Verb+preposition errors

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The following is a partial and incomplete list of common collocation errors that Asian ESL students tend to make in English, not only with prepositions, but also with related phrasal verbs. The expressions with asterisks [*] are awkward or incorrect terms used by ESL/EFL learners (English as a second/foreign language) . Expressions with the greater sign [>] indicate that one expression is preferred or more common, especially in more formal English.

No. Phrasal verb [*common error] Examples
Absorbed in (=very much interested) [*at]
  • The professor was so absorbed in his work that he neglected his social life.
Accused of [*for] cf. charge with
  • She accused the man of stealing.
  • The man was charged with murder.
Accustomed to [*with] cf. used to
  • I’m accustomed to hot weather.
  • He is used to the heat.
Afraid of [*from]
  • Laura is afraid of the dog.
Aim at [*on / *to / against]
At indicates in the general direction toward something, and does not necessarily imply directly hitting a target. [1]
  • She aimed at the target.
All X (generic noun) [all ?of X, all X, all of the X]
The phrase ‘all of the X’ has a more specific nuance – the speaker has particular items in mind
  • All the computers must be turned off when you leave the office. (generic statement; more specific: All the computers)
  • All of the computers must be turned off when you leave the office. (more emphatic)
Anxious (troubled) about [*for] Anxious for = wishing very much
  • They are anxious about his health.
  • Parents are anxious for their children’s success.
Angry with / at [*against]
For persons, with is somewhat more common. We get angry with/at a person but angry at a thing.Also annoyed with, vexed with, indignant with.
  • The teacher was angry with / at him.
  • He was angry at the weather.
Arrived at [*to]
Use arrive in with countries and large cities.
  • We arrived at the village at night.
  • Mr. Smith arrived in London.
Ashamed of [*from]
‘ashamed of’ ≠ ‘shy’ ‘ashamed’ = feeling shame or guilt ‘shy’ = feeling nervous with someone
  • He is now ashamed of his conduct
  • ?I’m ashamed of / shamed of my teacher → I’m shy toward my teacher.
Believe in [*to]
‘to believe in’ = to put trust or faith in‘to believe’ (without in) = to regard something as true
  • We believe in hard work.
  • I believe everything he says.
Besides / In addition to / [*Except]
  • We have many more publications besides / in addition to these. (‘besides’ is colloquial)
Boast of / about [*for]
(‘of’ is more literary, formal, or older style)
  • James boasted about / of his strength.
Buy for / at
For exact amounts and sums, ‘for’ is used; ‘at’ is used for weights or measures.
  • We bought a new server for $4000.
  • The material can be synthesized for/at $10 per square meter. The non-synthetic form sells at $18 per square meter on the market.
Careful of / with / about [*for]
cf. ‘take care of’
  • Elle is very careful about her health.
  • You should be more careful with your money.
  • He takes care of his money.
Close to [*from]
  • The new apartment is quite close to the station.
Complain about [*for]
For illnesses: ‘complain of’
  • Annette complained about the weather.
  • She complained of a sore throat.
Composed of [*from]
  • Our class is composed of thirty students.
Congratulate on/for
On refers to an occasion or event, while for refers more to the reason for congratulating someone.
  • I congratulate you on the New Year. I congratulate you for your successful project.
Consist of [*from]
  • Different proposals for calendars for the Martian year include suggestions for a year consisting of 24 months.
Contact [*contact to]
  • Please contact your insurance agent rather than the police.
Covered with [?by]
‘covered with’ is for descriptions; ‘covered by’ refers to an act or result of covering
  • The mountains are covered with snow.
  • The child was covered in snow. [i.e., was fully covered or enveloped in snow]
  • The car was covered by the debris, but the accident was covered by our insurance.
Cure of [*from]
The noun ‘cure’ takes ‘for’.
  • The man was cured of his illness.
  • There’s no cure for that disease.
Deprive of [*from]
  • Nelson Mandela was deprived of his freedom for years.
Die of an illness > die from an illness
The phrase die of is more common than die from X in contemporary English; the phrase die from X may put slightly more emphasis on X as an active cause.
  • Many people have died of malaria.
  • People die of illness, of hunger, of thirst, of or from wounds; from overwork, by violence, by the sword, by pestilence, in battle, for their country, for a cause, through neglect, on the scaffold, at the stake.
Different from [*than]
  • My book is really different from yours.
Disappointed by, about or at from
[1] by/at/ about[2] with/ in
Before a person we use with or in, before a thing we use at, about, by; and before a gerund we use at
