Which preposition would be more appropriate to indicate the object of the action in the expression "the service (of/to/?) somebody"?


(1) People in general are averse to the service of the Lord.
(2) By engaging steadily in the service of Bhagavān, ...

In both examples the intended meaning is that the noun after the preposition is the object of the action, i.e. the recipient of the service.

However, the main meaning of the "of" preposition, I believe, is "belonging to" or similar. In this light, the expression "service of the Lord" may be understood as "service performed by the Lord". Therefore, this preposition seems ambiguous. How would I understand "the service of my friend"? Is my friend a doer or a recipient of the service?

Google NGrams shows that "service of the Lord" is used much more often than "service to the Lord" - link. Maybe it's a set expression. However, if we use another object ("the country"), the "to" preposition is more frequent - link.

Note: In my opinion, both examples have nothing to do with the set expression 'in the service of', even though the second example seems to be the same.

Related questions:


I've found one meaning of the "of" preposition here and here, which states:

used after nouns formed from verbs. The noun after ‘of’ can be either the object or the subject of the action.

  • the arrival of the police (= they arrive)
  • criticism of the police (= they are criticized)
  • the shouts of excited children
  • This is clearly the work of more than one person.
  • the arrival of our train

It seems my case is similar: the noun after the "service of" can be treated as the object of the action. In the examples above in most cases it is clear whether the noun is an object or a subject. But even here, in "criticism of the police", how would you know that this is not a "critisicm by the police"?

  • Even allowing for Bhagavān not being a common referent in Anglophone communities, your second example doesn't look at all natural to me. Perhaps you meant By engaging steadfastly in the service of Bhagavān, ... ("steadfast" = "faithful, loyal"). Commented Apr 10, 2022 at 15:21
  • Thanks for the note, @FumbleFingers. I'll give it a though in my text.
    – AKd
    Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 17:13
  • 1
    Apart from that, I don't understand what you're asking about here. The actual link is too long to include in a comment, but if you search for the service * the Lord in Google NGrams you'll see that preposition of is the only likely candidate for such contexts (the asterisk is a "wild card" that matches all the most common words to occur in that position). Is that what you seek confirmation of? Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 17:24
  • I seek guidance on which preposition is grammatically correct for the object of the word "service". Thanks for the NGram link. Indeed, the "of" preposition is twice more frequent than "to" for "the Lord" object in the recent years. However, for "service * the country" the leader is "to". Especially I'm confused by the inherent meaning of the "of" preposition which I consider to be "belonging to". In this sense, it sounds as if the Lord is actually doing the service. I'll expand my question to make it clearer.
    – AKd
    Commented Apr 13, 2022 at 4:58
  • Any phrase that starts with "in the service" will be followed by "of", so the second one is a bad example.
    – gotube
    Commented Apr 13, 2022 at 6:52

2 Answers 2


[ "service to" + noun ] always means the noun receives or benefits from the service.

With "of" it's ambiguous, determined only by context.

This means your first sentence can mean "people don't like serving the Lord", OR "people don't like receiving the Lord's service".


There are many contexts in English where multiple prepositions can convey the same meaning. For example,...

1: We work in [the] service of our king ("the" is optional, but usually present)
2: We work in service to our king (less common, but valid - never includes "the")
3: We work in service for our king (much less common, but still "valid")

(Even more rarely, under, below, beneath and others could "validly" occur in the above.)

There's a limit to what can usefully be covered in a single Answer here, so I'll just content myself with a couple more examples regarding preposition choice. Sometimes there's a clear-cut difference...

4: criticism of the police
almost always references "the police" as the object of criticism
5: criticism by the police
only ever references the police as the subject (they're the ones doing the criticising).


6: taunts of the crowd
7: taunts by the crowd
8: taunts from the crowd
all the above always mean the same thing (the crowd are the "subject" doing the taunting / jeering).

There are some general guidelines for preposition use in English, but few if any of them are "absolute". An awful lot of usages simply have to be learnt by rote.

You must log in to answer this question.

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