Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Point in, point of, point to. (Point in the sense of "purpose".) What are the differences among these — in meaning? in usage (each is used in certain constructions or with certain collocates, say)? in dialect? in register? etc.

Some examples (though I'm asking more generally than just about these examples):

(1a) There's no point in going.
(1b) There's no point of going.
(1c) There's no point to going.

(2a) Is there a point in his action?
(2b) Is there a point of his action?
(2c) Is there a point to his action?

(3a) What's the point in that sculpture's being there?
(3b) What's the point of that sculpture's being there?
(3c) What's the point to that sculpture's being there?

share|improve this question
    
Answer: it all depends. In your examples, 1b is awkward if not ungrammatical; 2b likewise, and 2c conveys the meaning best while 2a is ambiguous (could refer to point in time); any of the third group could be used, though I would favor 3b. –  Robusto Mar 25 '12 at 16:09
1  
It's also sometimes used with no preposition at all; I think your (1a-c) examples wouldn't require a preposition if your gerund phrase were a bit longer, e.g. "There's no point arguing about it." –  ruakh Mar 25 '12 at 22:50
    
@ruakh: Far more people keep the preposition with "There's no point in arguing" than drop it. Checking Google Books, it's still 2:1 in favour of keeping it with "There's no point in arguing about it". But we know it's "wrong", which is why we don't do this so often in shorter constructions, where it's more noticeable. –  FumbleFingers Mar 26 '12 at 0:49
    
@FumbleFingers: To be clear: I wasn't saying that "There's no point arguing about it" is better or more common than "There's no point in arguing about it." I was merely pointing out that the former is in use. (But I don't know about your "'wrong'"-ness explanation for why it's more common with longer phrases. I can think of other explanations that seem more plausible to me; and I have no idea how to test any of them.) –  ruakh Mar 26 '12 at 0:54
    
@ruakh: I'm intrigued. The gerund arguing is still a noun, even if you extend it into a noun phrase such as arguing endlessly about this minor detail. How could anything like that affect the "grammaticality" of not using a preposition? –  FumbleFingers Mar 26 '12 at 1:00
show 5 more comments

2 Answers

There's no "rule" here - just established idiomatic norms.

  • (1a) There's no point in going. (most common)
  • (1b) There's no point of going. (non-standard)
  • (1c) There's no point to going. (sometimes acceptable)

  • (2a) Is there a point in his action? (often acceptable)

  • (2b) Is there a point of his action? (non-standard)
  • (2c) Is there a point to his action? (most common)

  • (3a) What's the point in that sculpture's being there? (often acceptable)

  • (3b) What's the point of that sculpture's being there? (most common)
  • (3c) What's the point to that sculpture's being there? (sometimes acceptable)

(most speakers would drop the apostrophe+s on the last three).

share|improve this answer
    
Nice sets! I agree with FumbleFingers' judgements. What I notice is the different predicates of the prepositions in each of your groups. in + gerund (N over V) to + noun (just N) of + gerundive phrase? (NP over VP-with-subject: "that sculpture is there") This might explain part of the differences. –  Neil Salmond Mar 25 '12 at 22:16
add comment

The preposition depends on the purpose/disposition of the subject. Your question is akin to asking the difference between,

  • There are no roads to Rome.
  • There are no roads in Rome.
  • There are no roads for Rome.

~

  • What is the purpose in asking that question?
  • What is the purpose to be able to live eternally?
  • What is the purpose for the existence of human kind?
share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

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