  • Phillipa was disappointed by the low mark she got on the test.
  • Jane was disappointed with/in her son.
  • Keith is very disappointed at not winning the prize.
Divide into parts [*in]
A thing can also be divided in half or in two.
  • I divided the cake into four pieces.
  • Paul divided the apple in half (or in two) .
Doubt: no doubt about / in [*for]
Doubtful of
‘Doubt about’ may be more common that ‘doubt in’; the latter makes more of a contrast with ‘believe in.’
  • I have no doubt in / about his ability.
  • I’m doubtful of his ability to pass.
Dressed in [*with]
  • The woman was dressed in black.
  • The woman was in black.
Exception to [*of]
With the exception of, Except for
  • This is an exception to the rules.
  • She like all her subjects with the exception of physics.
  • All the new students are smart except for George.
Exchange for [*by]
In exchange for
  • He exchanged his collection of match boxes for some foreign stamps.
  • He gave them his old car in exchange for a new one.
Fail in [*from]
  • He failed in math last year.
  • He failed chemistry this year.
Full of [*with / from]
Fill with
  • The jar was full of oil.
  • Jane filled the glass with water.
Get rid of [*from]
  • I’ll be glad to get rid of him.
Glad about [*from/with]
Or with an infinitive: glad to
  • I was glad about receiving your letter.
  • I was glad to receive your letter.
Good at (in)
Also: ‘bad at, clever at, quick at, slow at,’ etc.; but ‘weak in’
Note: “He is good in class” means that his conduct is good.
  • My sister is good (in math) / at math.
  • He is weak in grammar.
  • He is quite clever at physics, but not so clever when it comes to engineering.
Guard against [*from]
  • You must guard against bad habits.
Guilty of [*for]
  • He was found guilty of embezzling two million dollars of company funds.
Independent of [*from]
Dependent on
  • Clare is independent of her parents.
  • The student is overly dependent on his parents.
Indifferent to [*for]
  • They are indifferent to politics.
Influence on [*to]
The verb takes a direct object with no preposition.
  • This has had a great influence on our thinking.
  • This has greatly influenced our thinking.
Insist on [*to]
  • He always insisted on his opinion.
Interested in [*for]
Also: take an interest in
  • She is not interested for in her work.
  • She takes a great interest in music.
Jealous of [*from]
  • He is very jealous of his brother.
Leave for (a place) [*to]
  • They are leaving to for England soon.
Live on / off of [*from] Feed on
  • He lives on his brother’s money. He lives off of his brother’s money.
  • Some birds feed on insects.
Look at [?to]
Look at indicates watching or seeing, while look to is less common, and often means "see X as an example of something". [2]
  • Look at his beautiful picture.
In my opinion [*according to]
  • In my opinion, this experiment should proceed more cautiously.
Panic about [*with]
  • Don’t panic about it.
Persist in [*with]
  • He persisted in his silly ideas.
Room for [ > place for]
  • Is there room in the lab for another computer?
Related to [*with]
  • Their theory is not so novel; it is actually related to an older theory from the 1960s.
Spend on / for
‘On’ indicates activity, and is more common; ‘for’ indicates the purpose, goal or object.
  • I spend a lot of time on editing.
  • I spend a lot of time on my freelance work.
  • I spent a lot of money for my degree.
Tie to (implies movement, goal, or change in position)
Tie on/onto (implies location)
  • The animal had to be tied to the table. (→ It was trying to escape.)
  • The animal was tied to the table. (→ resting location)
Travel by train [*with the train] (or other vehicle) [3]
  • He traveled by train yesterday.
Warn (someone) of [>about] (a danger)
  • Subjects must be warned of the potential for headaches from the experiment.

  1. At denotes direction toward; because at indicates direction or movement toward something, it means the object is not directly or fully affected, e.g.: throw at, shout at, fire at, shoot at; shoot at. When the verb can take a direct object or at, the object in the Verb + DO construction is fully affected by the action, while Verb + at indicates an object that is not fully affected, e.g., shot a goose cf. shot at a goose.
  2. ‘Look to’ also has a more literary, meaning ‘behold, behold as an example, turn to.’ Also: gaze at, stare at, etc., but look after (= take care of) , look for (=try to find) , look over (=examine) , look into (=examine closely) , look on or upon (=consider) , look down on (=have a low opinion of) , look up to (=respect) , look out for (=expect) , look forward to (= expect with pleasure) , look to (= rely on) .
  3. We travel by train, by boat, by bike; also, by land, by sea, by air, by bus; in a bus or on a bus; by car or in a car, by taxi or in a taxi; on horse-back, on a donkey, on a bicycle; on foot.