to say The stubbornness of the boy resulted to his suspension. The correct expression is, The stubbornness of the boy resulted in his suspension.

Closely related to this is the phrase translate to, which is often erroneously used when what is intended is change into a different language. If we mean change into a different language, then the correct phrasing would be translate into. Thus, we can say Wole Soyinka has translated some of D.O. Fagunwa's works into English. Also, when we speak of other things changing from one form to another, translate into is the appropriate usage.

For instance, we can say You need to translate those wonderful ideas into action. However, when we use the word translate in a different context or with a different meaning in mind, it is possible to have translate to. For example, we can say The last employee's outstanding university degree did not translate well (was not suitable) to the corporate world.

As we are travelling to abroad very soon, perhaps we should stop here and continue when we return. Does any phrase in the first clause of the last sentence sound familiar? Most likely, yes: travelling to abroad. Similarly, people speak of going to abroad, to live in abroad, travel to overseas, live in overseas and so on. These expressions fall under wrong usage.

Using such verbs as 'above' together with abroad or overseas does not call for any preposition. It is sufficient and correct to use only the verb and the word abroad or overseas, as in these examples:

  1. My uncle has been living abroad since I was born.
  2. Tayo has travelled overseas.
  3. Hammed now lives
  4. I am travelling abroad very soon.
  5. She will soon go overseas to meet her fiancé.

Suppose you have a query like, What do you think about Sola putting up with us tonight? Someone may respond by saying It's okay with me. Another person may say It's okay by me. Yet, another person may say It's okay for me, which may be recast as For me, it's okay.

The question is, which is correct or incorrect. which is formal or informal. Whereas the first (It's okay with me) is correct but informal, the second (It's okay by me) is correct and formal. The third is incorrect outright. These correct forms may also be recast as With me, it's okay or By me, it's okay. To be sure, there are many other areas of wrong usage associated with preposition in the English language. The foregoing examples are just some.

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