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Is it fixed that words will always take a specific preposition after them?
I am reading a book "High school English grammar". It says for example

The following nouns take preposition for after them. :- ambition, blame, aptitude candidate, match, ...

and

The following nouns take preposition of after them. :- assurance, charge, distrust, doubt, failure, ...

and same for other prepositions

Is that so? I am not a native English speaker but I doubt what is written in the book, I think prepositions are used according to meaning of sentence and are not fixed.

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I will get fill in the blanks with preposition questions in my test. –  LifeH2O Jan 6 '11 at 22:18
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3 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

For the most part, your book is correct, but you are right to be suspicious. The appropriate word can change depending on the intended meaning of the sentence in some cases. Here are a few examples:

  • I have had a change of heart
    It is a change for the better

  • What we have here is a failure to communicate
    This is a failure of epic proportions

  • I have the ambition to succeed
    I have an ambition for greatness

Note: it is a good idea to talk to your instructor about questions like this. You may not be required to know all of the special cases right now. Special cases can make the learning process more complicated, so some classes will save them for later.

Wikipedia has this to say:

In ambiguous cases, there is not always a clear rule that dictates which adposition is appropriate, and different languages and regional dialects may have different conventions; the standard usage(s) of a given preposition can be idiomatic. Learning the conventionally preferred word is a matter of exposure to examples. For example, most dialects of American English have "to wait in line", but some have "to wait on line". It is for this reason that prepositions are one of the most difficult aspects of a language to learn for non-native speakers.

For reference, here is the description of adposition used in the same article:

In more technical language, an adposition is an element that ... indicates how that phrase should be interpreted in the surrounding context. Some linguists use the word preposition instead of adposition for all three cases.

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2  
I would +1, but I think we must spell out that the to in "failure to communicate" and "ambition to succeed" is not a preposition. (I realize that nowhere in your post do you pretend that it were, you've wisely calling it "appropriate word", but I'm afraid that that might go unnoticed by foreign learners.) –  RegDwigнt Jan 6 '11 at 23:21
    
However, despite some of these inconsistencies, the fact remains that the OP's textbook is mostly correct. Prepositions are idiomatically fixed most of the time, and trying to fiddle with the idioms to respect the supposed semantics of the preposition will make your sentences wrong. –  JSBձոգչ Jan 6 '11 at 23:27
    
@RegDwight: I think I understand: "to communicate" and "to succeed" are verb-phrases, so "to" does not count as an adposition in those cases? I think you have given me too much credit for my "wise" choice of words :) –  e.James Jan 6 '11 at 23:29
    
Thanks, this answer was simple to understand. I just given my paper now waiting for result :) –  LifeH2O Jan 11 '11 at 12:09
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The truth is somewhere in between. A few points:

  • There are rules of grammar that advise writers on how to write in the "best" way, whatever that may be.

  • There is a certain consensus among educated writers about many of those rules. The rules for the prepositions you mentioned are accepted by most of them, or so I believe, though some of the ones I saw have more than one option.

  • Even so, many people will break those rules on occasion, either in error or in conscious deviation.

  • There are also words that can take several prepositions according to the rules, depending on meaning. Take the word "match" from your example: "we are no match for the English longbows" means we can be easily defeated by them; "that shirt is a good match with your pants" means the shirt is a good fit with the pants; "we will win the match against the red team" means we will win the game against the red team.

  • Lastly there are words that can take several prepositions with little or no difference in meaning, according to the rules.


Note that a prepositional phrase can belong to a preceding noun, or it can be used adverbially to belong to the whole sentence in general.

He was in charge of the whole operation because only he could do it.

The prepositional phrase "of the operation" is closely tied to "charge". In what kind of charge was he? - In charge of the whole operation. In this case, only "of" is possible, because only "of" can be used to express the specific kind of relation between "charge" and "the operation".

I was in charge during the first part of the expedition.

"During the first part" belongs to the sentence as a whole, or to the verb - not to "charge" specifically. In this case, a great many prepositions could be used, because there are many prepositions that can introduce adverbial constituents (in the forest, under the circumstances, after midnight, etc.).

Those rules you quoted do not apply to this: they are meant to teach you special combinations of word + preposition + x, in which the relation between word and x is of such a character that you would expect it to be expressed by another preposition, had you not known that this specific preposition was to be used in this specific combination.

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While nothing in this post is incorrect, I think that this is a bit more waffling than is useful for a foreign learner. –  JSBձոգչ Jan 6 '11 at 23:24
2  
@JSBangs: I am more used to giving simple answers in such cases, but on this site I keep feeling the hot breath of linguists in my neck, who tend to discourage the use of right and wrong, rules and violations, and who seem to want to be as descriptive as possible, using linguistic terms. Without a disclaimer, I feel I might be accused of prescriptivism - perhaps this fear is not always realistic. I am still learning the conventions that rule this site. –  Cerberus Jan 6 '11 at 23:55
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to + verb is a different part of grammar which is known as to-infinitive which comes under "Determiners". verb never takes any other form except first form irrespective of the tense of the sentence

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Welcome to ELU. Did you add this answer to the wrong question? It seems not to have much to do with prepositions as asked in the question here. –  Andrew Leach Oct 5 '13 at 10:30
    
In addition, it does not seem to make very much sense … –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 5 '13 at 14:42
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