Everyday grammar: Put prepositions in their place
VOA – English learners know that prepositions can be difficult to master. There are 94 one-word prepositions in English, and about 56 prepositions with two or more words, called “complex prepositions.” This adds up to 150 chances to make mistakes.
We cannot, of course, explain the small differences between all 150 prepositions here. We can, however, provide you with a few explanations of different prepositions that use one particular verb: provide.
Provide (someone) with:
When provide is followed by an indirect object, English speakers use the preposition “with.” Providing (someone) with something means to give something wanted or needed.
Here is an example sentence, written by U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama: “Room to Read provides girls with scholarships that cover the cost of housing, food, and books.”
In this sentence, “girls” is the indirect object and “scholarships” is the direct object.
Another preposition with the same verb is “provide for.” “Provide for,” in general, means to make whatever is necessary for someone available to him or her. We often use this expression when we talk about parents providing for their family.
In a VOA Learning English story about a Cambodian-American filmmaker, we used the preposition in this way: “She says changes such as migration away from rural areas are allowing more women to find work and provide for their families.”
This preposition can also be used in other ways. “Provide for” can mean to make it possible for something to happen in the future. For example, in our story about water shortage in California, we wrote, “They say it [California] needs to find a way to provide for the growing need for water.”
Provide (something) to/for:
When “provide” is followed by a direct object, English speakers can use the prepositions “to” or “for.” Provide (something) to/for (someone) means that you deliver or give something to someone. For example, “The company provides health insurance to all of its employees.” “Health insurance” is the direct object and “employees” is the indirect object. In this example, we also could have said “The company provides health insurance for all of its employees.”
Both of these sentences are correct, but it is more common to use “provide (something) for” than “provide (something to)” someone. The expression using “to” is rather new to American English, according to the Internet application Google Ngrams.
Google Ngrams is an app that shows general changes in English usage by searching all the words in Google’s digital books.
The graph on Ngram for “provide (something) to” shows it was hardly ever used before 1960.
Compare that to the Ngram graph for “provide (something for).” The expressions appear more often. The expressions also appeared much earlier, around 1920. They were used then almost as often as they are used now.
Understanding English prepositions can be difficult, even for native speakers! But we hope that we have been able to provide assistance to all of our listeners and readers.