As many other foreign English language learners, I often find myself struggling with English prepositions. This time, I came across an irreverent but funny sentence when I was watching a strange English movie a couple of days ago.

..But then, when did a single-figure IQ hold anybody back in the police force?

Although I think I understood its meaning, I was wondering whether the preposition IN is correct or not? Would "from entering/joining" have been a better choice in place of "in"?

1 Answer 1


A little additional context would be helpful in order to confirm the intended meaning of hold back; it is not clear whether someone would be holding back (active, e.g. not speaking), or would be held back (passive, e.g. prevented from taking an action or executing a plan; or prevented from advancing in his or her career).

I would interpret in the police force as saying that the person is already a member of the police force. In other words, the speaker is saying a single-figure IQ has never prevented any police force member from acting or progressing.

[In American English, we would more commonly say on the police force. People are on forces, teams, staffs, squads, committees, faculties, assignments, and other groups, though they are in the police, the army, the management, the sales department, the priesthood, and other institutions.]

If we were talking about joining the police, we could say somebody held back or was held back from the police force.

  • hmmm, the man whom the speaker was talking about was already a member of the police force. Perhaps, he meant that "a single-figure IQ" is not enough to prevent a fool from advancing in his career IN/on the police force. Therefore, the preposition IN might be right. Anyway, I'm not sure because I didn't get all the words he spoke. Thank you.
    – jeysmith
    Jan 27, 2014 at 16:25

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .