Is it proper to use any preposition to say "caution against" "caution about" or "caution from" in e.g. the sentence —

The fact that the ... has happened before and could happen again, should caution us from being like ...

Or is it a colloquial sort of thing?

Specifically, I'm concerned about "caution us from" in leu of "caution us away from" or some other idiom.


1 Answer 1


Consider that the word caution has both a noun and verb form, so there are multiple proper uses depending on where you place it grammatically.

Looking at your example, you have used it as a verb. The object in your sentence is “the fact.” Can a fact perform the action of cautioning? You see, this doesn’t really make sense. But a fact can give your some sensation. The fact that it is daytime can cause you to expect warmth, for example. So a fact can give you “caution” (the noun form). It can also “make you cautious” (the adjective form), or it can make you “proceed cautiously,” the adverb form.

When you want to use it as a verb, remember it is an action word. The subject has to be able to do that action. Can a dog caution you? Maybe, let’s try it:

“A big dog cautioned me against moving any closer.”

Well, that can work if your writing a comedy or have speaking dogs. But a feature of the dog certainly can do this more plausibly:

“A growl in the dark cautioned me against moving any closer.”

Build your sentence generically, then choose the most effective form of the word for the effect you want.

  • Bob cautioned us not to go into the house (v.)
  • Bob’s tone gave us caution against going in the house (n.)
  • Bob urged us to go into the house cautiously if we had to do this. (adv.)
  • Bob told us to use caution when going into the house. (n.)
  • Bob’s warning made us cautious about going into the house. (adj.)
  • The house made us cautious after Bob’s dire warning. (adj.)

The proper “preposition” then (that only applies to the noun form, factually) will be determined by your scene. Specifically; where do you want your reader’s “eyes” to be focused.

If the scene needs the readers to:

  • Focus on Bob, then “Bob cautioned…” (you have told us how Bob acted)
  • Focus on Bob’s behavior, then “Bob’s tone gave us caution…” (you have given Bob’s behavior a description)
  • Focus on ‘our behavior’, then “… urged us to go cautiously…” (you have given ‘our behavior’ a description)
  • Focus on ‘us’, then “… made us cautious…” (you have given ‘us’ a description)
  • Focus on the house, then “The house made us cautious…” (you have told us how the house acted)

So decide where your readers need to be looking. Choose the preposition or adverb or other modifier that puts that on center stage.

  • I don't think this really answers the question, which is about which preposition to use. Aside from that, I'm on the fence over whether a fact can caution. I'm pretty sure a warning sign can; even though it has no agency. And facts are sometimes said to speak for themselves. So verbal actions like cautioning don't seem outside of the realm of possibilities.
    – user54131
    Mar 1, 2022 at 10:55
  • @towr There are no unbreakable rules in language, clouds can get angry, anything can do anything with literary license; this has the style tag
    – Vogon Poet
    Mar 1, 2022 at 12:58
  • thanks for the thorough / thoughtful reply, added what I meant by style tag -- is it Ok to say "the facts caution us from doing so" or does it need to be "facts caution us away from" or some other? Mar 1, 2022 at 16:48
  • @AndreyFedorov Where are the readers focused at this point of the story? On the protagonist? The danger? The person giving the warning? That’s what determines the words to use. Also, “away from” is redundant. Just “from” says the same thing.
    – Vogon Poet
    Mar 1, 2022 at 16:51
  • Is it proper to say "caution from"? It seems like an irregular use of the words. Mar 5, 2022 at 3:23

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