USE OF PREPOSITIONSJanuary 31, 2022
On, upon, above: [Taking the original senses of the words,] on is to be used where there is a tactual relationship between two objects, for example, “The glass is on the table.” But when there is no tactual relationship (the upper object maintains a gap in relation to the lower), upon (up + on = on + on = upon)1 is used: for example, “The ceiling is upon the table.”
[Taking the original senses,] upon and above are almost synonymous, but in practical use upon is primarily used in the case of material objects and above is used in the case of immaterial objects, for example, “The ceiling is upon one’s head,” but, “He is above all prejudice.”
To look upon means “to consider or treat”:
He looks upon him as his elder brother. (I.e., he maintains a relationship with him as with an elder brother).
In, on, to:
The Punjab is in the west of India. Pakistan is on the west of India. Iran is to the west of India.
The Punjab is in the west and is within Indian territory. So we should say in the west. In the second sentence, Pakistan is on the west – it is outside Indian territory but touching the Indian border. In this case, on the west should be used. In the third case, Iran is to the west of India. Iran does not touch the border of India – there is no common border – so here to the west should be used.
In, into, unto: In old English, into was used in the sense of coming inside from outside, and in was used when something was already inside.
He is entering into the room. (He is going into the room from outside, crossing the threshold.)
But if we say, “He is in the room,” it means that he is already inside the room.
In modern English into is fast becoming extinct.
About 1200 years ago in old English, the preposition unto had three kinds of use: towards, to and from. Now it use is almost restricted to Biblical language.
Between, among, amongst: When a matter concerns two persons or two objects, the preposition between should be used, but when the parties concerned are more than two in number, among or amongst should be used.
There was a tug-of-war between Ram and Shyam. They were discussing among/amongst themselves.
Between, in between: Between means in the two. “Bengal is between Assam and Bihar.” In between is a common error. In between means in in the two, in which case there lies the defect of duality.
(1) The original implication of adding up to on was to double the sense of elevation – so that the tactual relationship would be lost and a gap would be introduced. –Eds.