H.W. Fowler (1858–1933). The
King’s English, 2nd ed. 1908.
Chapter II. Syntax
IN an uninflected language like ours these are
ubiquitous, and it is quite impossible to write tolerably without a full
knowledge, conscious or unconscious, of their uses. Misuse of them,
however, does not often result in what may be called in the fullest
sense blunders of syntax, but mostly in offences against idiom. It is
often impossible to convince a writer that the preposition he has used
is a wrong one, because there is no reason in the nature of things, in
logic, or in the principles of universal grammar (whichever way it may
be put), why that preposition should not give the desired meaning as
clearly as the one that we tell him he should have used. Idioms are
special forms of speech that for some reason, often inscrutable, have
proved congenial to the instinct of a particular language. To neglect
them shows a writer, however good a logician he may be, to be no
linguist—condemns him, from that point of view, more clearly than
grammatical blunders themselves. But though the subject of prepositions
is thus very important, the idioms in which they appear are so
multitudinous that it is hopeless to attempt giving more than the
scantiest selection; this may at least put writers on their guard.
Usages of this sort cannot be acquired from dictionaries and grammars,
still less from a treatise like the present, not pretending to be
exhaustive; good reading with the idiomatic eye open is essential. We
give a few examples of what to avoid.
- After adjectives and adverbs.
Another stroke of palsy soon rendered Sir Sampson unconscious
even to the charms of Grizzy's conversation.—S. Ferrier.
Being oblivious to the ill feeling it would be certain to
To me it is incredible that the British people, who own one-half
of the world's sea-going ships, should be so oblivious to
the manner in which...—Times.
Insensible to, but unconscious of; indifferent to, but oblivious of.
The adjectives different and averse, with their
adverbs or nouns, differently, difference, aversion, averseness,
call for a few words of comment. There is no essential reason
whatever why either set should not be as well followed by to
as by from. But different to is regarded by many
newspaper editors and others in authority as a solecism, and is
therefore better avoided by those to whom the approval of such
authorities is important. It is undoubtedly gaining ground, and will
probably displace different from in no long time; perhaps,
however, the conservatism that still prefers from is not yet
to be named pedantry. It is at any rate defensive, and not offensive
pedantry, different to (though 'found in writers of all
ages'—Oxford Dictionary) being on the whole the aggressor.
With averse, on the other hand, though the Oxford
Dictionary gives a long roll of good names on each side, the use
of from may perhaps be said to strike most readers as a
distinct protest against the more natural to, so that from
is here the aggressor, and the pedantry, if it is pedantry, is
offensive. Our advice is to write different from and averse
to. We shall give a few examples, and add to them two sentences
in which the incorrect use of from with other words looks
like the result of insisting on the slightly artificial use of it
after different and averse.
My experience caused me to make quite different conclusions
to those of the Coroner for Westminster.—Times.
It will be noticed that to is more than usually uncomfortable
when it does not come next to different.
We must feel charitably towards those who think differently to
Why should these profits be employed differently to the
profits made by capitalists at home?—Lord Goschen.
Ah, how different were my feelings as I sat proudly there
on the box to those I had the last time I mounted that
What is the great difference of the one to the
From would in this last be clearly better than to; but
between the two would be better than either.
The Queen and the cabinet, however, were entirely averse to
meddling with the council.—Morley.
Perhaps he is not averse from seeing democrats on this, as
on railway rates, range themselves with him.—Times.
In all democratic circles aversion from the Empire of the
Tsar may be intensified by the events of the last few days.—Times.
To no kind of begging are people so averse as to
begging pardon.—Guesses at Truth.
This averseness in the dissenting churches from all
that looks like absolute government.—Burke.
I deeply regret the aversion to 'conscience
But she had no sort of aversion for either Puritan or
Papist.—J. R. Green.
Disagree from (for with), and adverse from (for
to), seem to have resulted from the superstition against averse
and different to.
A general proposition, which applies just as much to those who disagree
from me as to those who agree with me.—Lord Rosebery.
There were politicians in this country who had been very adverse
from the Suez Canal scheme altogether.—F. Greenwood.
- After verbs.
I derive an unholy pleasure in noting.—Guernsey
We must content ourselves for the moment by
observing that from the juridical standpoint the question is a
The petition which now reaches us from Bloemfontein ... contents
itself by begging that the isolation laws may be carried out
nearer to the homes of the patients.—Times.
I content you by submitting: I content myself with
'Doing one's duty' generally consists of being moral, kind
and charitable.—Daily Telegraph.
The external world which is dealt with by natural science consisted,
according to Berkeley, in ideas. According to Mr. Mill it consists
of sensations and permanent possibilities of
The moon consists of green cheese: virtue consists in
being good. Consist of gives a material, consist in a
definition. Mr. Balfour's 'elegant variation' (see Airs and
Graces) is certainly wrong, though nominalists and realists will
perhaps differ about which should have been used in both sentences,
and no one below the degree of a metaphysician can pretend to decide
A scholar endowed by [with] an ample knowledge and
persuasive eloquence to cite and instance.—Meredith.
