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Learn to Write English Clearly and Correctly

Set 5 - Lesson 23 ( Go to the Answer Key )


Lesson 23: Which Nouns Must Be Used With Which Prepositions? - OF, FOR, WITH, IN

Because of tradition, because of the accepted usage in the language we borrowed the word from, or for some unknown reason, certain words are always used in combination with certain other words.  A person born and raised in an English-speaking country does not need (and usually does not know) the reason for such combinations - they just sound right.  In this lesson, we will be dealing with Noun-Preposition pairs.

  • Reason (for):  One has a reason for doing something or a reason for something.  "What was your reason for staying home last night?"  Staying home is a gerund phrase acting as a noun, the object of the preposition FOR.  "There was no logical reason for his failure."  Failure (noun) is the object of the preposition FOR. 

Other nouns which use the preposition FOR: check, demand, need, advantage, disadvantage, cause, answer.

I gave the clerk a check for the flowers. There was a great demand for his services. The lawyer had a pressing  need for the right answer. Having the former pro player as coach was an advantage for my team.

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Note: You will hear or read the expression "reason to", which may cause you to think reason can be used with the prepositions TO or FOR.  If you examine the situations more closely, however, you will see that "reason to" is always used with a verb (reason to sing, reason to laugh) which means that the word TO is not a preposition, but part of the infinitive (to + verb).

Nouns which use the preposition WITH: contact, contract, negotiations, agreement, connection, relationship.

Relationship (with): A relationship always denotes a connection with somebody or something else, so the preposition WITH is always paired with this noun.  "Jan has a good relationship with her mother."  Mother is the object of the preposition WITH. 

Other nouns referring to some sort of connection between individuals also use WITH.

The man hadn't had any contact with his family in many years.
We finally reached an agreement with the Zoning Board.
The owner hoped to avoid the negotiations with the union members.
Events yesterday had no connection with the trouble occurring last night.

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Note: When DRAW or DRAWING are used as verbs, the situation is different.  One can say, "I was drawing from my own experiences."  or, "The driver made the horses draw to a halt."  PLAN is another good example:  Using the verb PLAN, one can say, "I plan to go fishing next week." with TO being part of the Infinitive TO GO.  "Murray likes to plan for the future."   BUT, in this lesson, we are dealing with Nouns.  

Other nouns which use the preposition OF:  picture, map, pitcher, glass, bowl, photograph, company, plan, opinion, illustration, diagram, platoon, group, mob, examples.

Drawing (of):  Drawing, a picture made with a pen or pencil, is always used with the preposition OF.  "My brother gave me a drawing of his children."  "Julia liked the drawing of a weary farmer." Other nouns referring to pictures,  to containers or to large units of people tend to use OF as their preferred preposition.
I need a picture of the car wreck. The waiter also set a bowl of peanuts on the table.
Do you have a street map of the city? The governor called for a company of National Guard troops.
Brad brought a pitcher of beer to the table. Jill had a very low opinion of the boys at school.
Fred already had a glass of beer. A group of my friends decided to go to the mall.

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Attitude (to): This noun, as well as Reaction, Reply,  Invitation, Damage, Solution,  seem to refer to a flow of action  or feeling  in the direction of something or someone.  That is why the directional preposition TO is used with them.
What is your attitude to these events? Lola sent a reply to the 'Want Ad'.
Jenny received an invitation to the party. I don't think there is a good solution to your problem.
Jim had a bad reaction to the food. Was there much damage to your car?

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Increase (in):  Nouns referring to changes in size or degree seem to use IN as their preposition of choice.

Here are other nouns which use the preposition IN:  decrease, rise, fall, change.

There was a good increase in the stock market. The fall in temperature was great.
There was a definite decrease in my stock. The rise in fuel prices worries many people.

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Check out the original, illustrated story books at .

There are many more examples of Noun - Preposition pairs.  If English is not your native language, it would be a good idea for you to write these pairs in your notebook as you encounter them in your reading.  The first sentence of this paragraph contains a new pair - 'examples of'.  Also, many nouns have different meanings and a noun used in one way may use a different preposition than the same word used in a different way.  Example: "Alan finally found the solution to the problem."  "One should not drink a solution of salt and vinegar."  The first solution is an answer to a problem.  The second solution is a mixture of a liquid and a solid substance.  The different meanings require different prepositions.

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Exercise A: In the following sentences, circle all of the Noun-Preposition pairs you can find.  Do not circle Noun-Infinitive pairs (noun + to + verb).

1. Every president looks for a solution to the homeless problem.

2. There is a great need for low-cost housing in this country as an answer to the homeless problem.

3. The news program showed a photograph of a family living in boxes under a bridge.

4. When there is an increase in unemployment and a decrease in the temperature, the problem becomes greater.

5. The reasons for homelessness are many, but there is a great demand for a plan of action to end it.

6. If you plan to visit New York, you should have a map of the streets.

7. The year 2000 is drawing to an end and I have not received an invitation to a party yet.

8. I have noticed a change in my waist size so I need to exercise more.

9. One should send a reply to an invitation marked R.S.V.P.

10. It is difficult for families today to maintain contact with all their members.


Examination:  Put the correct prepositions in the spaces in the following sentences.

1. Steven took a photograph ______ his automobile after the accident.

2. In spite of the smoke pouring out of his house, George knew there was no cause _______ alarm.

3. The damage _______ his house was caused by smoke from the burned cake in the oven.

4. A group _______ his neighbors said his attitude ________ the disaster  was wonderful.

5. The firemen asked for a diagram _______ his house as they worked on a plan _______ attack.

6. George sent a check _______ $100 to the fire company for their courteous service.

7. The fire chief told him there was no reason ______ that.

8. "I want to keep a good relationship _______ you guys," George told the chief.

9. He noticed an increase ________ the curiosity of his neighbors after the burned cake incident.

10. There was a rise _______ the demand ________ smoke alarms that week.

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