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Confusing Words: Problem Prepositions

Preposition LessonProblem prepositions can be tricky


Let’s continue our series on confusing words: problem prepositions. I wrote recently about troublesome time expressions, such as a.m. vs. p.m. vs. m. and bimonthly versus semimonthly. Even native speakers of English have trouble with these expressions. When writing emails, reports or letters, you need to be crystal clear. This is especially true when there may be legal consequences

Let’s look at some problem prepositions.


among vs. between

Native speakers often confuse these two problems prepositons. The standard rule is that among is used for more than two choices, whereas between usually refers to two things. However, between can also apply to more than two choices. Is that clear or are you even more confused?

Dividends were shared among all the shareholders.

The distinction between bimonthly and semimonthly is not clear to many native speakers of English. 

between you and I

Did you know that Shakespeare used the expression between you and I  in The Merchant of Venice. But that doesn’t make it grammatically correct.  Even the master can make mistakes on bad days.

The correct idiomatic expression is between you and me, since between is a preposition that is followed by the object pronoun, me.

differ from vs. differ with

There is a clear between these two problem prepositions. The expression differ from means unlike; the expression differ with means disagree with.

Craig, my business partner, differs from me in that he has great mathematical skills whereas my knowledge of math is basic.

However, I don’t differ with Craig in our business goals – to offer top-notch business writing courses.

different from vs. different than

There is some difference among experts about these two expressions. The common thinking is that different from –  to show comparison – is never wrong and can be used in most situations.

Some experts say that there’s no difference between the two expressions, while others say that different than is never correct.

I wouldn’t agree with these two rules. We can certainly use different than when followed by a condensed clause,  according to my favorite grammarian Theodore Bernstein. The two expressions are not entirely the same and we can use both of them in different situations.

Our website at Business English HQ is very different from other websites on business writing.

The way Google calculates webpage ranking is different than the way others do it.

I might add that Katie Herring, BEHQ’s UK-based writer, mentioned to me that different than is unacceptable in British English. The Brits use different to according to Fowler’s Modern English Usage. Look for Katie’s forthcoming blog post on the differences between American and British English.

I trust that my comments about confusing words and problem prepositions have been useful. Please let me know what other confusing words you’d like me to discuss.

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