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Tutoring & Academic Success Centre

formerly known as The Learning Centre

Tutoring & Academic Success Centre

Preposition Basics

Does your teacher always tell you that you’re using the wrong preposition?

Prepositions are difficult to learn in a second language (or even in your native language). It’s normal to feel a certain amount of frustration when trying to master prepositions in a foreign language. What seems logical in your native language may follow completely different rules in another. In English, some prepositions can have multiple uses when paired with different words or contexts.

For example, I can be at the bank, look at a photo, arrive at a decision, be bad at playing hockey, or shout at my brother. All of these examples use at in different ways and can seem quite arbitrary in their construction. Sometimes we just know the right preposition to use because it’s what we always hear, but other times we use them incorrectly because we don’t know the right one to use in a specific context.

So what is a preposition in the first place?
A preposition is a word that expresses the logical relationship between an object and time and space.

For example:

The book
the table

In the sentence, the book is under the table, the preposition under expresses the location of the book (subject) in relation to the object (table). Where is the book? Under the table.

Additional Details

After knowing what a preposition is, there are three basic rules you should know about how prepositions function.

  1. Simply put, prepositions express time, place, or movementin relation to an object.
    • Examples:Time: I’ll see you on Thursday.
      Place: They work at the bank.
      Movement: She’s walking towards the park.
  2. They can also be used in prepositional phrases.
    • Examples:Until the modern age, man has lived without cars, planes, or telephones.
  3. Or they can be used in conjunction with phrasal verbs.
    • Examples:The students didn’t catch on to the joke until much later.