Which preposition should be used in the following situations — on, to or of?

  1. payment on/to/of something.
  2. Here is the money to/of it.
  • Adpositions depends on context... – Em1 May 24 '12 at 9:35
  • This question does not seem of broad appeal. This is partly because the second example wouldn't take either of those two prepositions. Is there a general rule you are seeking out? – Matt E. Эллен Aug 25 '12 at 11:35

Payment is a nominalization of the verb pay, and therefore it inherits properties of the verb, including some prepositional usages. And pay is a particularly complex verb (it's the short verbs that tend to cause problems in English; they're really common and develop all kinds of idioms and special usages).

Pay is part of the Commercial Transaction Frame (CTF), which means that it involves

  • not just two Noun Phrases (NPs)
    (Subject and Direct Object NPs, as in a transitive clause like Mary ate lunch),
  • or even three NPs
    (Source/Subject, Trajector/Direct Object, and Receiver/Indirect Object,
    as in a bitransitive clause like Mary bought Bill lunch),
  • but four NPs, each with a very specific semantic role in this frame.
    And specific prepositions to mark each NP with in a nominalization:
    a payment of $10 by Mary to Bill for lunch.

These NPs (also featured in other CTF usages, like buy, spend, and sell) are:

  1. the Payer, subject of pay, and prototypically a human NP
  2. the Money, direct object of pay and one the two trajectors (i.e, things that move)
  3. the Payee, indirect object of pay, also prototypically human
  4. the Commodity, the other trajector, which takes the preposition for.

With pay, the action starts with the Payer possessing the Money and the Payee possessing the Commodity; paying means moving the Money to the Payee and the Commodity to the Payer, so that the possession relations are reversed at the end of (and as a result of) the action.

This is fine with a verb, since subject, direct object, and indirect object all have places in the structure, and can even participate in the Dative Alternation:

  • Bill paid Marian $100 for the lamp.
  • Bill paid $100 to Marian for the lamp .

So that's two prepositions accounted for: to marks the indirect object of pay (in this case, the Payee) and for marks the Commodity; these preposition choices are inherited by payment:

  • a payment to Marian for the lamp

But nouns can't have subjects or direct objects, either, so more prepositions are necessary.

When a transitive verb is nominalized (the rules are different for intransitives, but pay is, if anything, super-transitive), of marks the direct object of pay (i.e, the Money), and by its subject (the Payer):

  • a payment of $100 by Bill to Marian for the lamp

which is unwieldy but grammatical and unambiguous.

There are other ways to do this; for instance, the subject can possess the nominalization:

  • Bill's payment of $100 to Marian for the lamp

And they can appear by themselves

  • a payment by Bill
  • a payment for the lamp
  • a payment to Marian
  • a payment of $100

or in any combination -- one rarely needs to specify all four NPs with a nominalization, in context.

| improve this answer | |
  • What does "NP" mean? – Zahhar May 24 '12 at 22:02
  • Noun Phrase: pronoun, noun, noun with modifiers, compound nouns, noun clause -- all NPs. Thanks for the suggestion; I fixed it in the answer. – John Lawler May 24 '12 at 22:12
  • 1
    Thought it was NP-Complete. – Noah Jun 22 '12 at 6:23
  • I’ll bet you five bucks this is another CTF. Or not. – tchrist Nov 24 '19 at 16:34

I'm not following your use of "sth". But, maybe this will help in any case:

"Payment is due on the 5th."

"Payments are made to ABC Corp Ltd."

"I made a payment of $400."

"Here is the money for it."


"Here is the $400 for this month's rent."

| improve this answer | |
  • Essentially any preposition can be used here depending on context. Payment could also be due by the 5th, through ABC Corp, against $400 [of a debt], with it [i.e. something else I am also presenting]. – choster May 24 '12 at 15:02
  • "Sth." (sometimes w/o the period) is simply a common formulaic abbreviation for indefinite something; "s.t" and "s.o" are also common. – John Lawler May 24 '12 at 16:42
  • 1
    Right. But these abbreviations should be avoided in all but the most informal of contexts, since there are many people (like Erin, apparently) who do not recognize their meaning. – Charles May 24 '12 at 19:48

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