In my column last week I discussed how English language learners can master prepositions. A regular reader of the column sent me an email with this request: “It will be good if you could tell the readers which books on prepositions they can refer to in order to understand this aspect of the language better...” Coincidentally, another reader, a retired professor of English, from Andhra Pradesh called me and discussed a few books that he found useful while teaching English.
One of his favourite books on prepositions is F T Wood’s English Prepositional Idioms published by Macmillan in 1967. Luckily, I possess a copy of this wonderful 562-page book. In a very detailed manner, the author discusses prepositions and their various uses in the first part of the book and the idiomatic use of prepositions after adjectives, verbs, nouns, etc, in the second part of the book. This book may not be currently available in book shops but might be available in some university and college libraries. The explanations in the book are very lucid and the examples are simple. What is the difference between act in, act for, act on and act towards? The book gives the following explanation:
Act in: It denotes the matter in connection with which one acts.
* I am quite sure that he acted in this manner from disinterested motives.
Act for: It indicates the person on behalf of whom, or for whose benefi t,one acts.
* He engaged a solicitor to act for him.
Act on: (1) Have an effect on
* Alcohol acts on the nervous system.
(2) Act in accordance with or in conformity with (advice, a suggestion,etc)
* Don’t ask other people’s advice unless you intend to act on it.
I find Oxford Collocations Dictionary very useful to know the right and idiomatic use of prepositions after certain words. It is available online too (www.freecollocation.com). It gives preposition combinations for most commonly used words. It is an effective guide for those who want to speak and write natural-sounding English as it is based on the 100 million-word British National Corpus. The examples in the dictionary show how collocations are used in context. Look up the word act and you will get these examples:
• act+against The government needs to act against the sale of these dangerous toys.
• act+for/on behalf of His solicitors are continuing to act for him.
• act+like Stop acting like a spoilt child.
• act+on Alcohol acts quickly on the brain.
• act+out of I suspected that he was acting out of malice.
English Prepositions Explained authored by Seth Lindstromberg and published by Hilderstone College, UK, is a book intended for teachers of English, content writers, translators, advanced students of English and textbook writers. Prepositionary.com (online.prepositionary. com) is also a useful online reference guide for those who want to master their prepositions.
Dr Albert p’ Rayan is an ELT Resource Person and Professor of English. He can be contacted at