Proper Prepositional Pairings

Like any other language, English functions best when its parts are correctly connected.

During grammatical evolution, parts of speech have bonded with certain prepositions for concise expression. An exacting writer observes these couplings and upholds their intended use and integrity.

The noun “affinity” (a natural connection or attraction to a person or thing) is but one example of prepositional mating that calls for closer attention. In most applications today, we often hear and use “an affinity for” someone or something.

In the past, keeping in step with grammarians such as Theodore M. Bernstein (The Careful Writer), style arbiters have advised against attaching “for” to “affinity." At the same time, we recognize our language is fluid: Over time, the writing and speaking majority determine what will or won’t stay—i.e., what is a fad and what isn’t.

“Affinity” and “for” have become attached at the hip—so much so we recognize their lasting union. At the same time, the exacting writer will acknowledge that “affinity” has other prepositional partners to which it’s tied for accuracy. In addition to “for,” “affinity” combines with “between,” “with,” and “to.”

If you are expressing a natural attraction toward someone or something, you will use the now accepted “for.” This pairing most often follows the verbs “have” and “feel”: “I feel an affinity for Jack—we’ve been friends for 20 years,” “She has an affinity for politics and current events.”

If you are describing the whole of a good relationship, you would use “between”: “Jack and John have an affinity between them.” If you are writing of the same relationship from one party’s viewpoint, you would use “with”: “Jack enjoys an affinity with Sam.”

So far the examples convey an easily identified interest or appeal. If you find someone to be different from you but you’re still drawn to that person, you feel an affinity to him or her: “Bob feels an affinity to Richard even though their thoughts compete.” The same applies to things: “Her style is strictly postmodern, but she admits an affinity to expressionist art.”

The following are a few more examples of correct word-preposition pairs:


ability at (doing), with (something)
Joseph shows great ability at solving complex equations.
Joseph shows great ability with mathematics.

emigrate from; immigrate to, into
Johann emigrated from Germany to the United States in 1984.
Johann immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1984.

adverse, averse to
Elizabeth is averse to running on pavement because it’s adverse to her knees.

noun: contrast to (opposite); noun, verb: contrast with (different)
Catherine’s conservative views present a stark contrast to Irene’s liberal beliefs.

In contrast with Joseph’s strict adherence to written procedure, Sarah believes in allowing some interpretation.

Philip’s sidearm throw when he’s fielding the ball contrasts with his straight overhand delivery when he’s pitching.


Being mindful of prepositional pairings shows your devotion to clean and clear writing. Whenever you are unsure of a prepositional pairing, be sure to look it up in a style or grammar book.

If you have a wider interest in good grammar and want to infuse more of it into your writing, a great website to visit, review and bookmark is

Tightening Verb Phrases

Imagine the English language as a car that can keep its body and performance pristine if driven and maintained correctly.

Think of nouns as the wheels that keep it rolling; adjectives as the chassis riding the wheels; adverbs as the paint job (the less flashy the better); and all other parts of speech (prepositions, conjunctions, etc.) as the vehicle’s other components (e.g., windows, trunk, mirrors, hood).

That leaves us with verbs, which form both the engine and the steering wheel driving our language. Without them, our language, like a car, would sit still and take us nowhere.

For this reason, verbs need tune-ups for optimal function. You can achieve this by tightening verb phrases.

Opportunities to do so will appear throughout your writing:

Substitute a single word for “is” phrases that can be instantly shortened Instead of writing “she is in violation of,” go with “she violates.” Rather than express “the petition is a representation of the community’s wishes,” state “the petition represents…”

Pare verb-object phrases to the core verb Have you ever written that you “made the decision”? “I decided” is leaner and so will use less gas in taking your sentence further more quickly. Perhaps you’ve expressed in an e-mail that “the meeting came to a close” and “all who attended took the matter into consideration.” If so, next time you can adjust your linguistic belt a notch and write “the meeting ended” and “all who attended considered the matter.”

Delete redundant modifiers We don’t need to write “hoist up” and “plunge down” when a simple “hoist” and “plunge” will do. Likewise, why use page space to say we “mix together” ingredients and “merge together” documents? The careful writer confesses the two words just don’t belong together.

Choose the right verb to trim an idea Did the book “give the people hope”? You could write that it “inspired” them and buy room you might need elsewhere on your page. Someone sharing a passionate opinion might say a statement “flies in the face of” the facts. He could also state that it “counters,” “contradicts,” “refutes” or “opposes” them and lessen the risk of flying spittle.

Use these techniques as your tools for your tune-ups. If you apply them often, you’ll find out just how far and fast your writing can go.