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Proper Prepositional Pairing

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 style arbiters such as Theodore M. Bernstein (The Careful Writer), GrammarBook has advised against attaching “for” to “affinity” (Words in Flux). However, we also realize 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.

contrast to (opposite), with (different)
Catherine’s conservative views contrast to Irene’s liberal beliefs.
Philip’s sidearm throw when he’s fielding the ball contrasts with his straight overhand delivery when he’s pitching.

This short list will further help you maintain your mission of written precision:

abound (v) in, with
abut (v) against (a wall), on (a line)
compare (v) to, with
identical (adj) to, with
intention (n) to, of
rejoice (v) at, in
sensible (adj) of, for, to, about
thrill (v) to, at, with
want (n) of
wanting (adj) in

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 can’t locate your answer, you can always write to us.

Because of the e-newsletter’s large readership, please submit your comments or questions regarding today's (or any past) article through GrammarBook.com’s Grammar Blog

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