Two-word Prepositions in Learning English Stories

19 March 2020

Recently, I was watching an American television news report about the coronavirus. In it, the reporter said, "Due to coronavirus concerns, Washington governor Jay Inslee is banning gatherings of more than 250 people at social and religious events in some parts of the state."

It got me thinking about how much we use phrases like "due to" to describe a relationship between things. "Due to" is a preposition and one of many in English that are formed from two or more words. We call them compound prepositions.

The English language has more than 50 compound prepositions, but not all are commonly used.

On today's Everyday Grammar program, we will explore a few two-word prepositions that often appear in news coverage, including in stories from our website. They are:

  • according to
  • due to
  • rather than

What is a preposition?

We will begin by briefly discussing what prepositions are and how we use them.

A preposition is a word or group of words that shows direction, place or time, or introduces an object. Prepositions are always followed by a noun, proper noun, pronoun, noun phrase or gerund. For example, in the sentence, "The book is on the table," the preposition "on" is followed by the noun phrase "the table."

Here is our first compound preposition of the day.

A black rhino calf, left, and its mother are seen at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia National Park near Nanyuki, Kenya, May 22, 2019.
A black rhino calf, left, and its mother are seen at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia National Park near Nanyuki, Kenya, May 22, 2019.

According to

The preposition "according to" means as stated or reported by someone who is not the speaker. We often use it to offer official evidence, such as in news stories or research reports.

Here is part of a recent story you may have seen on the Learning English website about the wild animals called rhinos.

Rhinos are already critically endangered. There are only about 29,000 alive, according to the International Rhino Foundation. Around five percent of the animals are in Kenya.

Use of "according to" here tells us the information comes from the International Rhino Foundation.

Here is another example from a story that explores why American newspapers endorse presidential candidates:

Before the 2012 elections, for example, 17 large U.S. newspapers chose not to endorse a presidential candidate, according to National Public Radio (NPR).

Here, the information comes from National Public Radio.

Notice that, in both examples, "according to" appears after the factual information. But it can also appear at the start of sentences. For example, you could say, "According to the International Rhino Foundation, there are only about 29,000 alive."

Though "according to" is formal, there are exceptions. Suppose you are on a road trip with family. You are looking at driving directions on your phone. You might say, "According to Google Maps, it will take 2 hours and 35 minutes to get to the next town.

Though the map information itself is official, in this case the social situation is informal.

Due to

Now let's return to the preposition "due to." The phrase "due to" can have a few meanings, but when it acts as a preposition, it means because of something. "Due to" refers to a reason or cause, such as coronavirus causing bans of large social gatherings in many places.

The preposition "due to" is also somewhat formal. It is common in official announcements or statements and in the news.

Here is another example from a story about an environmental concern in China. It uses a statement from a science expert:

"The ecology of the Yangtze River is close to collapse due to human activity in past decades," Pan said.

With "due to," the sentence introduces the cause, which is human activity in the past decades. It also talks about a result, which is that the ecology of the Yangtze River is close to collapse.

You could also move "due to" to the beginning of the sentence and say it this way: "Due to human activity in the past decades, the ecology of the Yangtze River is close to collapse."

Rather than

And finally, we turn to "rather than."

The preposition "rather than" means in place of or instead of something or someone.

Listen to how it was used in a recent Learning English story about active shooter preparation exercises for American students. Take mental note of the two things that are contrasted:

There has been little research on how well the exercises prepare students for an active shooter. In 2007, one study found it better to prepare students for an "intruder," rather than a shooter.

The contrast is between intruders and shooters. In other words, the study showed that preparing students for an intruder is better than preparing them for a shooter.

Our final example comes from a story about how the city of Nashville, Tennessee, is now a popular place for many kinds of sound recordings, including films and video games:

The city is known for very good studio musicians. They work mostly on recordings rather than live performances.

Here, the contrast is between recordings and live performances.

Well, that's all for today's program. Look and listen for these prepositions in VOA Learning English stories and programs!

I'm Jonathan Evans.

Alice Bryant wrote this story for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.


Words in This Story

phrase – n. a group of two or more words that express a single idea but do not usually form a complete sentence

gerund – n. n English noun formed from a verb by adding -ing

introduce – n. to mention or refer to something for the first time

formal – adj. suitable for serious or official speech and writing

endorse – v. to publicly or officially say that you support or approve of (someone or something)

decade – a period of ten years

contrast – v. to compare (two people or things) to show how they are different

intruder – n. a person who enters a place illegally