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Choosing the correct preposition

A number of prepositions written in different colours and in different sizes

Introduction

All learners of English, and many native speakers, sometimes have difficulty in choosing the correct preposition. This is, in part, because there are no real rules that can be followed. In one study, preposition errors represented the largest category, about 29%, of all the grammatical errors by 53 intermediate to advanced non-native speaker students (Bitchener et al., 2005). In addition, in another piece of research, Dalgish (1985) analyzed the essays of 350 non-native speaker university students, representing 15 different native languages, and reported that preposition errors were present in 18% of sentences in a sample of text produced by writers from first languages as diverse as Korean, Greek, and Spanish.

However, there are three approaches that can helpfully be adopted by the learner: reading extensively in English to promote acquisition of the correct forms; consulting a good dictionary, such as The Macmillan Online Dictionary to discover which prepositions are correct after the adjectives, nouns or verbs you want to use; and memorisation of lists of words with the prepositions that usually follow them.

Before starting the activities, you can obtain an overview of how best to use this Learning Object, using a Screencast (with audio), by following this link Overview

Objectives

• to promote greater written accuracy through correct choice of preposition
• to encourage memorisation of word lists containing dependent prepositions
• to facilitate memorisation by providing opportunities to test knowledge
• to increase awareness of prepositional phrases and the way they are used
• to provide practice in proof-reading for errors with prepositions



Activity 1:

If you prefer, you can read this information (with visuals and more examples) by following this link to a pdf document Prepositions

Prepositions usually come before nouns or gerunds (-ing form used as a noun), although a few can come after a noun e.g "three years ago". In all, there are about 150 prepositions in English and they can play a very important role in the language: by expressing spatial and temporal relationships. However, there are many different problems associated with selecting the correct one, for several reasons. One preposition may have many different meanings at different times (the dictionary has ten meanings listed for "at"). Also, different prepositions can be used with very similar meanings (e.g. "in the afternoon", but "on Thursday afternoon"). You may wish to attempt the exercises in Activity 1 by testing the knowledge of their use that you have already acquired. Or, if you prefer, you can refer to some study lists by following this link Preposition Study Lists then do the exercises to test your memory.

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Instruction

Put a tick if the following sentences are correct and put a cross if they are incorrect.

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1.) Minority groups are often discriminated at in our society.
2.) Immigrants are required to register to the appropriate authorities.
3.) Wars are often triggered by violent incidents.
4.) It is sometimes important for students to focus one task in groups.
5.) Most of students in London have financial worries.
6.) There is a greater emphasis on theory in this course.
7.) The results were consistent with our expectations for the experiment.
8.) We discussed about the topic before planning our essays.
9.) The status of teachers is higher in Korean society.
10.) This study will examine the contrast between the characters of Oedipus and Macbeth.

Which preposition follows each of the words below? Drag each word to the correct column.


Which preposition follows each of the words below? Drag each word to the correct column.

Which preposition follows each of the words below? Drag each word to the correct column.

Activity 2: Prepositional Phrases

One of the features that distinguishes academic writing is its greater complexity. One of the aspects of this complexity is greater use of prepositional phrases, that is phrases made up of two to four words which modify nouns or verbs. Prepositional phrases begin with a preposition and end with a noun or pronoun (its object). There may also be adjectives and adverbs in the prepositional phrase. You can try the following exercises by referring to the knowledge you have already acquired of these phrases, or you can refer to a Prepositional Phrases: Study List then do the exercises to test your memory.

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Instruction

Put a tick if the following sentences are correct and put a cross if they are incorrect.

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1.) All maintenance work must be undertaken in accordance with 'Health and Safety' regulations.
2.) Many accidents occur as a result of carelessness in the workplace.
3.) The reign of the king was, in comparison from his predecessor, a happy one.
4.) The mean temperatures in low-lying areas, with contrast to the mountainous regions, are low.
5.) The measures to regulate the economy were effective in theory, but not in practice.
6.) Computer processors are cooled from means of an internal fan.
7.) Her written work was accurate apart from occasional errors with prepositions.
8.) All of the delegates present voted in favour to the resolution.
9.) The directors were under pressure of the shareholders to reduce costs.
10.) I would like to express my condolences on behalf of our organisation.

Put a tick if the following sentences are correct and put a cross if they are incorrect.

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1) I shall not attack the proposal; on the contrary, I will defend it.
2.) The freedom they sought had much on common with the freedom they had lost.
3.) The jury acquitted the accused on the basis on the evidence.
4.) I am writing with regard to the late submission of my essay.
5.) There was no disturbance in the halls of residence, other than the sound of drunken students.
6.) Except for one or two minor discrepancies, all the accounts were accurate.
7.) The PhD students were given a 'viva voce' as part to of their assessment.
8.) According with recent statistics, the inflation rate is starting to decline.
9.) The turnout at the ceremony, in contrast to last year's, was small.
10.) The irrigation system is effected as by means of a series of underground pipes.

For practice choosing the correct preposition in prepositional phrases and after the verbs, nouns and adjectives in the Study Lists, follow this link Choosing the Right Preposition. To play a game to test your memory of the Study Lists, follow this link to Preposition Park.

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© William Tweddle, Queen Mary, University of London, 2010, image generated online by the author using Wordle.com