English prepositions

Why are English prepositions so tricky?

Prepositions are those little abstract words that express a relationship between words or even short sentences. Prepositions can sometimes be difficult for people because they are “abstract”.

English prepositions

What does the word abstract mean?

Well, it means that English prepositions cannot be associated to something physical or a quality like adjectives. Take the color blue for example. Blue is easy to think about in relation to an object; but try thinking about the word “up” without relating it to an object. How about it? Difficult is it not? Let us then, in a rather philosophical way approach our understanding of these little words in order to expand and fix our understanding of them. I will go into detail with the most basic to begin with and in the future deal with the more difficult ones. but first thing’s first.


IN: To help you understand this common preposition I will guide you into a path of thought. Think about something, any something, exercising a power, a certain power within the margins of something that holds what is «In» and itself remains inside of the «outside».

What is in, is confined to a certain traced deliniation: take as an example «the birds fly in the horizon». Why couldn’t we have said «on» or «at» instead? well, the moment we say «the horizon» we are tracing a margin in that distance for what we know as «the horizon» therefore the birds fly within this deliniation of our conception of the horizon. We could also say that the cloud holds rain as in «In the cloud there is water», there is something at work within the frames of the cloud and this work is limited by a surrounded confinement. So instead of thinking of «in» as having precise and visibly detailed margins, think about in as that which is excercising a power and that power sets its own limits, for example «politicians are corrupt in their sphere of power». Can we really deliniate this sphere? no, but we know there is an «In» because of the energy and power being exercised there.

English prepositions

 ON: «On» is always related to surface or surface movement; things that touch a surface or are moved by a surface are expressed with the preposition «On». The meaning of On was also «upon» meaning that it is in a way reclined against something, it meant down, which means put upon something, some surface. Think of the following examples and visualize a surface: «On the table», «on the stove». We use on to indicate days of the week for events: imagine you look at the calendar of a given month and you decide a party, you tap the box with the day of the month and say «my party will be «on» this day» you say on because you are choosing from the surface of something that has compartments within a margin. Now for using on for moving surfaces we use the example: «I am on the bus». Truth is, you are in reality in the bus, but since the bus has the purpose of movement and transportation, it is the surface of the bus-flor that carries you to your destination, hence, we use «on» the bus. If you happened to be in a broken-down bus, the bus loses its transportation purpose and in this way you would say «I am in the bus». We can use on, to describe things that are part of something else like «The wheels on the bus,» and even though the wheels are components of lower part of the bus they are still «on» it as touching upon the surface of other things «on» it.


English prepositions

AT: This preposition is very interesting and can be challenging to master. It is used to express coordinates. This means to locate things on a map, not only a locality map, but also the map in time and space. When I say “meet you at 3:00 O’clock” I mean at that coordinate in time, that location in the time map. When I say “Meet you at Mcdonnalds” I mean to say “Meet you at that location where the place called Mcdonnalds is”. At immediately points at the map to indicate a place, a time and a space. When we say “At the same time” we are indicating a time-event within the fold of reality, and even if the event is relegated to the past, we are still pointing to it i the timeline. When I say “I threw the ball at you” I mean that “I threw the ball to that location on the map where you are standing.” In contrast, if I say “I threw the ball to you” here I am indicating that the focuse is on the direction of the ball rather than the location of the person on the map.


Stay tuned for the next series where we will be looking at other English prepositions and how they are used to form phrasal verbs, some easier others more difficult and tricky. See you soon!

TAGS: #prepositions #English prepositions

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