5 Tips on Using Prepositions (part 2)

By Nicholas Klacsanzky

Hi everyone.

Continuing the topic I started a couple of days ago–which is, in case you missed it, the usage of prepositions–today I’d like to focus on the prepositions of location, both in time and space. For many ESL students, it may be difficult to understand nuances and differences, which, no matter how small they seem to be, are actually crucial for understanding what is said. At school, but in the office; on Saturday, but in year 1999. Why? Let’s try to figure out.

  • In and into

    These two are often confused.

    “In” is used to show that an object or action is included (or is a part of) in another object, event, place, and so on. It is also used to determine the approximate or general time of an action, event, and so on.

    For example:
    - How did you end up in the U.S.?
    - Our hostel was located in the same apartment where Harry K. killed his wife 100 years ago.
    - The last time I saw a nice girl-band was in the late 1990’s.

    “Into” shows the trajectory or direction of an object’s movement resulting in its inclusion (becoming a part of) in another object.

    For example:
    - Don’t throw stones into this well; I heard strange sounds coming out of it when the night falls.

  • On and onto

    “On” is used to show that one object is physically located on top of another. It is also rather often used instead of “onto,” which in its turn is used to show the direction of movement. “On” is often synonymous to about.

    For example:
    - Get on board, quick!
    - I put your book on the table, it should be there.
    - I am reading an article on U.S. foreign policy.

  • At

    This proposition can be called a more specific version of “in.” “At” is used to mark exact time (unlike in, which is generalizing); “it” also indicates specific places or activities.

    For example:
    - I’ll see you at school tomorrow.
    - We are meeting with Sarah at 5 p.m.
    - My wife is good at baking–you should try the cookies she made!

  • By, beside, next to

    All three mean the same: to be located right or left of an object or a person; “by” also means “up to a specific time.”
    - She was lying beside me, reading a book of poems aloud, while I was trying to get some sleep.
    - My house is the last one standing by the road to Easton.
    - This girl lives next to me.
    - I will be ready by 8 o’clock.

  • Over

    This preposition is used to show that an object or a person is covered by something else. It is also synonymous to the word “across,” and can have a meaning “to overcome an obstacle.” “Over” can be comparative, meaning “more than.”

    For example:
    - You need to get over it. Your relationship wasn’t perfect, after all.
    - Get over here!
    - In his room, John keeps over ten thousand volumes of Japanese comic books.
    - The wave rolled over my head, and for a second, I completely lost any sense of direction.

  • This is it for today. I hope it was helpful. Wait for the next portion of usefulness, and good luck!


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