Of Prepositions


There are some prepositions that can cause trouble. Here are a few of them.

till versus til

The word till has three separate usages: 1) preposition (until), 2) verb (to labor; as in till the soil) and 3) noun (a drawer or box for money or other valuables; unsorted glacial sediment). It’s the first usage that’s problematic.

Some sources state that till is not a shortened form of until, that till is a variant of until, and that till and until are interchangeable. So, one could say I waited until he was finished or I waited till he was finished. In these sources, til and ‘til are considered as spelling errors.

Interestingly, in its original old form, the spelling was til, not till (which had other meanings; e.g., “station or goal, to strive after or aim at”). In fact, til is considered a variant of until with the un dropped or lost. So, using til for until seems a more sensible, though not necessarily “approved” form of a shortened until.

Finally, one source states that until is preferred at the beginning of a sentence e.g., Until his behavior improves, he cannot become a member.)

So, since till has other common meanings, you may prefer to use til as a shortened or poetic form of until (e.g., Til we meet again).

toward versus towards

Both words mean “in the direction of”, and both are correct. However, in American English, toward is more common, while towards is used more in British English. To get to the root of the matter, literally, the second syllable, –ward, denotes “direction in space or time”, as indicated by the first syllable. Examples: seaward (“in the direction of the sea”), forward (“in the direction of the front or ahead”), backward (“in the direction of the rear”), afterward (“in the direction of after”, i.e., “later”). And finally, the older version of both words is toweard (with no s). Side-note: The same problem exists with anyway versus anyways (which is a non-standard form).

… up, … down

An annoying redundancy is to hear or see in print the phrase slow up (e.g., He slowed up the game). First of all, there’s usually no need to add the preposition; it’s better to say His play slowed the game. But even more, one might understand the phrase slow down, because one is reducing the speed of something (i.e., moving down on some gauge). Conversely, one might speed up (the implication being that the speed is going up on some gauge). One would never say speed down. So, if a preposition is to be added for emphasis, the two opposite phrases should be slow down and speed up. (Note: The term slow up may have been corrupted from pull up, meaning “to bring to a stop”, as a horse—that is, pulling up on the reins).

There are other parallel examples. One heats up when running or cools down afterward, but one never heats down or cools up. One may be told to listen up, but never to listen down. On the other hand, one can see a house burn down, and watch a pile of leaves burn up. Or, one can have a car break down, or one can break up some crackers. Also, one can chop down a tree, then chop up the wood. Finally, one can drink down a beverage or drink up heartily.

These are all colloquialisms that have made their way into the English language, but care should be exercised in their use.

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