Last week we finished looking at when ‘to’ and ‘for’ should be used. This week we will look at some of the reasons why you may still be making mistakes when using them. This comes back to the problem that we talked about in week one, which is the issue of what happens when two very different linguistic systems come together and become fused, as happened with English around 800 years ago.

Prepositions are used to tell us about: place, position, movement, and logical relationships. In other words, where something is, what it is doing (or not doing), and how that will affect something else.

However, prepositions do more than just these general things. This means that learners will often feel like they have studied everything there is to study about exactly to use ‘to’ and when to use ‘for’, and will be surprised (and perhaps a little annoyed) that they still seem to be making mistakes.

The main difficulty is that some prepositions are dependent. This means that they have to be used with particular adjectives, nouns, verbs, or expressions. There is a fairly extensive list here (and some excellent exercises here). These simply have to be learned. There are a few general rules, but most students find it easier to simply learn which word takes which preposition.

The dependent preposition that most students learn first is ‘listen to’ (I like listening to music). Another common one is to look forward to something. ‘Apologies to’ and ‘apologies for’ are also widely used (in case you are wondering, you apologise to someone, and apologise for doing something.

So, have a look at the dependent preposition list, and have a go if you’re brave enough! That’s all for this week. Next week we will look at using ‘to’ and ‘for’ with adjectives!

Next: ‘To’ and ‘for’ with adjectives.

Last week we looked at dependent prepositions, and the fact that despite the general rules of ‘to’ and ‘for’ that we studied in earlier weeks, some words like to break all of the rules.

Adjectives particularly love to break the rules.

We often think of adjectives as describing a noun, and this is true, but sometimes it’s important to explain why the adjective is being used.

For example, you might say: he was surprised. And your listener would be left thinking “…why??”

In these cases, the to-infinitive is used to give a reason for the adjective.

He was surprised to see me, because he thought I was in Australia.

Common ‘to + infinitive’ adjectives include: happy, anxious, pleased, surprised, proud, and unhappy.

He was anxious to understand the advanced grammar

She was happy to study hard for the exam, but she was pleased to stop her work afterwards.

Giving opinions is another reason that adjectives can take a ‘to + infinitive’. This is widely used in academic language, diplomatic language, and is often an important part of making a polite complaint.

Common ‘to + infinitive’ adjectives that are followed by an opinion are: difficult, easy, possible, impossible, hard, right, wrong, kind, nice, clever, silly.

It is hard to feel sad when my friends are here

It was impossible to understand the reason she chose to date him

At this point it’s important to point out that because these are expressing opinions, the person giving the opinion may need to be involved. You might feel your head start to ache as I explain it, but I promise that the rule is a straightforward one.

In this case, the person comes between the adjective and the ‘to + infinitive’, and takes ‘for’. Whilst this means that you’ll end up with a large number of ‘to’ and ‘for’s not only looking like they are very close together, but that they are breaking every rule (!!!) it’s actually not too bad. Have a look:

It was impossible for me to understand the reason she chose to date him

It was easy for the dog to catch the ball

It was possible for her to attend the party

(WARNING: don’t forget to pay attention to your other dependent verbs! If you want to use ‘go to’ rather than ‘attend’ as your verb, you will have to say: it was possible for her to go to the party… )

Phew! It can look rather terrifying, but once you are comfortable with your list of dependent verbs, it will very quickly start to get very easy. So keep practicing them!!

And that is all you really need to know to get started on those ‘to’ and ‘for’ problems.

…Except that there are some specific idioms… which is what we will do next week. Which will be good, because idioms are always lots of fun.

Take care!