Prepositions are perhaps the most versatile and powerful words in the English language. What English does with prepositions is notoriously hard for non-native speakers to learn. In this first “preposition idiom” article, we will look at the preposition “from.”
The preposition “from”
The word “from” is a preposition. This means, it must be followed by a noun — or by something playing the role of a noun. This latter category includes gerunds and substantive clauses.
1) The SEC prohibits folks with inside information about a company from trading that company’s stocks and options.
2) The state senator strove to distinguish his party’s nuanced position on immigration from what the controversial fringe group advocates.
In sentence #1, the object of “from” is a gerund phrase, and in sentence #2, the object is a substantive clause. Incidentally, both of these are exemplary of idioms involving the word “from.”
Verbs + “from”
Some verbs require the word “from.” Some of these verbs involve some kind of spatial separation, at least in their literal sense:
For other verbs, the separation is not literal and spatial, but conceptual
prevent A from B
prohibit A from B
For both “prevent” and “prohibit”, the object of “from” is almost always a gerund —- “to prevent someone from talking”, “to prohibit citizens of one state from suing a another state.”
Another unusual “from” idiom involves the verb “to choose”. When a person chooses an action, we say that person “chooses to do X” — the action is expressed as an infinitive. When we are discussing the various options available to the person choosing, we use the idiom:
Here, the object of “from” is the set or list of available options.
3) Congress balked when President Reagan chose Robert Bork from all available federal judges.
Here, the phrase “all available federal judges” gives the array of options from which the choice was made.
More about spatial relationships
The words “to” and “from” are used for approach and receding, from A to B, both literally and figuratively.
4) General Sherman marched from Atlanta to Savannah, destroying everything along the way.
5) Whereas a modern American feast is said to go “from soup to nuts”, an ancient Roman banquet went ab ovo usque ad pomo (“from the egg to the apple”).
6) Sviatoslav Richter‘s repertoire ranged from works by eighteenth century Baroque composers, such as Bach and Handel, to contemporary compositions, by Soviet composers such as Shostakovich and Prokofiev, some of whose works Richter premiered.
Notice, in that last sentence the idiom “to range from A to B“, a way of talking about the literal or figurative extent of something.
More about differences
Above, I cited a verb idiom involving the preposition “from”:
to differ from
The adjective form “different” also follows this form:
7) Few can say whether a chaconne is truly different from a passacaglia.
Sometimes a root word retains the same idiom as it changes from one grammatical form to another.
Another idiom the verb differ follows is
to differ in
Here, we are not describing the two parties who differ, but rather the field or discipline in which they differ
8) Representative Hostettler and Representative Frank differ in their position on gay marriage.
The noun form “difference” shares this latter idiom with the verb and follows its own idioms:
difference with respect to
8) The president and prime minister have no difference in standing on the proposed trade bill.
9) Ethicists ordinarily underscore the difference between “white lies’, designed to protect the feelings of others, and lies of malice motivated by venal self-interest.
10) Since the Senator’s reelection, political commentators have remarked on subtle differences with respect to his portrayal of the tax reform.
The “between” idiom indicates the parties that differ, while the “in” or “with respect to” describe the subject or field of the difference: either one of these latter can be combined with the “between” idiom:
11) The difference in hitting technique between Babe Ruth and Ted Williams is the subject of endless debate.
12) Between the original 1937 movie and the current remake, critics have noted differences with respect to the murderer’s motivations.
As always with idioms, read, read, read! Search for these “from” idioms and other bold idioms in this post in context. You understand English best when you understand it in context.
This post was written by Mike McGarry, GMAT expert at Magoosh, and originally posted here.