Prepositions

As a PBNN (primary but not native) anglophone (with English being, chronologically, my fourth primary language) I have an instinctive tendency to compare aspects of English with corresponding ones in other languages that I know.

In particular, I have observed that English is relatively looser with prepositions than other languages, and that there is a good deal of variation in the use of prepositions for specific meanings.

I learned early on that wait on and wait for are verbs with distinct meanings. And yet the use of the former with the meaning of the latter is quite common, and seems to be quite old, at least in some regions (the OED gives a citation from 1694).

I also learned that, while for sale means ‘available to buy’, on sale usually means ‘for sale at a reduced price’. But I often see notices from performance organization announcing TICKETS ON SALE NOW, though upon checking I discover that they are sold at the regular price.

And then there is the American sportscaster’s on, as in “he’s got twelve wins on the season”, where standard English would have “over the season” or “in the course of the season”.

But on isn’t the only preposition that seems to be replacing others. There are two shifts that I have noticed recently, though they may be older than I think.

One: nowadays I usually here announcers on classical-music stations describing a composition as being from, rather by by, its composer. This, interestingly enough, brings English in line with German (von) and Romance (de/di), though it may be a coincidence.

Two: I often hear or read about an organization being based out of such-and-such a place, rather than based in it. This seems strange, since I interpret based as meaning ‘having its base’, and a base would be in a place, not out of it. My guess for this shift is as follows: if an entity has agents operating away from its base, such agents are often referred to as operating out of the location of the base, and based out of is a conflation (a frequent phenomenon in English) of based in and operating out of.

 


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