I say to you plainly there is no end to [at] which your
practical faculty can aim...—Emerson.
He urged that it was an undesirable thing to be always tinkering
with this particular trade.—Times.
We tamper with, but tinker at, the thing that is to be
You may hunt the alien from his overcrowded tenement, you may forbid
him, if you like, from toiling ten hours a day for a wage
of a few shillings.—Times.
His toiling, or him to toil.
His readiness, not only at catching a point, but at making the
most of it on a moment's notice, was amazing.—Bryce.
On the spur of the moment, but at a moment's notice.
The motive was, no doubt, to avoid repeating at; but such
devices are sins if they are detected.
Nataly had her sense of safety in acquiescing to such a
We acquiesce in, not to, though either phrase is
awkward enough with a voice; to is probably accounted for
again by the desire to avoid repeating in.
- After nouns.
There can be no fault found to her manners or
I find fault with: I find a fault in. Write in
or with, as one or the other phrase is meant.
The Diet should leave to the Tsar the initiative of taking
such measures as may be necessary.—Times.
M. Delcassé took the initiative of turning the
conversation to Moroccan affairs.—Times.
We assume the right of turning, we take the initiative in
Those, who are urging with most ardour what are called the
greatest benefits of mankind.—Emerson.
Benefits of the benefactor, but to the beneficiary.
A power to marshal and adjust particulars, which can only come
from an insight of [into] their whole
From its driving energy, its personal weight, its invincible oblivion
to [of] certain things, there sprang up in Redwood's mind the
most grotesque and strange of images.—H. G. Wells.
- Superfluous prepositions, whether due to ignorance of idiom,
negligence, or mistaken zeal for accuracy.
As to Mr. Lovelace's approbation of your assumption-scheme,
I wonder not at.—Richardson.
A something of which the sense can in no way assist the
mind to form a conception of.—Daily Telegraph.
The Congress could occupy itself with no more important question
than with this.—Huxley.
After than, the writer might have gone on if it occupied
itself with this; but if he means that, he must give it in full.
- Necessary prepositions omitted.
The Lady Henrietta ... wrote him regularly through his
bankers, and once in a while he wrote her.—Baroness Von
Write without to will now pass in commercial letters
only; elsewhere, we can say 'I write you a report, a letter', but
neither 'I will write you' simply, nor 'I wrote you that there was
danger'. That is, we must only omit the to when you
not only is the indirect object, but is unmistakably so at first
sight. It may be said that I write you is good old English.
So is he was a-doing of it; I guess is good Chaucerian. But
in neither case can the appeal to a dead usage—dead in polite
society, or in England—justify what is a modern vulgarism.
- Compound prepositions and conjunctions.
The increasing use of these is much to be regretted. They, and the
love for abstract expression with which they are closely allied, are
responsible for much of what is flaccid, diffuse, and nerveless, in
modern writing. They are generally, no doubt, invented by persons
who want to express a more precise shade of meaning than they can
find in anything already existing; but they are soon caught up by
others who not only do not need the new delicate instrument, but do
not understand it. Inasmuch as, for instance, originally
expressed that the truth of its clause gave the exact measure of the
truth that belonged to the main sentence. So (from the Oxford
God is only God inasmuch as he is the Moral Governor of the
world.—Sir W. Hamilton.
But long before Hamilton's day the word passed, very naturally, into
the meaning, for which it need never have been invented, of since
or because. Consequently most people who need the original
idea have not the courage to use inasmuch as for it, like Sir
W. Hamilton, but resort to new combinations with far. Those
new combinations, however, as will be shown, fluctuate and are
confused with one another. The best thing we can now do with inasmuch
as is to get it decently buried; when it means since, since
is better; when it means what it once meant, no one understands it.
The moral we wish to draw is that these compounds should be left
altogether alone except in passages where great precision is wanted.
Just as a word like save (except) is ruined for the poet by
being used on every page of ordinary prose (which it disfigures in
revenge for its own degradation), so inasmuch as is spoilt
for the logician.
We shall first illustrate the absurd prevailing abuse of the
compound preposition as to. In each of the following
sentences, if as to is simply left out, no difference
whatever is made in the meaning. It is only familiarity with
unnecessary circumlocution that makes such a state of things
tolerable to any one with a glimmering of literary discernment. As
to flows from the pen now at every possible opportunity, till
many writers seem quite unaware that such words as question
or doubt can bear the weight of a whether-clause
without help from this offensive parasite.
With the idea of endeavouring to ascertain as to this, I
Confronted with the simple question as to in what way other
people's sisters, wives and daughters differ from theirs...—Daily
It is not quite clear as to what happened.—Westminster
Doubt is expressed as to whether the fall of Port Arthur will
materially affect the situation.—Times.
I feel tempted to narrate one that occurred to me, leaving it to
your judgment as to whether it is worthy of notice in your
I was entirely indifferent as to the results of the game, caring
nothing at all as to whether I had losses or gains.—Corelli.
The first as to in this may pass, though plain to is
German anticipations with regard to the future are apparently
based upon the question as to how far the Sultan will...—Times.
