Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

July 8, 2009

Prepositions – Aargh!

Along with use of articles, present perfect tense and 3rd person agreement, prepositions are one of those issues that never seem to go away! Mistakes made in the early stages of learning English seem to remain doggedly even at advanced level. This is especially true of prepositions of place these quite often, like the other false friends we’ve mentioned before don’t translate or seem illogical.

Get on a bus, train or plane but in a car. (the car is lower than us so we have to bend down the others are higher so we step up to them – logical?)

Prepositions normally come before a noun unless they are stranded:

Julie told me about this book.

This is the book Julie told me about

An old rule said never end a sentence with a preposition (it comes from Latin where it isn’t allowed!) and while it might be better written style to avoid it in speaking it isn’t uncommon – in fact – sometimes to avoid so doing we have to create strange sentences!

The second sentence would then read:

This is the book about which Julie told me. (It sounds very formal and even a little archaic)

See also:

Who are you coming to the party with?              With whom are you coming to the party?

What is this bag made from?                                     From what is this bag made?

We have digressed. How can preposition usage be improved? 

  • Firstly, don’t think about prepositions in isolation. The are agents for connecting words and as such go in partnership.


  • Secondly,  think about their function: do they describe place or movement or time etc…


  • Thirdly, group them into these functions when you think about them:

Time:  at five o’clock, on Sunday, in an hour, by next Tuesday

Movement:  towards the cinema , through the park, to to library, across the fields

Position: on the table, in the kitchen, under the car, beside the TV,

Agent: by Shakespeare, with a spoon

An expanded list of these categories can be found in most grammar books. If you can visualise the function/s of a preposition it should help you to use it better.

  • Finally, you cannot get prepositions by osmosis so take some time to check and learn.

Try this exercise on prepositions of position or place

Dependant prepositions.

These are prepositions that like to hang out with certain verbs. They are often particular about their partners and don’t relate well when paired with the wrong verb!

Practise and memory are the two tools required to nail these down!

You’ll find lists of verbs and their prepositions in grammar books and you’ll need to knuckle down and learn them Do them in batches to make it more manageable and don’t forget to use them as soon as you can to help you remember!

Here’s an exercise to try to get you started.

8 verbs plus preposition



  1. prepositions are important part of grammar, thanks for sharing this post with us.

    Comment by nivel — December 14, 2010 @ 11:47 am | Reply

    • Yes, prepositions are a tricky area as they are plentiful and students need to be able to use them correctly and widely.

      Comment by rliberni — December 14, 2010 @ 11:51 am | Reply

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