Tag Archives: prepositions

Last to come, first to go

A friend recently reminded me that prepositions are the “last to come and first to go” in language learning or retention. As someone who’s often placed a “por” where a “para” should be while speaking Spanish, I agree. Which leads me to the conclusion that the people creating these signs are still on their way toward mastery of English. An example from a tailor:

Note the poinsettia in the background, which presumably enjoys regular pruning and an occasional nip of fertilizer. After all, this shop brags about “all work done on our plant.” If the poinsettia isn’t the point, the preposition “on” should be “in” or “at,” explaining that the work (whatever it  might be) isn’t contracted out but performed by the business itself in a factory — “our plant.”

Sometimes an “on” is present where it shouldn’t be and absent where it should be:

According to the dictionary, “premises” are buildings and the land they stand on. The conventions of English allow you to be “on” land and “in” a building. The preposition, therefore, should be a toss-up, and both “on” and “in” should work. But that’s not the case.  I can’t  come up with a reason why “in these premises” sounds odd. “On” fits better here. It just does.

And now a sign from a photography studio:







“In to” or “into”?  “Into,”  with logic behind the choice. The single word “into” shows insertion, which is what the sign warns against. The two-word version implies separate actions, going “in” and then “to” some particular place: “Go in to your friend and apologize,” said Mary standing on the lawn and pointing to the house.

One more:







You can’t have “business with” a property, because “with,” to my mind, implies a person dealing with whoever enters the service entrance. I imagine that the sign should read “on the property.” But who knows? The US Supreme Court ruled in the “Citizens United” that corporations are people, too. Maybe “with” actually fits this context.

Feel free to get in touch with, at, to, by, or for me if you have other ideas.

You talking to me? at me? or with me?

New Yorkers wait “on line” (when they’re not cutting ahead, which is impolite – and yes, lady at the supermarket yesterday, I’m talking to you). The rest of the US waits “in line” (most likely, more politely than New Yorkers). In the UK, something may be “different to” something else, but in the US it’s “different from.” In other words, prepositions – on, in, to, from, and many other relational words – slide all over the map. If you don’t know the customary regional preposition for a phrase, you can end up with a meaning you did not intend. And, I should point out, sometimes a preposition may lead to confusion everywhere.

Take this sign (please):

Note the poinsettia in the background.

Note the flower and leaves in the background.









These words appear on (in?) the window of a dry cleaning shop. I’m betting that the sign is an attempt to say that your clothes won’t be shipped to another state but instead be cleaned and pressed right there. The sign should probably say “all work done in our plant” or “on the premises.” Instead, the sign implies that workers are fertilizing, watering, snipping dead leaves, and doing other routine chores “on our plant.” Right behind the sign, by the way, are two poinsettias. They look like they need some work.

Check out this one:

Business with?

Business with?









This sign makes me picture a business meeting between an animated, talking, Disneyesque building and whoever uses this service entrance. After all, the sign specifies “approved business with this property.” Not with the owners, the residents, or the staff on or in or at this property. “With this property” has a nice ring to it, though, and raises a number of questions. Can a property negotiate business deals? Is this property, a large and elegant structure, harder to do business with than, say, a small brownstone or a five-storey tenement? Send your theories at me. Or to me. Maybe towards me.