Of, with, to, in, on — we use prepositions so much that most of us hardly notice them in our sentences. That’s not to say these little words aren’t important. If you couldn’t say you were going to the store, that would leave a big gap in your intent. But what about the more colorful prepositions? What sort of meaning could you be infusing into your sentences with a few of these rarer prepositions?
A lot of prepositions we rarely use come from Latin. But that doesn’t mean you’ve never seen them before. Think back to high school English. Remember all those classics you pretended to read? The prepositions we speak of may be rare now, but they weren’t back then.
Because they’re uncommon, it’s easy to think they’re too complicated to use in daily life. But it’s just a case of linguistic evolution. Sometimes a word’s definition changes, or we drop one of its meanings by the wayside — like apropos, which is both preposition and adjective. Preposition: With reference to. Adjective: Appropriate to this situation.
Latin words like apropos aren’t necessarily archaic. For example, versus (against) appears all over the place, from melee video games to college football. The Latin words slide under our radar without us even noticing.
Prepositions indicate relation — or time, place, or position — and that hasn’t changed over the years. But many rare prepositions sound more fanciful than words you’d say in modern conversation.
Let’s look at a few once widely used prepositions, their meanings, and what they’ve become in our modern tongue.
It means with regard to, but people rarely say apropos nowadays. It’s a tricky word because it’s also an adverb meaning “appropriately.” You may have heard the phrase “apropos of nothing.” It’s one of the only apropos phrases that has survived to the modern day, and it’s not even its preposition form.
This is just a more convoluted way of saying among. It’s no surprise that most people cut it down when you can say the same thing with fewer letters. Keep it in mind for Scrabble when you need to use up a few extra tiles.
Passive aggressive emails are keeping the preposition per alive. “Per my earlier email…” is the quickest way to let your colleague know that hello, you’re waiting on their reply, and you needed it yesterday. It means according to, and it’s not to be confused with its adverb form (for each).
This one might be more of an abbreviation than its own word. It’s considered both, short for the preposition regarding, but it was used often enough at one time to warrant its own distinction.
Via is a much shorter way to say by way of, but, for some reason, we don’t use it as much as that longer phrase.
This last Latin preposition literally means face to face and was once used to talk about opposites. It’s almost like versus, but in a less competitive sense.
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