UPDATE: You can find this blog and others about idioms in our new GMAT Idiom eBook!
Prepositions in English display a powerful diversity of uses. In previous preposition article, we talked about the proposition “for”. Here, we will look, at the prepositions “against”.
1) Charles Lindbergh argued against entering World War II on the side of the Allies.
2) The CEO state he was prejudice against whoever thought his predecessor’s Seven-Point Plan was a sound way to run the corporation.
In sentence #1, the object of the preposition “against” is a gerund phrase, and in sentence #2, the object is a substantive clause. Incidentally, both of these are exemplary of idioms involving these prepositions.
The preposition “against” has connotations of conflict and opposition. The most important idioms associated with “against” are:
protect from/ against
Etymologically, the word “prejudice” simply means to pre-judge, and that pre-judging could be favorable or unfavorable, but in modern English, the word “prejudice” carries the connotation of having pre-judged in a way that is unfavorable. The most discussed kind of prejudice is racial prejudice, though of course one could be prejudice about many other issues. Because of the negative connotation, we use the preposition “against” with “prejudice.”
3) Prejudiced against short term securities, she only invested in options with more than a year before expiration.
The direct object of “protect” is the item protected —- the police officer protects the public, the clear plastic adhesive protects the face of the cell phone, etc. For everything that is protected, there is some threat or risk or danger which is the occasion of the protecting. Whether there is any difference between “protect from” and “protect against” is debatable, as is what that difference might be. For the purpose of the GMAT Sentence Correction, they are interchangeable.
4) Pure aluminum quickly forms a thin coat of aluminum oxide which protects the metal from corrosion.
The pair of idioms “argue with” vs. “argue against” is tricky. If we are speaking about the manner of one’s arguing, then we always use “with”:
6) The charismatic lawyer always argued his case with tremendous persuasive powers.
If we are discussing the idea or cause one opposes, then we always use “against.”
If the object of the preposition is a person, then the difference between “argue with [person]” vs. “argue against [person]” is subtle. In general, if the affiliation or bond between two people is stronger than their conflict —- the relationship is ongoing, and the conflict is temporary by comparison —- then we would use “with” — husband & wife argue with one another; brother argues with sister; student argues with teacher. In general, if the conflict is the essential defining feature of the relationship — if A didn’t have an argument with B, then A would not be have any relationship at all with B —- then we would use “against.” This is not a hard-and-fast rule, and in some contexts, either would be correct.
The distinction between these two is very much like the distinction between “argue with” vs. “argue against.” We certainly would use “with” to describe either a quality of the fighting (“he fought with dignity”) or a physical tool used in fighting (“he fought with brass knuckles“). We use “against” for any idea or cause or movement one opposes.
As with “argue”, we tend to say “fight with [a person]” if the ongoing relationship is more enduring and/or more essential than the nature of the conflict; we tend to say “fight against [a person]” if the conflict is the primary mode of relating. Again, this is not a strict rule, and in some contexts, either would be correct.
13) Behind closed doors, the CFO argued with the head of the corporation’s legal team about potential impact of the new policy, but publicly, they presented a united front of support.
Victory Over/Victory Against
These two are virtually identical — the latter seems somewhat more common in sports journalist. For the purposes of GMAT Sentence Correction, both victory over and victory against are correct and imply no discernible difference in meaning. Both are used to describe the party or thing defeated in the victory.
Know the idioms given in bold in this post. As always with idioms, read, read, read! Search for the idioms in this post in context. You understand English best when you understand it in context.
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