previous next


PREPOSITIONS. Local and metaphorical meaning

Prepositions primarily represent local relations; secondarily and metaphorically, agency, cause, &c. A preposition (as after, see below) may be used metaphorically in one age and literally in the next, or vice versâ. This gives rise to many changes in the meaning of prepositions.

The shades of different meaning which suggest the use of different prepositions are sometimes almost indistinguishable.

We say, "a canal is full of water." There is no reason why we should not also say "full with water," as a garden is "fair with flowers." Again, "a canal is filled with water," the verb in modern English preferring with to signify instrumentality, but "filled of water" is conceivable; and, as a matter of fact, Shakespeare does write "furnished of, provided of, supplied of," for with. Lastly the water may be regarded as an agent, and then we say, "the canal is filled by the water." But an action may be regarded as "of" the agent, as well as "by" the agent, and "of" is frequently thus used in the A. V. of the Bible and in Elizabethan authors, as well as in E. E. For these reasons the use of prepositions, depending upon the fashion of metaphor in different ages, is very variable. It would be hard to explain why we still say, "I live on bread," but not "Or have we eaten on the insane root?" (Macb. i. 3. 84); as hard as to explain why we talk of a "high" price or rate, while Beaumont and Fletcher speak of a "deeper rate."

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: