I have no problem with good questions about prepositions. However, too many preposition questions are irksomely similar, and read a lot like a Mad Lib:
I recently found the word
_______________________ (verb), but I want to know, is it better to say:
_____________ (same verb)
__________ (short preposition),
_____________ (same verb again)
__________ (different short preposition)?
Which is preferred?
And that's it! Oh, every once in a while, someone will try to ward off downvotes by adding this caveat:
I tried searching for an answer on Google, but couldn't find an answer there.
Sorry, but I think such questions need to be sharply downvoted, or greatly enhanced. No research effort is shown. (Note: Maybe that sounded contentious, but please don't downvote my answer here until you've read all the way to the end.)
Before I discuss how I'd recommend fixing this question, let's create a hypothetical ELU question by filling in my "Mad Lib" with the verb
dance, and the prepositions
Dance to the music, or Dance with the music?
I recently heard a song called Dance to the Music, but I once had a music teacher tell me, "You need to dance with the music," meaning, with the beat of the music. So, I want to know, which is it better to say? Dance to, or dance with? Which is the more appropriate preposition? Thanks in advance.
As I said, such questions – presented that way – are likely to exasperate a lot of ELU regulars, who won't care how the O.P. dances, so long as the music isn't being blared too loudly. So, what kind of research can be done, and how should it be expounded upon?
Let me rewrite the question, including some research findings this time:
Dance with the music, or Dance to the music?
I recently heard a song called Dance to the Music, but I once had a music teacher tell me, "You need to dance with the music," meaning, with the beat of the music. So, I am trying to figure out, which is it better to say? Dance to, or dance with? Which is the more appropriate preposition?
When I first used Google, many results for "Dance to the Music" were referencing the song, so I didn't get very good answers there.
So, I tried using Google books instead, but I found out that Anthony Powell wrote a twelve-novel sequence, called A Dance to the Music of Time. That made it hard to find good examples from those results, also.
Both "dance to the music" and "dance with the music" returned millions of results on Google, so I don't think I can get an answer just based on hit counts.
I'm wondering if that's just two ways to say pretty much the same thing? Or if one preposition might imply dancing in time with the beat.
When I looked up the word "to" in the dictionary, I found this definition:
8) accompanied by ⇒ dancing to loud music
While the word "with" had:
2) accompanying; in the company of ⇒ the lady you were with
I couldn't figure out if those mean the same thing or not. The dictionary meanings seem a little bit different, but I still found a lot of references to "dance with the music."
Now, I'm not saying that everyone would be frustrated with the initial question, or that nobody would downvote the revised question, but I'll bet the revised question would get many more upvotes than downvotes, while the initial question would not be welcomed so warmly, nor appreciated nearly as much.
In a nutshell, the O.P. should:
- Search for the phrases in corpuses, or in articles and books1
- Look up the definitions in the dictionary
- Summarize the results, and present them in the question
This achieves three main objectives:
- It shows the community that the O.P. made a good-faith effort to answer the question through their own research.
- It spares the community from having to look up basic definitions and paste them into their answers, since some of that work has already been done in the question.
- It clarifies where the confusion lies, so that there won't be so many "false starts" when people try to answer the question.
Now, one last point, for those who are stammering, "But... but... but...".2 Some will argue that there's no way for new users to know they should do all that. (My reply: True; feel free to post a link to this meta answer, and let them use this as a helpful guide for their second question.) Some may argue this is too demanding, that it is too much work (My reply: Why? I do research like that when I answer questions – why should askers get off so lightly?) And some may argue that, by the time someone has done all that research, they may find an answer, so there'd be no need to ask the question. (My reply: Exactly; we shouldn't be asking questions here on the board if the questions can be easily answered using some basic search techniques).
F O O T N O T E S
1 Incidentally, I hadn't heard of Powell's series until I started researching this example question.
2 Or maybe my last point should be to those who are stammering, "But... but... but..." – I'm not sure... ;^)