Idiomatic Preposition

Idiomatic Construction with Two Prepositions

PrepositionsOpens in new window sometimes occur in pairs as part of idiomatic expression—construction in which a preposition is followed by an NP that is followed by another preposition, such as those shown below.

in case ofon account ofat the behest of
in compliance within comparison withfor want of
at odds within/with respect tounder the auspices of
in view ofat the hands ofby dint of
with regard toin contact within accordance with

There are no rules for predicting which prepositions will occur before or after a particular noun in idioms such as those listed. We can observe, however, that the initial prepositions come from a larger set (at, by, for, in, on, under, or with) than the prepositions that occur after the noun (of, to, or with).

These constructions are followed by an NP, which may be simply a head noun, as in 1a), or a head noun with one or more modifiers, as is the case in 1b), 1c), and 1d).

  • 1a)  In case of fire, break glass.
  • 1b)  For want of a horse, the battle was lost.
  • 1c)  Your house is not in compliance with the building code.
  • 1d)  Their government’s policy is at odds with several important provisions in the accord.

All of these idiomatic structures still involve a basic prepositional phrase structure. At least two analyses of these structures are possible. We will adopt the one shown in 2), in which in case of is considered to be a complex preposition composed of more than one word, followed by the object NP, in this case, the noun fire.

  • 2) in case of fire [in case of = Prep; fire = NP]