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Sometimes I'm unsure about which prepositions can be used with a verb or adjective and how they change the meaning.

Are there any resources to help me with this?

A few examples of tricky preposition I'm collecting when I run into one:

  • To be curious as to something
  • Doing right/well/best by someone
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    Wasn't there a similar question posted on meta not long ago?
    – Cascabel
    Feb 22 '21 at 18:59
  • @Cascabel: no idea. Haven't found it before posting.
    – peoro
    Feb 22 '21 at 19:08
  • OK...resource requests are in the domain of meta. I will VTC to migrate there. BTW...we often call these collocations.
    – Cascabel
    Feb 22 '21 at 19:11
  • First, learn the difference between prepositions that are required by the verb, like look at (the painting) or listen to (the song), on the one hand, and phrasal verbs like look up (the word) or pass out (the exams), on the other. They behave very differently, and just asking about "prepositions" will give you confusing answers. Feb 22 '21 at 19:46
  • @JohnLawler: I don't have a problem with common phrasal verbs. Sometimes I get confused with what prepositions to use with less common verbs. For instance, why "this device is calibrated X my specifications" takes "to", instead of "on", "around" or others?
    – peoro
    Feb 22 '21 at 20:11
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    Prepositions are rough in English, varying greatly by context. You could study 500 flash cards and still stumble. English speakers know that and forgive mistakes. Read a lot of books in a favorite subject. Feb 22 '21 at 23:35
  • @YosefBaskin: I know what prepositions to use 99% of the time. But at times I'm trying to phrase something using words I'm a bit less familiar with and I stumble on the preposition. (e.g. stumble ON? TO? WITH? AGAINST? AROUND? OVER? isn't it kind of arbitrary?). What I'm looking for is something where I can look up a specific word and see which prepositions can be used with that word and how the meaning changes... I would need this tool even just to create the flashcards.
    – peoro
    Feb 23 '21 at 8:25
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    A good dictionary is very helpful, ideally multiple dictionaries. Here Lexico and Merriam-Webster both have various examples. You just have to find what seems the closest. There is a lot of variation in many cases, including variation between dictionaries, so you just have to try your best. lexico.com/definition/stumble merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stumble
    – Stuart F
    Feb 23 '21 at 12:13
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    @StuartF: yes, a good dictionary could work, but none of the ones I tried so far is enough. Neither lexico nor merriam-webster suggest that "on" is an appropriate preposition for stumbling (the second uses "onto" in an example for a secondary meaning of the verb). Dictionary.com and thesaurus.com are of no help either...
    – peoro
    Feb 23 '21 at 13:26
  • If I search on google something like "stumble on vs stumble", I find a number of questions from people who try to figure out what's the correct preposition for that verb. But I'm surprised that's the only way to find an answer...
    – peoro
    Feb 23 '21 at 13:27
  • (And my previous comment contains yet another example: why "search ON google" instead of IN, WITH, or no preposition? I know that ON is correct from experience, but if I didn't I don't think I'd be able to guess correctly and wouldn't know how to find it out. Dictionaries once again are of no help.)
    – peoro
    Feb 23 '21 at 13:36
  • On and in is usually metaphoric, so you hafta decide whether Google is a container of information (use in) or a big flat screen that you read off (use on). That question has an answer, but it doesn't depend on (or extend to, depending on your metaphor) verbs. You can get learner's dictionaries and verb dictionaries that actually tell you these things, or look in the OED, but don't expect any useful information in dictionaries published in the US. They are published for Americans, who are expected not to know anything about the English language, and they are generally correct. Feb 23 '21 at 15:34
  • This a handy table; however, their meanings you will have to look them up yourself.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 27 '21 at 11:06
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    These sites have several infographs , tables and mind maps (look at the column on the left for more examples of adjectives + prepositions). But you're better off creating your own lists, with different meanings and finding patterns by yourself. You'll learn more that way.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 27 '21 at 11:32
  • Thanks for the links @Mari-LouA that's useful, but it's not a complete list I can search (in?).
    – peoro
    Dec 27 '21 at 14:30
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Find examples in use

There are a lot of different ways to go about this, with the difference being the quantity and the quality of the results.

  • Searching Google will give the most results, but many aren't of high quality and it's sometimes hard to get the results you need. However, you might find a single good result explaining the phrase, which is all you need.

  • Searching a corpus will give better results. A corpus like COCA is extremely powerful, even if some of that requires some knowledge to use. In your case, curious * is all you need to input and you'll find "curious as" in the top results, which you can expand to see is really "curious as to". Unfortunately, I find that I don't always agree that the language in COCA (or other corpora) is idiomatic or correct, even when there are a dozen matches for a phrase. Part of speech tagging is automated and therefore frequently confused, so I tend to not search by PoS. One of the other useful features here is the ability to search for words that occur near other words, even when they're not right next to each other (collocations).

  • Someone out there realized that corpus searches produce valuable results and did the work for you. The result is called a collocation dictionary, and it lists a number of words that are often used with specific words, usually sorted by part of speech. For your example, looking up "curious" gave me:

    as to
    She was curious as to why he was there.

Even with something like prepositions, you're not guaranteed to find an existing example even when something really is idiomatic. Language works on patterns as much as exact collocations, so try similar words to see what you find.

Define

Looking up prepositions in dictionaries is tedious because there are always so many definitions, but this also means that you're more likely to find what you want.

When I looked up "as", I found:

as to
With respect to; concerning.

That's the correct meaning.

After that?

If you've gone through all that and still don't have an answer you can be confident in, you've set yourself up to be able to ask a good question. Make sure there's not already an open duplicate question before starting, and include your research when you ask. ELL is the safer choice if you think the question would be obvious to a native speaker — note that both ELU and ELL have very advanced or native speakers who answer questions.

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