But you are dying to know what brings me here, and even if you
find nothing new in it you will perhaps think it makes some
difference as to who says a thing.—Greenwood.
This is the worst of all. The subject of makes (anticipated
in the ordinary way by it) is who says a thing; but
the construction is obscured by the insertion of as to. We
are forced to suppose, wrongly, that it means what brings
me here. Worse than the worst, however, at least more
aggressively wrong, is an instance that we find while correcting
this sheet for the press:
...Although it is open to doubt as to what extent individual
saving through more than one provident institution prevails.—Westminster
Another objection to the compound prepositions and conjunctions is
that they are frequently confused with one another or miswritten. We
illustrate from two sets. (a) The word view is common
in the forms in view of, with a view to, with the view of.
The first expresses external circumstances, existing or likely to
occur, that must be taken into account; as, In view of these
doubts about the next dividend, we do not recommend... The other
two both express the object aimed at, but must not have the
correspondence, a view to, the view of, upset.
A Resolution was moved and carried in favour of giving
facilities to the public vaccination officers of the Metropolis to
enter the schools of the Board for the purpose of examining
the arms of the children with a view to advising the
parents to allow their children to be vaccinated.—Spectator.
The Sultan ... will seek to obtain money by contracting loans with
private firms in view of beginning for himself the
If Germany has anything to propose in view of the
safeguarding of her own interests, it will certainly meet with
that courteous consideration which is traditional in French
Its execution is being carefully prepared with a view of
avoiding any collision with the natives.—Times.
My company has been approached by several firms with a view of
overcoming the difficulty.—Times.
Of these the first is correct; but the sentence it comes in is so
typical of the compound-prepositional style that no one who reads it
will be surprised that its patrons should sometimes get mixed; how
should people who write like that keep their ideas clear? The second
should have with a view to. Still more should the third,
which is ambiguous as well as unidiomatic; the words used ought to
mean seeing that her interests are safeguarded already. The
fourth and fifth should again have with a view to (or with
the view of).
(b) The combinations with far—as far as, so far as, so
far that, in so far as, in so far that, of which the last is
certainly, and the last but one probably needless—have some
distinctions and limitations often neglected. For instance, as
far as must not be followed by a mere noun except in the literal
sense, as far as London. So far as and so far that are
distinguished by good writers in being applied, the first to clauses
that contain a doubtful or varying fact, the other to clauses
containing an ascertained or positive fact. So far as (and in
so far as), that is, means to whatever extent, and so
far that means to this extent, namely that.
The question of the Capitulations and of the Mixed Tribunals is
not in any way essentially British, save in so far as the
position of Great Britain in Egypt makes her primarily
Correct; but except that would be much better than save in
so far as.
Previous to 1895, when a separate constitution existed for the
Bombay and Madras armies, possibly a military department and a
military member were necessary in order to focus at the seat of
government the general military situation in India, but in the
judgment of many officers well qualified to form an opinion, no
such department under present conditions is really requisite, in
so far as the action of the Commander-in-Chief is thwarted in
cases where he should be the best judge of what is necessary.—Times.
Entirely wrong. It is confused with inasmuch as, and since
should be written.
The officials have done their utmost to enforce neutrality, and
have in so far succeeded as the Baltic fleet keeps
outside the three-mile limit.—Times.
Should be so far succeeded that; we are meant to understand
that the fleet does keep outside, though it does not go right away
as might be wished.
The previous appeal made by M. Delcassé was so far
successful as the Tsar himself sent orders to Admiral
Rozhdestvensky to comply with the injunctions of the French
As should be that. It is not doubtful to what extent
or whether the Tsar sent. He did send; that is the only point.
They are exceptional in character, in so far as they do not
appear to be modifications of the epidermis.—Huxley.
Should probably be so far exceptional that. The point is that
there is this amount of the exceptional in them, not that
their irregularity depends on the doubtful fact of their not being
modifications; the word appear ought otherwise to have been
This influence was so far indirect in that it was
greatly furthered by Le Sage, who borrowed the form of his Spanish
A mixture of was so far indirect that and was indirect in
He seemed quickly to give up first-hand observation and to be
content to reproduce and re-reproduce his early impressions,
always trusting to his own invention, and the reading public's
inveterate preference for symmetry and satisfaction, to pull him
through. They have pulled him through in so far as they
have made his name popular; but an artist and a realist—possibly
even a humourist—have been lost.—Times.
In so far as leaves the popularity and the pulling through
doubtful, which they are clearly not meant to be. It should be so
A man can get help from above to do what as far as human
possibility has proved out of his power.—Daily Telegraph.
This is a whole sentence, not a fragment, as might be supposed. But as
far as (except in the local sense) must have a verb, finite or
infinite. Supply goes.
The large majority would reply in the affirmative, in so far as
to admit that there is a God.—Daily Telegraph.
So far as to admit, or in so far as they would admit;
not the mixture. And this distinction is perhaps the only
justification for the existence of in so far as by the side
of so far as; the first is only conjunction, the second can
be preposition as well.