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How should I fill in the blank? on, for, about?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Generally speaking, I personally prefer "guide to" over "guide on"; "guide about" sounds rather strange to me (though not ungrammatical).

By the way, mohang's Google results are very different from what I'm seeing:

(If I add an article in front of "guide" to make sure that I only get results where it is a noun, the picture is the same: 119,000,000 vs 4,730,000 vs 252,000 for "a", and 15,500,000 vs 2,380,000 vs 156,000 for "the".)

I checked the British National Corpus (BNC) and the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA), and they both seem to agree:

                   BNC   COCA

guide.[n] to      1419   4553
guide.[n] on        37    194
guide.[n] about      4     15

guide to how        41     27
guide on how         6     16
guide about how      1      1

That being said, as Rocquie points out, two "to"s in rapid succession are not everybody's thing. I actually agree, so in this particular case, I would probably go with "on" (as Bruno suggests) or with "to" + gerund:

  • a guide on how to use it
  • a guide to using it

The BNC stats look as follows:

guide on how to     6
guide to how to     4
guide about how to  0

guide to using/getting/making     3/4/7
guide on using/getting/making     0/0/0
guide about using/getting/making  0/0/0

Now, what about "guide for"? That one is trickier, because it usually means something else entirely — more often than not, the for denotes the target audience rather than the subject of the guide (though the latter is not unheard of, either). Here are just a few examples from BNC and COCA:

  • The Guide for the Perplexed
  • A Guide for Married Couples
  • a Resource Guide for the Responsible Non-Monogamist
  • Evaluating the School: A Guide for Secondary Schools in the Metropolitan Borough of Solihull
  • Licensing Digital Content: A Practical Guide for Librarians
  • A Green Guide for Travelers
  • How to Win an Election: An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians
  • a copy of Practical Guide for Asthmatics

You can't meaningfully substitute to, on or about in any of these examples.

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People would in general use on.

There are many definitions of "on" in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. The definition to support "on" as the preposition choice in this case is:

Used as a function word to indicate the subject of study, discussion, or consideration (a book on insects)

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To sounds clumsy because of the other to. On is fine, about is OK but two syllables so not as concise as on.

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I would just say "a guide explaining how to use it" and avoid the unnecessary awkwardness.

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I like your idea. +1. –  Mehper C. Palavuzlar Sep 21 '11 at 10:24

Why not a guide to?

I checked Google search; the following are the results:

  1. guide on -> 1,910,000,000

  2. guide to -> 1,940,000,000

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