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About Prepositions - Article

Updated: Feb 17, 2023

Prepositions can be tricky and troublesome to learn and use


English prepositions are an important part of the language, but they can be tricky and troublesome to learn and use because they often have multiple meanings and can be used in a variety of ways. They are also used in different ways in different contexts, making it difficult to memorize their correct usage.


One of the reasons prepositions can be difficult is that they often have multiple meanings. For example, the preposition "on" can mean "on top of," "in contact with," "next to," "at the time of," "in a state of," and more. This can make it challenging for English learners to determine which meaning is appropriate in a given context.

Another reason prepositions can be difficult is that they are used in a variety of ways. For example, prepositions can be used to describe time, location, direction, and more. This can make it difficult for English learners to determine the correct usage of prepositions in different contexts.


Additionally, prepositions can also be used in idiomatic expressions, which are phrases that have a meaning different from the individual words. For example, the phrase "to be up for" means "to be willing to consider or accept." This can make it challenging for English learners to understand the meaning of prepositions in idiomatic expressions.


Finally, prepositions can also be tricky because they can be used in different ways in different contexts. For example, the preposition "in" can be used to describe location in one context, but it can also be used to describe time in another context. This can make it difficult for English learners to determine the correct usage of prepositions in different situations.


In conclusion, English prepositions can be challenging to learn and use because they often have multiple meanings, can be used in a variety of ways, can be used in idiomatic expressions, and can be used differently in different contexts.


Learning prepositions


It is better to learn prepositions by examples — this way you will establish a connection between the form and meaning of prepositions in your mind.


The prepositions below are divided into groups of application: prepositions of PLACE and TIME.


The second part of this entry contains a summary table for prepositions of TIME and PLACE.


Prepositions of PLACE: IN, ON, AT


IN is used with big areas such as towns, cities, countries, and continents:


  • She has been living in Europe for two years now.

  • The climate in the US is very diverse.

  • I stayed in London for two weeks

  • He is the best writer in the world.


The same applies to enclosed spaces such as rooms/buildings. Think of it as a shortened version of the word inside:


  • There is some milk in the bottle. The bottle is in the fridge.

  • George is in his room waiting for you.

  • She works in the supermarket (see the comparison with at below)


ON is used when we talk about something located on a surface such as a table, a river, ground surface:


  • We were lying on the grass staring into the night sky.

  • I’ve put the morning newspaper on the kitchen table.


ON is used with names of streets and avenues:


  • I live on Baker Street. The museum is located on Brooks Avenue.

  • The house we are looking for is on Route 50.


However, if we talk about a more specific address then we use AT:


  • The school is at 109 Lincoln Street.

  • I will meet you at 65 Hancock Avenue.


We use at when talking about a point at some place instead of bigger area:


  • I met him at the restaurant (They met at a certain place in that restaurant, e.g. at the entrance.).

  • I’ll be waiting for you at the station.


Use at when talking about such places as school, shop, supermarket. At is also used when talking about companies and institutions:


  • He has been working at Apple for almost a decade.

  • I stopped at the local supermarket to do some shopping


BUT: I decided to stay in the supermarket because it was raining outside.


  • We used in because the fact of being inside the building was more important.


AT is used when talking about an event involving a group of people:


  • We met him at the party last night.


Prepositions of TIME: IN, ON, AT


IN is used to show that something happened at an unspecified point in time.


  • She woke up in the morning.

  • I was born in 1971.

  • They plan to move to New Jersey in August.


We use IN with longer periods of time (months, seasons, years, centuries):


  • The birds usually return here in late spring.

  • Harper Lee died in 2016.

  • Many great books were written in the 18th century.


Use IN when talking about a period of time until something happens:


  • I am going to leave the country in four days.

  • The exam results will be announced in two weeks.


IN should be used with parts of the day:


  • I usually wake up early in the morning

  • They promised to visit us in the afternoon


BUT:


  • at midday, at night, at midnight


ON is normally used with days and dates:


  • I’ll meet you on Monday.

  • She is due to arrive on the 31st of January.

  • These flowers always bloom on the first day of spring (Even though there is a season mentioned we still use ON because it refers to the day rather than the season)


AT is put before specific points of time (e.g. at 5 o’clock, at midnight, at midday, at 8:30 in the morning)


  • I usually get paid at the end of the month.

  • I hope to see you next weekend.


Use AT with meals:


  • You weren’t very talkative at dinner yesterday.

  • I will see you all guys at lunch.


Prepositions of PLACE - Summary


In

  • (the) morning

  • bed

  • (the) shop

  • London

On

  • (the) TV

  • (the) bed

  • Baker St.

  • Earth

At

  • Microsoft / work

  • (the) shop

  • 22 Red Ave

  • home

No Preposition

  • in/outside

  • up/downstairs


Prepositions of TIME - Summary


In

  • 2009

  • four days

  • the morning / the afternoon / the evening

  • a moment / a second / a jiffy

On

  • Friday

  • (the) 1st day

  • (the) 4th of July

At

  • midnight / dusk / sunrise / sunset

  • 2 a.m.

  • dinner

  • 5 o’clock

  • (the) weekend


More on prepositions


Prepositions are a closed-system class of words in the English language. This means that while new words are continually being added to the language, prepositions are not typically added to the list of prepositions. Some prepositions that were once commonly used, such as betwixt, athwart, and afore, have become less common and are now rarely used in modern English.


Despite this, it is still possible to construct a comprehensive list of all the prepositions in English, as some prepositions are very rare or archaic and may only appear in certain literary texts. Definitions of prepositions can vary slightly, and some definitions may include prefixes such as post-, anti-, and pre- which can sometimes function as prepositions in their own right.


In addition to prepositions commonly used in everyday English, there are also some poetic prepositions, such as ere, o'er, unto, and midst, that are used primarily in literature and poetry. There are also prepositions that are used in specific dialects of English, such as inwith, allow, and o'er, which may be rare or unknown in other settings.


To summarize, prepositions are an important part of the English language, and while there may be some variation in their definition and use, it is still possible to construct a comprehensive list of all the prepositions in the language.


Final thoughts


It is important to keep in mind that prepositions are a critical part of the English language and play a crucial role in expressing spatial and temporal relationships between objects, people, places, and events. To master the use of prepositions, it is recommended to regularly practice using them in context and pay close attention to the meaning they convey in different situations.


Additionally, memorizing a list of common prepositions, such as in, on, at, by, with, to, etc., and the relationships they express can be useful. However, it is equally important to understand the meaning behind the prepositions and how they are used in different contexts, rather than simply memorizing a list.


Reading and writing in English can also be a great way to improve your understanding of prepositions. Pay attention to the way they are used in sentences, and try to incorporate them into your own writing. Engaging in conversation with native speakers, watching English movies and TV shows, and listening to English podcasts can also help you to become more familiar with the use of prepositions in everyday language.


It is important to remember that the mastery of prepositions is a gradual process and requires consistent practice and exposure to the language. With persistence and dedication, you can become proficient in the use of prepositions in English.





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