LINGUIST List 8.154

Sat Feb 1 1997

Sum: short + preposition

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. hiro-t, Summary: short + preposition

Message 1: Summary: short + preposition

Date: Tue, 28 Jan 97 11:27:33 JST
From: hiro-t <>
Subject: Summary: short + preposition

Dear colleague,
 One of my colleagues, who has no facilities of internet, 
posted a query on the List last year. He managed to write his summary.
He was sorry for the delay of the summary because of his father's death.
- --------------------------------------------------------------------
 I posted a query on the List about the use of 'short', meaning
'lacking' Oct 1996. I received as many as 50 answers from overseas
respondents. In addition to these, Dr. Paul Kilpatrick of Geneva
College, USA let me know the results of the survey conducted to his
students in his class. (J My questions are mainly concerned
with the choice of prepositions followed by 'short' and the possible
patterns (structures) of 'short'.
 To make the points clear, I will restate the sentences in question

 (1) a. We're short of money. 
(J b. We're short on money. 
(J c. We're short money.$B!!(J

 (2) a. We're short of time.
(J b. We're short on time.
J c. We're short time. 

(J (3) a. We're short of cash.
(J b. We're short on cash.
(J c. We're short cash. 

(J (4) a. We're short of nurses.
(J b. We're short on nurses.
(J c. We're short nurses. 

 The results are as follows.

 (1) money (2) time (3) cash (4) nurses
!!!!!(J OK ? * OK ? * OK ? * OK ? *
 (a) short of 92% 4% 4% 80% 13% 7% 89% 4% 7% 94% 2% 4% 
 (b) short on 67% 18% 15% 82% 9% 9% 76% 9% 15% 63% 15% 22% 
 (c) short 31% 11% 58% 7% 9% 84% 27% 15% 58% 39% 10% 51% 

(J'Of'is most common before each Noun, and 'on'is also possible in
each case, although it is more likely to be used in informal/
conversational English as some respondents and English dictionaries
point out.
 'Short without prepositions'is less acceptable, especially limited in an
informal style. Note the lowest acceptability (7%) in the case of 'time'. 

(J Here are some interesting comments from respondents. 
 # 'Short on'is used in contrastive contexts like 'we are not short on doctors
or aides but we are short on nurses' or contrasted with'long on'as'long on time'
(Nancy Frishberg/Karen Davis).
 # 'Short of money/cash' means a general statement of poverty but'short on
money/cash' means that we don't have enough money/cash for this specific thing
we want to do(Laurie Bauer).
 # 'Short money' is possible when we have some definite amount of
money in mind as in 'We're short 3 bucks').
 # 'Short money/time/cash' is used in spoken English (Kevin P. Lemoine).
 # 'Short on' can sometimes be substituted as the colloquial alternative of 
'short of'(Michael & Mary Robertson). 
 # 'We're short nurses' is acceptable in a context like: How are we doing on
staff? Well, we have enough doctors, enough orderlies, but we're short nurses
(Dr. Elsa Lattey).
 # 'We're short money' reads as a telegraphic form of (1a). 'We're
short some money' is prefered to 'we're short of some money',
however.(Stephen P. Spackman)


 Now, let's go on to questions (5), (6) and (7). 

 (5) a. I'm short of 10 dollars.
 b. I'm short on 10 dollars.
 c. I'm short 10 dollars. 
 d. I'm short by 10 dollars.
(J e. I'm short 10 dollars short. 

 (6) a. I'm short of a few units. 
(J b. I'm short on a few units. 
(J c. I'm short a few units.
(J d. I'm short by a few units. 
(J e. I'm short a few units short.

 (7) a. We're short of 1,000 nurses.
(J b. We're short on 1,000 nurses.
(J c. We're short 1,000 nurses. 
(J d. We're short by 1,000 nurses.
(J e. We're short 1,000 nurses short. 

(JThe results are given below.

 (5) 10 dollars (6) a few units (7) 1,000 nurses
(J OK ? * (JOK ? *(J OK ? * (J
(a) short of X 22% 13% 65% 44% 9% 47% 36% 13% 51% 
(b) short on X 2% 2% 96% 20% 33% 47% 2% 20% 78% 
(c) short X 94% 4% 2% 91% 9% 0% 89% 4% 7% 
(d) short by X 87% 13% 0% 96% 4% 0% 94% 4% 2% 
(e) short X short 100% 0% 0% 100% 0% 0% 100% 0% 0% 

 'Short' can be used in 5 different
patters(structures)(a)-(d). Which pattern 'short' takes depends on X.
 Patterns (c),(d),(e) are almost perfectly possible with 'quantifier
+ noun'. On the other hand, patern (b) is not possible on the
intended reading. Pattern (a) is problematic in that it is ambiguious
between two meanings and that we can sometimes loosely use pattern (a)
to mean patterns(c),(d) and (e). Two readings are possible with the
structure 'short of X'. One reading is that we need X but we have less
than that. The other reading is that we don't have X to reach our
target or goal (unspecified here).$B!!(JNote that 'short of a few
units' is better than 'short of 10 dollars'. One possible reason for
the higher acceptability with 'short on a few units' is that 'on a few
units' is not the complement of 'short' and therefore can appear in
the front position(here the meaning of units' is not 'credits'). For
example,'short on a few units'is acceptable if it means that some
components in a few of these units (of medical kits or picnic
placesettings) are missing(Nancy Frishberg). In the same way,'short
on 1,000 nurses' is acceptable only on a reading where what we're
missing is not nurses but, perhaps, uniforms (short of uniforms
on(for) 1,000 nurses) (Stephen P. Spackman, John Reighard).
 As a rule, it would be a good idea to follow Mr.Kevin Caldwell's
guideline that we can't say 'short of X' if we mean 'X too few' but we
can say '(just) short of X' if we mean 'close to X, but not quite'.
 In conclusion, I will let you know Mr. John Reighard's judgements
which will be of great help in using 'short'.

 1. (J2. J3.
!(JMass N (J Qunti.+ Plural (JUnquanti. Plural
(Jmoney (Ja few units (Junits 
!(Jtime (J10 dollars (Jnurses (J
(Jcash$B!!!!!!!!!!(J1,000 nurses
J short of X (JOK(J?(JOK
(J short on X (JOK(J* (JOK
(J short X(J* (JOK(J* 
(J short by X (J* (JOK(J* 
(J short X short(J* (JOK(J* 

(J Finally, I would like to express my affectionate and deeply-felt
gratitude to those respondents for their assistance and cooporation,
especially to Dr. Paul Kilpatrick.

Tsutomu Uchikiba,
Associate Professor, Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, Japan
- ------------------------------------------------------------------------
 If you have further comments on this sumamry, please e-mail me(Tanaka)
directly. And I'm sorry for not listing up the contributors, since there are
too many.

Hiroaki Tanaka

Associate Professor,
1-1, Minamijousanjima-cho, Tokushima, 770, Japan
Faculty of Integrated Arts and Sciences,
Tokushima University, Japan
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