by Liz Walter
Several 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.
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.