English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

You'll hear the determination in the voice of a young field organizer who's working his way through college.

This is a line from President Obama's address. My question is why it is through college, not during college? Sometimes these prepositions confuse me.

share|improve this question

closed as general reference by mplungjan, FumbleFingers, Kristina Lopez, coleopterist, tchrist Mar 15 '13 at 18:22

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Welcome to ELU. You may find that your questions are better suited to English Language Learners; I invite you to visit both, and post where you find answers of the sort you need. – StoneyB Mar 15 '13 at 16:24
General reference: work one's way through – mplungjan Mar 15 '13 at 16:35
As a general rule, no preposition may be substituted for any other preposition in all of its uses and idioms. However, it is common for prepositions to be substitutable in some of their uses and idioms. Through, for instance, also means finished, but this is certainly not a meaning of during. – John Lawler Mar 15 '13 at 17:16

‘Working your way through’ something means doing what is necessary in order to complete it. One ‘works one’s way through’ a problem or a challenge or difficult times.

The President isn't talking just about those who work during college; he is talking about those who must work in order to get through college.

share|improve this answer
Thank you, I feel much clear about it. – liosha Mar 16 '13 at 1:38

Through college' is fine because 'college' is often used as a phase in life (in terms of time). So just like we would say things like, "moving through time", we can say "moving through college".

Also, one works his way 'through' something(path), so we will have to re-structure the whole sentence if we want to use 'during college'. Eg: "You'll hear the determination in the voice of a young field organizer who works during his college days"
The later sounds less natural, btw.

share|improve this answer
Thank you, I learned what else college could be. – liosha Mar 16 '13 at 1:40

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.