39. Errors with Prepositions

Errors with prepositions are among the most difficult errors to catch. Preposition use in English is very complex. For every rule, there seems to be an exception.
Prepositions are used in the following ways:

  • In adverbial phrases that show time, place, and other relationships
    in the morningon Pennsylvania Avenueto the park by a student
  • After certain nouns
    a cause ofa reason fora solution to
  • After certain adjectives and participles
    different fromaware ofdisappointed in
  • After certain verbs
    combine withrely onrefer to
  • In phrasal prepositions (two- or three-word prepositions)
    according totogether withinstead of
  • In certain set expressions
    by farin generalon occasionat last

There are two main types of preposition errors that you may see in the Written Expression part of the test:

A) Errors in Preposition Choice

The wrong preposition is used according to the context of the sentence.
There are two particular situations involving preposition choice that are often tested in Written Expression:

  • Errors with from . . . to and between . . . and

Both these expressions are used to give the starting time and ending time. They can also be used to show relationships of place and various other relationships.

He lived in Seattle from 1992 to 1997.
He lived in Seattle between 1992 and 1997.

Route 66 ran from Chicago to Los Angeles.
Route 66 ran between Chicago and Los Angeles.

Errors usually involve an incorrect pairing of those words, or the incorrect use of other prepositions:

*between A to B*from X and Y
*between A with B*since X to Y
  • Errors with since, for, and in

Since is used before a point in time with the present perfect tense–but never with the past tense. For is used before a period of time with the present perfect and other tenses. In is used before certain points in time (years, centuries, decades) with the past tense and other tenses–but never with the present perfect tense.

He’s lived here since 1995.
He’s lived here for two years.
He moved here in 1995.

Errors involve the use of one of these prepositions for another:

*He’s lived here in 1995.
*He’s lived here since two years.
*He lived here since 1995.

Sample Item

The pitch of a tuning fork (A) depends of (B) the size (C) and shape of its (D) arms.

(A) tuning fork
(B) of
(C) size
(D) its

The best answer is (B). The correct preposition after the verb depend is on, not of.

The Alaskan Pipeline runs (A) between (B) Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Coastal Plain to the port (C) of Valdez, a distance (D) of 789 miles.

(A) runs
(B) between
(C) port
(D) a distance

The best choice is (B). The correct pattern is from . . . to.

Candles were mankind’s (A) chief source of (B) illumination since (C) at least (D) 2,000 years.

(A) runs
(B) between
(C) port
(D) a distance

The best choice is (B). Before a period of time (2,000 years) the preposition for should be used.

B) Incorrect Inclusion or Omission of Prepositions

A preposition is used when one is not needed, or not used when one is needed.

Sample Item

According many (A) critics, Mark Twain’s novel Huckleberry Finn is his greatest (B) work, and is one of the (C) greatest American novels (D) ever written.

(A) According many
(B) greatest
(C) one of the
(D) novels

The best answer is (A). The preposition to has been omitted from the phrase According to.

Some (A) of the most of (B) spectacular waterfalls in the (C) eastern United States are found (D) in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania.

(A) Some
(B) most of
(C) in the
(D) are found

The correct choice is (B). The preposition of should not be used in this phrase. (When most means “majority,” it can be used in the phrase most of the. “Most of the people agree . . . ,” for example. However, in this sentence, most is part of the superlative form of the adjective spectacular, and so cannot be used with of.)

Exercise 39.1

Exercise 39.2

Exercise 39.3

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