Dependent prepositions are prepositions that usually accompany specific verbs, adjectives or nouns. These prepositions are used to attach an object (a noun) to the verb, adjective or noun. You can download this guide, as well as a number of present continuous perfect grammar activities, in PDF format using the links at the bottom of this page.
Using the correct dependent preposition is important for a number of reasons:
- Clarity in meaning: Using an incorrect dependent preposition, or not using one when you should, might cause another person to become confused. For example, if you say “depend of” (incorrect) instead of “depend on” (correct), it might not be clear at first what you are trying to say.
- Sounding more natural: Many expressions in English are idiomatic, meaning that they follow a conventional pattern that native speakers expect to hear. For example, we say “interested in” rather than “interested about.” Using the correct dependent preposition is key to sounding natural in English.
- Avoiding misunderstandings: Using an incorrect dependent preposition can lead to misunderstandings. For example, “laugh at” (to mock) has a different meaning from “laugh about” (to find something funny).
There isn’t really any logic behind which preposition goes with which verb, adjective or noun – you just have to memorise and become familiar with them. The table below shows some common dependent prepositions (note that where there are two different prepositions, using one or the other can change the meaning of the phrase):
forgive (somebody) for
thank (somebody) for
fed up with
on behalf of
Common mistakes with dependent prepositions
As there is no real logic behind which dependent preposition is used for which word, it is very common for students to make mistakes when deciding which preposition to use (or whether to use one at all). Here are the most common mistakes students make with dependent prepositions.
Using the incorrect preposition
One of the most common mistakes is to use the incorrect preposition, perhaps because the student’s own language uses a different preposition:
It will depend of the weather. It will depend on the weather. He was thinking in buying a new house. He was thinking of/about buying a new house. We’ll arrive to the train station at 4pm. We’ll arrive at the train station at 4pm. I graduated of law. I graduated in law.
Omitting the preposition
Another common mistake is omitting the preposition when it is required:
I’m listening music. I’m listening to music. She asked a coffee. She asked for a coffee. Parents care their children. Parents care for their children. He was looking a new shirt. He was looking for a new shirt.
Adding a phantom preposition
Sometimes students use a preposition when one is not required in English:
This could become in a bad situation. This could become a bad situation. I helped to my parents. I helped my parents. She entered to the building. She entered the building. We’re going to meet with our neighbours tonight. We’re going to meet our neighbours tonight.
Confusing the preposition to with the to-infinitive
Many words take the dependent preposition to. Some common verbs that take the preposition to are add, contribute, admit, object, refer and consent. Some common adjectives that take the preposition to are used, accustomed, opposed, addicted, attracted and allergic. Remember that a verb after a preposition always takes the gerund form, not the infinitive form:
He admitted to steal the money. He admitted to stealing the money. My wife objected to be called bossy. My wife objected to being called bossy. I’m addicted to eat chocolate. I’m addicted to eating chocolate. He’s not used to drive on the left. He’s not used to driving on the left.
Click on the links below to download a PDF version of this guide as well as a number of dependent preposition activities: