What will we learn from this post?
This page will resolve all of your doubts about prepositions and give you the keys to avoiding mistakes when using them.
What is a preposition?
A preposition is a word that precedes an adjective, noun , pronoun or verb expressing its relation to another word or element of a clause. Prepositions include: prepositions of time, prepositions of place and movement, word patterns, phrasal verbs, prepositional phrases.
Why are prepositions so important to learn?
Prepositions can be confusing, especially when there are false friends involved. For Spanish speakers “to think in something” or “to depend of something” can easily slip into speech as when they are translated literally, they are perfectly valid. This interference of the native language is well documented (see the British council link HERE) and needs to be tackled A.S.A.P.
But my question is this, how do we get students to understand prepositions? And also, more that, is it necessary for them to understand them?
As with most language, we need to start off with the most frequently used forms, give them context and use them enough so that they can sink in. It is important for students to have an understanding of word classes and know what a preposition is, what type of preposition they are using and also the basic meaning behind each preposition. It is good to chunk prepositions, for example, looking at all the uses of ´at´ and allowing students to get to grips with it before moving on to the next one. A great way to do this is by making prepositions very visual and using examples. I generally link prepositions to concepts, such as, back representing the act of returning, out to demonstrate removal. I have incorporated useful tips into this post to help out.
As I have said previously, it is important to state the different types of preposition and to reinforce them through examples. They can be incorporated into almost any classroom activity, whether it be reading, listening, writing or speaking. They can be used in matching, skim reading, speaking games and listening skills tasks and can be made fun. I think it is important to have a visual link to prepositions; therefore I like to use diagrams (see below) to relate tasks to during class time.
PREPOSITIONS are essential for passing the USE OF ENGLISH element of Cambridge exams. SEE OUR POSTS ON EXAM PRACTICE C1 ADVANCED USE OF ENGLISH AND READING and B2 FIRST: HOW TO PASS THE USE OF ENGLISH AND READING
Prepositions of time
A preposition of time is a preposition that helps us refer to a specific time period, for example an hour, day, week or month.
Examples of prepositions of time: At, on, in, during, for, since, before, after, around, about, within
Here is a useful diagram to show us how to use basic prepositions of time.
BE CAREFUL with simple errors like: in the night
You must begin with the simple things when using prepositions for example ON + DAYS, AT + TIMES.
Then you need to look at the exceptions to the rules…
- on/at the weekend
- at night
- in a few minutes
- in the evening
- in the middle of the night
- at midday
From there you can use the base understanding to become more accurate when using prepositions.
Prepositions of place and movement
Prepositions of movement and position are a difficult concept to grasp with only theory. They need to be practical. Teachers should not be afraid to experiment with their students and do practical activities. These activities can include team building tasks, outdoor activities etc. It all depends on the amount of time and resources available to the teacher. As a student, you need to make a physical relation to the preposition and the movement or the position; this way you will understand it instinctively.
Examples of prepositions of place: on, in, under, next to, in front of, on top of, opposite, beside, near, close to, around, through, across, beyond, over, above
It is also a good idea to learn these prepositions as collocations with certain nouns, like: go across the road, walk along the beach, run around the park, jump over the wall
Word patterns:Verb/adjective/noun + preposition
Ways of learning word patterns:
Firstly, you need to begin with our word pattern list that includes all of the high frequency word patterns for Cambridge Exams.
A great way to help with the memorization of prepositions can be through the use of colour and you should encourage your students to create mind maps and to colour code prepositions. I personally encourage my students to make a vocabulary bank and we assign a colour to each preposition to help trigger memory to be able to recall the correct preposition when needed.
ON = DEPEND ON, WORK ON, LIVE ON, COUNT ON
ABOUT = THINK ABOUT, TALK ABOUT, LAUGH ABOUT
AT = ARRIVE AT, LOOK AT, GOOD AT, AWFUL AT
OF = CONSIST OF, THINK OF, FOND OF
Matching words + prepositions can be a fun activity and it is a great opportunity to add a sense of competition into the classroom. We particularly like to include prepositions into classroom challenges and encourage students to experiment with them.
Here is a game that we have made. What can be really confusing is where no preposition is necessary but the word has a synonym or equivalent with a preposition. These subtle differences need to be looked at. For instance, ARRIVE AT OR GET TO = REACH. You can test your understanding of word patterns using games, such as the BANANA GAME (see the video below).
Phrasal verbs can Be very tricky, but they are all about context, students don’t really need to understand how to manipulate them until C1 level (in my humble opinion) so it is important to give students the context to be able to use phrasal verbs and link them to certain situations. A good way to give context is to link phrasal verbs to their synonyms (e.g. get into = start liking something). Students need to practice them little and often to be able to relate them to contexts.
A great way of doing this is through substitution, you should take a word that you know, such as REDUCE and then put it into a sentence. I need to REDUCE my sugar intake. and then substitute REDUCE for a known phrasal verb CUT DOWN ON. E.G. I need to CUT DOWN ON my sugar intake.
SEE OUR POST ON HOW TO USE PHRASAL VERBS WITH FREE PDF EXERCISES
A fixed expression is a form that has evolved over time to take on a more specific meaning than the words on their own. For example: no matter, as long as, all of a sudden, be worth doing.
You need to make a phrase bank to make sure you can use the most common fixed expressions with ease. See our post on WRITING TIPS (HERE) Conclusion
I genuinely believe that prepositions are not a part of language that we can brush under the table as they are very important for meaning and structure, if we look at exam boards such as Cambridge, Trinity or IELTS; they are an essential part of their evaluations and use of English. It is important not to bore our students with long lists and to provide our students with opportunities to use prepositions in various contexts so that they can internalize them and begin to understand their function.
Here is a link to some further reading about prepositions from the British council HERE
Prepositional phrases are a combination of a preposition and a noun or pronoun that has more meaning than just the words on their own. More accurately, a prepositional phrase is a combination of a preposition, or various prepositions, and a noun or pronoun that in the majority of cases, modify the meaning of a noun or verb. The prepositions can include at, for, in, on, out.
Common prepositional phrases are out of breath, at a glance, for fear of, in a hurry, on balance