Wednesday, November 4, 2015

English Prepositions: Right Place, Right Time

If you're learning English prepositions, you might think they're insane... and you'd be right to think so! There's a time and a place for English prepositions, literally.

If you speak English natively, you may have never thought about how we use prepositions such as in, at, or on, but when you're learning English, you need to know how to use them correctly. For native speakers, their use seems obvious, because using the wrong preposition simply sounds wrong.

There are two main groups of English prepositions: prepositions of time, which refer to when something happens, and prepositions of place, which refer to where something happens. One of the most annoying things about English is that a number of these are identical and can be used in both situations.

We're only going to look at three of the prepositions today: atin, and on. These three prepositions can refer to both time and place, making them even more confusing. Rather than looking at them independently, we'll look at how they behave when talking about time and talking about place.

Prepositions of Time

When talking in English about when an event occurs, we like to use at, in, and on. Each preposition has distinct uses. While their exact uses are poorly defined and often vague, there are general rules as to when to use them.

At: The preposition at is always used when we refer to an exact time. For example, at four o'clock.

In: We always use in to talk about time periods such as months and seasons. For example, we would say in July or in summer.

On: We use on for days and dates. Every day from Monday to Sunday will use on. For example, on Tuesday. For dates, the same rules apply, e.g. on November 4 or on the 4th of November.

Prepositions of Place

Prepositions of place can be trickier than prepositions of time. There are a few rules, but like everything in English, there are exceptions.

You could meet "at" any of the buildings "in" this city.
At: When talking about places, at is often used to refer to an exact location or a point. At is often used for buildings and locations in a town such as at the bank, at the cinema, and at home.

In: This preposition is used when talking about enclosed spaces. Generally things that have four walls, a floor, and a ceiling, but not always. However, in can also be used to talk about things like countries, continents, and even planets which are fully contained within a solar system or galaxy.

On: We can use on to talk about surfaces. In English we think of floors a surface, so we would be "on the first floor", for example. We also consider other flat objects, such as paper, to be surfaces. So in English, you can choose a meal which is written "on the menu" as well as look at a picture "on the page".

Prepositions in English can get quite confusing, as there are often exceptions. However, if you follow these general rules, you should get the majority of them right. Like everything else with English, you'll just have to learn all the exceptions - good luck!