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Know Your Prepositions!

I love Schoolhouse Rock. Growing up, I watched Saturday morning cartoons, and I knew that between the shows on ABC, I would see a bus driving some children to a little schoolhouse. Then the youngsters would get out and walk on the snowy path to the house. Then my brother and I would guess what we would see: Multiplication, Grammar, America or Science Rock.

Thanks to Multiplication Rock, I knew my “times tables” (multiples of 2 through 12) inside and out, and I could quickly recall the answer to any multiplication problem on the tables. This helped me dominate my fifth-grade class contest. I beat everybody in my class of about 35 by shouting the answer before my opponent.

Thanks to America Rock, my wife would hear people start singing the preamble to the Constitution in class.

And thanks to Grammar Rock, I knew my parts of speech: A noun is a person, place or thing; adjectives describe, verbs are action words, pronouns are shorter than nouns, conjunctions join words, etc.

But there was no song about prepositions. Not until 1993, when Bob Dorough, who wrote 20 of the three-minute songs, penned “Busy Prepositions.”

By definition, a preposition is a word (and a part of speech) that shows the relationship between a noun or pronoun and other words in a sentence. The “Schoolhouse Rock” song about prepositions says “nine or 10 of them do most all of the work” and then lists 11: of, on, to, with, in, from, by, far, at, over, across.

But wait a second. Far? Far is an adverb , so I could go to Lolly and get it there. Far also is an adjective, so I could find it hiking with my turtle friend. I would not find far with the other prepositions.

Some comments I have received since I first posted this tells me it is very likely that Dorough wrote and Jack Sheldon sang for, which is a preposition, but the video clearly shows the word far. Another listen to the song confirms this.

Bob Dorough is still alive. I wonder if he knows. Somebody find him and ask him!

In the meantime …

Until next time! Use the right words!

March 21, 2013 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. The word in Busy Prepositions is for, most definitely a preposition.


    Comment by Dorothy Hoffman | March 21, 2013 | Reply

  2. The word in Busy Prepositions is “for” not “far”, and for is definitely a preposition.


    Comment by Dorothy B. Hoffman | March 21, 2013 | Reply

  3. Yep. That’s what I thought as soon as I read it too.


    Comment by Anne | March 21, 2013 | Reply

  4. I really enjoy your posts! Thank you! But don’t you think they were singing for, not far?


    Comment by Joan Kelly | March 21, 2013 | Reply

  5. Go back and watch the video and you will see the little preposition bug holds up a sign that says “far.”


    Comment by usingtherightwords | March 22, 2013 | Reply

  6. ;+) I think I have figured out this linguistic mystery. (I’m a high school English teacher with a solid background in linguistics.) The talented singer of the “Busy Preposition” video (who is not a grammarian) has a noticeable southern American regional accent/dialect. He pronounces “nine or tin” and “on the top relates to where,” incorporating the southern plosive wh-sound, rather than the northern plain w-sound. In fact, he pronounces the word “for” to sound like “far.” Then we have the talented artist-cartoonist (who is also not a grammarian) who listened to the song, and drew what his (non-Southern) ears heard, which was the word “far.” Then we have the proofreader-editor (who is indeed a grammarian), who did not do his job. Voila!


    Comment by Joan Kelly | March 22, 2013 | Reply

    • Thank you, Joan! Bob Dorough is Southern, having been born in Arkansas and reared in Texas. And it makes perfect sense that he would know “far” is not a preposition (“for” is). In fact, if you listen to “Elementary My Dear” (Bob’s Multiplication Rock song about the number two), he says “are” when he clearly means “or.” I don’t understand that 20 years later, the video was never changed. Did they really think we’re all too dumb to miss it?

      Anyway, thanks to all the comments, I have updated the post to reflect them.


      Comment by usingtherightwords | March 22, 2013 | Reply

  7. […] John asks: “what are the tools, methods or tricks to solving the problem of the ban on prepositions at the ends of […]


    Pingback by Communicate to Manage Change | March 26, 2013 | Reply

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