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Grammar Bite: Prepositions for “Foreclose”

A reader once asked which of the following sentences is correct:

Her home was foreclosed on.

Her home was foreclosed.

Foreclose is a verb that can be either transitive (taking an object) or intransitive (not taking an object). Either way, it means “to take away the borrower’s right to complete the loan (the mortgage) and to take back the property the loan was paying for”:

Transitive: “A bill was filed in the United States Circuit Court yesterday by the Farmers’ Loan and Trust Company of New York to foreclose a mortgage for $7,575,000 against the Lake Street elevated road.” —Chicago Tribune

Intransitive: “Bank of America’s move to foreclose on the tower is one prominent sign that lenders are losing patience with large commercial borrowers and are stepping up efforts to resolve problem loans behind big properties.” —The New York Times

Both usages date back to the 10th century, according to The Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Although the transitive verb was once more common, these days the intransitive verb, almost always used with on, is much more common, says Bryan Garner in his Modern English Usage.

Are there other prepositions you could pair foreclose with? You could use from to mean “preventing someone from an action,” but the construction is archaic, according to Garner. Against is another option:

“If liens are not paid in the legal manner, the holder of the lien can foreclose against the property.”

Barron’s How to Prepare for the Real Estate Examination (2000)

However, this construction is rare. I found it mostly in legal documents and books such as the one the example comes from. Neither the from or against versions are common enough to be idiomatic.

Mainstream media overwhelmingly uses foreclose on. So you can say “Her home was foreclosed” and be correct, but it is also correct, and more common, to say “Her home was foreclosed on.” And I’d stay away from replacing on with any other preposition.

A version of this article originally published in the August–September 2011 issue of Copyediting newsletter.

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