Agree with and wait for: common mistakes with verbs and their prepositions

by Liz Walter

waitSeveral readers have asked for more help with prepositions, so this post concentrates on prepositions you need to use with verbs. These often cause problems for learners, particularly because verbs with similar meanings may use different prepositions or may not need prepositions at all. For instance, we arrive at or in a place, get to a place, but simply reach a place – no wonder people get confused! (see In London but at the station: prepositions for talking about travel for a fuller discussion of prepositions connected with travel.)

So firstly, how do you know whether or not a verb needs a preposition before an object? And how do you know which preposition to use? Well, there are some verbs that are so common, you really need to learn how to use them correctly. If I had a pound for every time I’ve reminded my students that they listen to music or that they are looking at or waiting for someone or something, I would be rich by now!

However, for less common words, the best thing is to look in a good learner’s dictionary, such as the dictionary on our site. The correct prepositions will be shown in heavy type in the examples. For instance, at the verb depend, we can see the following:

Whether or not we go to Mexico for our holiday depends on the cost.

This tells us that the best preposition to use with depend is on.

In addition, many learner’s dictionaries have notes about very common errors. For example, in its book version, the Cambridge dictionary has a clear warning not to say It depends from the traffic.

In the same way, the entry for the verb wait includes two examples highlighting the combination wait for something, and has a note explaining that learners often make the mistake of missing out the preposition.

On the other hand, a lot of mistakes come from using prepositions where they are not needed.

For instance, we call a friend – we do not call to a friend. Similarly, in UK English we visit a friend – we don’t visit to a friend. Note that Americans visit with friends. All of this information is also available in learner’s dictionaries.

Finally, two other points that often cause mistakes with verbs and prepositions. Firstly, when a verb with a preposition is followed by another verb, you usually need an –ing form for the second verb:

They accused her of stealing.

She insisted on coming with us.

They accused her of steal.

She insisted on to come with us.

Secondly, when a verb has two objects, the preposition and indirect object must come after the direct object, not before it:

He explained the system to me.

He explained to me the system.

You can find more information on direct and indirect objects here.

For some more advice on verbs with prepositions, you might like to go back to my recent posts about talking verbs: Say and tell: How to talk about talking (1)  and How to talk about talking (2) , since they cause a lot of mistakes of this type.

20 thoughts on “Agree with and wait for: common mistakes with verbs and their prepositions

  1. As a professional writer, I can offer a tip: if you are uncertain about a specific word, you can “write around” the problem by re-phrasing the sentence. Instead of “I am keen,” for instance, you could say “I really like ” or “I really want to .” .

    1. Liz Walter

      Well I agree with you, Noha, in ordinary life, but if you need to pass exams in English, which lots of readers here do, you do need to get this stuff ‘right’.

    1. Liz Walter

      That’s not an easy question to answer, I’m afraid. But basically, use ‘of’ for talking about having an opinion of something: What do you think of his novels? Use ‘of’ for coming up with ideas: Can you think of a way to open the lock? Use ‘about’ for considering an idea: I need to think about it. Use ‘of’ for remembering: I couldn’t think of his name. Use either (but more commonly about) for generally having thoughts in your head: I was thinking about my holiday.

      Hope that helps.

  2. hamzat

    Hi Liz,
    I noted your use of the word, ‘Firstly’, and I can recall a publication by Fiftikides titled ‘Common Mistakes in English’ which was quite popular in my west-african origin.
    He declared that the word ‘Firstly’ is wrong. That you should simply write, ‘First’, and subsequently follow it with Secondly or Thirdly if for instance you are outlining some points.
    Will be grateful for your informed view please.

  3. Pingback: Agree with and wait for: common mistakes with verbs and their prepositions – englishmoreformal

  4. Shraddha

    Hello Liz,
    I am a regular blog reader and a fan of your writing.
    While reading the previous question about the word ‘firstly’, I recalled a scene when I used a word ‘Thrice’ and some of my European Friends laughed at me.
    Is the word completely wrong?
    can you please give me suggestions regarding this?

    1. Liz Walter

      The reason they laughed was because it is a very formal and old-fashioned word. It’s not wrong, but we don’t really use it any more, especially in speech.

      1. Shraddha

        Thanks Liz,
        actually it’s very common in India to use ‘Thrice’ and I didn’t know that it is no longer in use!
        I will remember this and use ‘Three times’ instead.

  5. Hello Liz,

    I’m a English student and just came up with a doubtful sentence:

    “My parents were happy when they realized my mother was pregnant. They felt very happy since I was the first child of them”

    My questions is: Is the last part correct or should I better use ‘I was the first child of theirs’?
    I know I’d better say ‘I was their first child’, but how about the other structure?

    Thanks Liz.

    1. Liz Walter

      ‘of theirs’ is better – ‘of them’ is definitely wrong, but as you say, ‘their first child’ would be a much better and more natural way of saying it. However, there are contexts in which ‘of theirs’ sounds natural. For example ‘He’s a friend of theirs.’ (Never ‘of them’). Hope that helps!

  6. Pingback: Prepositions | ELT Infodump

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s