Recently I have read one of the stories from Humans of New York and I came across such sentence:

she fully understood how things work here. She was a news reporter back in the Bahamas. But the only job she could get here was taking care of old people. My dad could only work construction. We moved to four different states just so they could find work. They always told me, 'Just study hard in school and everything will work…

I got interested why there is no preposition after work. I have always thought it is to work in construction/education/finance.

On the English Stack Exchange forum I only found posts connected to different prepositions following work but there were no threads about work standing alone before the name of a job. I couldn’t find any other examples of this kind on the Internet; they were all containing prepositions or the word order was switched into construction work. I’m not sure whether it’s legitimate usage or more slang-ish way of saying My dad could only work in construction jobs.

  • I've encountered that usage in AmE enough to believe it's considered normal, but in BrE the only time I see it is when the work is replaced by a time or timeframe, e.g. I work nights, I work Saturdays in the run-up to Christmas and so on.
    – Spratty
    Nov 29, 2017 at 11:49
  • 1
    I think of construction here as a set of jobs, rather than an industry or economic sector; you can work assembly line but you wouldn't work car manufacturing in my idiolect, likewise I might say someone worked sales but not worked supermarkets. I worked short order for a stint in college, but I worked in food service and I worked at the dining hall. That might just be something peculiar to me, however.
    – choster
    Nov 29, 2017 at 16:51
  • I read it as if there is an implied "My Dad could only work construction [jobs]" and I don't think the "in" is necessary. It seems the omission is allowed only in fields / instances that have some elements of (1) being characterized by replaceable labor, (2) short term engagements, (3) lack of "professional" career status, or (4) specialized, non-transferable, skills. So "construction," "sales," "plumbing," and maybe even "teaching" sound natural to me.
    – MDHunter
    Nov 29, 2017 at 17:05

1 Answer 1


Not every deviation from a grammatical norm had to have a rule or reason behind it. The users and usage always come before the grammarian! How come ‘its’ (as in ‘of it’) has no apostrophe? I suppose someone decided to distinguish it from it’s (it is). But there is no rule there. We don’t write ‘times slow pendulum’ so as not to confuse it with ‘time’s short’!

You could call it a form of colloquialism or slang. The sentence you quote is quite clear casual (American) English. Someone leaves out the preposition ‘in’. Everyone understands. So the habit spreads. You could call it ‘ellipse’ (leaving out) and make rules for when you can omit and when you can’t. This might be a useful supplement to a grammar.

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