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Curriculum and Student Achievement

Choosing the Right Preposition: Problem Pairs

Some pairs of prepositions cause problems for even the most careful writers. Often those problems arise from the dialects we speak, and so our ears aren’t trained to hear the problems. Fortunately, a little logic can often tell us which one of the pair is the correct choice in any given situation.

1. Off/Of

Do not use the word of after the word off.

Right: The book fell off the table.

Wrong: The book fell off of the table.

2. From/Than

When you are trying to say that something is unlike something else, that something is different from something, use from. Than means in comparison to (similarity). It is illogical to use than to express difference.

Right: My ideas are different from yours.

Right: These blouses are different from those.

**Note: When differ means disagree, the correct preposition to use with it is with.

Right: I beg to differ with you.

3. Among/Between

Between is the correct preposition to use when there are two people or things involved. Among is correct when there are three or more.

Right: We will put this book between the other two.

Right: We will put this book among all the many others in this group.

4. Like/As

Both like and as are prepositions that express similarity. People tend to think of them as interchangeable, but they are not. As is a conjunction that shows similarity, but like is not. Problems arise when we substitute the preposition like for the conjunction as. The following sentence is an example of the problem:

Wrong: I will do like you advise. (“you advise” is a clause [it has a subject and a verb] and can’t be the object of a preposition; the clause requires a conjunction to introduce it.)

Right: I will do as you advise.

5. In/Into

In means inside of, it indicates location-no action. Into indicates direction, movement from the outside to the inside of. It merely indicates location; in indicates no action.

Right: The cat is in the basket.

Right: The cat went into the basket.

**Note: If you need to indicate movement, use into.