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Which preposition should one use after statistic when one wants to say what object this statistic describes? Consider, for instance, the following sentence taken from Google Translate:

He quoted a government statistic that suggests foreign coverage has gone down on British television by 40% in the last decade.

If one was to say what he quoted, would one say

  1. “a government statistic about foreign coverage on British television,”
  2. “a government statistic for foreign coverage on British television,”
  3. “a government statistic of foreign coverage on British television,” or
  4. “a government statistic on foreign coverage on British television”?

Personally, I want to use about, but then I was corrected for doing so. Google Ngram also disagrees with me.

I originally phrased this question focusing primarily on the singular form, statistic, as I assumed there would be no difference with respect to the plural one, statistics. However, according to the comments, there is a different. Since I’m equally much interested in the plural form, I’m extending this question to cover statistics as well.

Regarding statistics, I’ve found the following examples:

If all the industries belong to one economic area over which, so far as we can tell from general statistics of wages and prices, and other information, fairly homogeneous conditions prevailed, we may be able to reach some useful conclusions as to the operation of the act.

The statistics of civil proceedings vary considerably from province to province.

The Trans-Caspian railway has been an important factor; almost all the cotton exported passes over this line, and the statistics of this trade indicate the progress made.

Statistics of offences, including contravvenzioni or breaches of by-laws and regulations, exhibit a considerable increase per 100,000 inhabitants since 1887, and only a slight diminution on the figures of 1897.

So which preposition should one use after statistics?

  • 5. All of the above. – Robusto Oct 23 '17 at 13:32
  • 6 - regarding, 7 - concerning, 8 - relating to... – FumbleFingers Oct 23 '17 at 13:54
  • @Robusto, I’d like to choose one and use it consistently in my writing. – Ivan Oct 23 '17 at 13:57
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    You have to be careful with NGrams. The usage of 'for' isn't the same sense as the one you want. For example "The t-statistic for testing the regression model..." – ColleenV Oct 23 '17 at 14:07
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    I'd be careful about choosing one preposition and using it consistently. Sometimes changing the object changes the preposition. For example, there's a good chance I'd say, "A government statistic on the use of cell phones," but, "a government statistic about rising homeless rates." This notion that a noun is always followed by the same preposition is a myth. – J.R. Oct 23 '17 at 18:44
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The appropriate preposition depends whether what follows the preposition is the precise definition of the single statistic that follows the preposition (in which case for is the only appropriate option, or whether it is a general description of the statistic, in which case all of your suggestions are appropriate.

The statistic for perinatal mortalities in Cambodia in 2016 is quite shocking.

He produced a statistic for/about/on/of perinatal mortalities to support the need for extra funding.

The options available depend, therefore, on how specific you are in the text that immediately follows the preposition. If it defines a speficic statistic or class of statistics, then only for is valid:

government statistics for the proportion of foreign coverage on British television over the past decade...

If, however, you use less specific terminology, all of the options that you have suggested are reasonable:

government statistics for/about/on/of foreign coverage on British television...

  • I don't buy the idea that singular/plural statistic/s meaningfully influences the preferred preposition. – FumbleFingers Oct 23 '17 at 15:49
  • I’ve updated my question. I’d be grateful if you could revisit your answer. – Ivan Oct 24 '17 at 8:36
  • @FumbleFingers, agreed. It's about whether you are specific, which is more likely to occur with a single statistic but can equally occur with a group of class of statistics. I have updated my answer. – JavaLatte Oct 26 '17 at 10:42
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    Even just reconsidering your original text now, a few days after the post, I think my downvote was a bit OTT. But it does seem better now with reference to "specific" rather than "singular". Personally, I think that a statistic in most contexts would usually be more naturally called a value. But maybe it's an age thing - this NGram shows singular gaining traction. – FumbleFingers Oct 27 '17 at 17:12

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