Across, around and below

Issues around prepositions

shutterstock_402737608For learners of English, it is often those pesky little words (usually prepositions and adverbs) that cause the biggest headaches. Should you say that you are interested about, in, or of something?

If that wasn’t hard enough already, just like other kinds of words, prepositions and adverbs can change their meaning and acquire new senses. Take this sentence, for example:

The whole team will be across the below issues around the funding gap.

Although it is apparently a sentence with simple, short words, it shows three examples of usage that are relatively new in English and one of which is not yet covered by OALD.

acrossacross has traditionally been used to refer only to physical position or movement but now if a person is across a subject, they are knowledgeable about it or dealing with it.

across

below – OALD only shows adverbial and prepositional uses of below but it is becoming increasingly common to read examples such as ‘the below instructions’ or ‘the below information’ where below is an adjective. It sounds odd to the ears of some English speakers but has become sufficiently widespread for OALD editors to consider adding it to the dictionary.

around – where once only about was used when referring to something, e.g. ‘what are your thoughts about it?’ or ‘there are questions about its suitability’, around is coming up hard on its heels, especially in business and journalistic contexts and when used with words such as issues, questions, doubts, uncertainty. There is often an implication that the speaker or writer is distancing themselves more from the issue/question/doubt/uncertainty by introducing some vagueness.

Another place where about is being supplanted is when used with the word excited. OALD gives the prepositions about, at and by in constructions using excited, but it is becoming common to hear and read the phrase excited for when excited about would (traditionally) be more expected. Take a look at these examples from our corpus:

corpus

Many people will wince or raise an eyebrow at some or all of these usages but, given the dynamic nature of language, shouldn’t we rather be excited – for? – such changes?


After teaching English in China and working as a translator, Patrick fell into the dictionary publishing business where he has edited, managed and commissioned more dictionaries than he cares to recall. Although now Content Director for ELT Dictionaries and Reference Grammar, he’s still an editor at heart and is learning to bite his tongue when his children get inventive with their prepositions.

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