How To Learn English Prepositions

Last Updated on February 5, 2022 by Estrella

How to master English prepositions
How to master English prepositions. Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst.

When it comes to English grammar, one of the areas that is most challenging to English learners is prepositions. Clients explain to me that in their native language, prepositions are simpler. In some cases, their native language does not use prepositions, but the relationship between words is expressed in other ways. No wonder this area presents so much confusion. In most cases, my clients have studied prepositions in grammar classes, but just do not know with confidence if they are using them correctly. This article will help you learn how to learn English prepositions on your own.

Grammar book recommendations

In this article, I will offer ideas based on the assumption that you have already studied prepositions in English grammar class. It’s just in the day to day use that you don’t feel sure. I’ll recommend several books that I find effective in honing your skills. The approach has a central theme. It’s imitating the correct usage. I’ll explain this in a little bit.

Beginning to intermediate English learners

One grammar book I like is Grammar in Use, by Raymond Murphy. Even though a small portion of it is more British English than American English, the author does a great job in combining both intuition and explanation. Each chapter is only two pages long. One page explains the usage, the other has several exercises. The answer key is in the back.

An effective way to learn patterns

The way I would use this book to master preposition or other parts of speech is to do the exercises first, even before you read the explanation. And here’s the secret to learning. Don’t test yourself with the exercise. Use it to intuit a pattern. You can do this by turning to the answer key first. Copy the answer from the key. Then read the sentence to yourself. After the one page of exercise, you will most likely figured out the usage intuitively. Then, if you would like further explanation, read the first page of the chapter for a full description.

Another book I recommend is Prepositions, DYAD Learning Program, by Alice C. Pack. The author does a brilliant job of focusing on a few prepositions at a time. There is no explanation. Only sentences with one word left out. That’s right. You guessed it! The preposition is left out on purpose, so you have to decide which is the most suitable one.

When you are learning, do not test yourself

Again, I recommend using the answer key first and fill in the answer. The reason is: your goal is NOT to test yourself, but to learn the pattern. If you observe enough, you WILL pick up the pattern. On the other hand, testing yourself does not allow you to observe. And if you wish to test yourself, wait until you have at least 80% mastery. This way, you will see your success, not failure.

If you are already an advanced English speaker, but just want to brush up on the usage of certain preposition, I would suggest using content you regularly read, either for work or for fun. Read a paragraph or two and pick out a few prepositions you want to master. Observe the context of the sentence. Substitute with your own nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. but use the same preposition. Even if you come up with “non-sense sentences” this approach will help you grasp and intuit the usage of the prepositions.

For online learners

If you like to learn online, search for “prepositional phrase” and also on YouTube using the same search term. We have our own learning style that is most effective for us. So find what feels right to you.

I hope you will find one or more of these ideas useful in your study of English prepositions. If you find material that you think will help others, please send them to me at estrellachan@gmail.com

If you find this article helpful, here is one on How to be a good ESL teacher to yourself.

Estrella Chan  coaches immigrants and international professionals in English fluency, interview skills, and public speaking.    To schedule a session with her, please email estrellachan@gmail.com.

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