English Prepositions: 
How to learn them?

How do you use English prepositions? 

People have a hard time learning prepositions and who can blame them! It is difficult to learn English prepositions because there are so many exceptions to the rules. 

Let me tell you that learning prepositions takes time and repetition.  Reading a page on the Internet and doing 10 exercises is a great start but you are going to need to use prepositions in context over and over again to learn how to use them.

*Most prepositions have several different functions. 

*Different prepositions can be used to signify similar ideas 
(in the afternoon, on Tuesday afternoon, at 5pm Tuesday afternoon).

*Also, some verbs are used with particular prepositions, which create new expressions.

TIP: It is best to learn the expression as a whole rather than trying to remember the preposition.

So how are you supposed to learn English prepositions?

In reality the best way is to gradually use them and learn them as you are surrounded by the language (ie living in an English speaking country).

If you don't live in an English speaking country, then your next option is to find a good book that explains the concept clearly.

Not sure what books are good?

Here are two books that I highly recommend for learning prepositions AND any grammar point.

Practical English Usage 
by Micheal Swan-Third Edition

Practical English Usage, Third Edition: Paperback

This grammar book is for advanced learners. 
I use it when I don't remember something about grammar (yes I sometimes I don't know either!!) 

This book is very good.

It takes a grammatical point such as prepositions (page 425-438) and explains it in an easy to understand way.

If you are a beginner this book might be too hard for you, but an intermediate English learner or higher would really benefit from it.

English Grammar in Use
by Raymond Murphy

English Grammar in Use with Answers and CD

This book is fabulous! 

All of the books in this series (Grammar in Use) present you with the grammar and then provide you with an opportunity to practice it with exercises.  Having the answer key is great for self study as well.

I think that this book might be able to help students better than Michael Swan's book, as it combines the grammatical explanation with a page of activities for that grammar point.

So you can learn the grammar and then practice it.

After sometime I have received some great comments from visitors like you (at the bottom of the page).

Michael makes a very good point below:

"There are at least 50 prepositions in English while in Portuguese we have only 20, more or less. It is impossible to understand the real meaning of preposition out of context. Each case is a different and only with practice and daily contact with the language will it be possible to understand them. English prepositions are full of idiomatic and mental meanings and this is why they are difficult to understand."

I also received some feedback on how to improve this page.  

Lianie makes a very going point as well.  She is looking for specific activities or methods to help teach other prepositions.

 When trying to learn/teach prepositions I honestly believe that using them in context is the best way.  How can you do this?

  • Take an interesting news article on a topic that you find useful or interesting.  Highlight all of the prepositions.  Then (speaking out loud) analyse how the prepositions are being used.  You could speak with a partner or your tutor/teacher.  You could also do this with a song and incorporate listening!
  • Find a list of prepositions and then focus on each one to explore how they are used in context.  

English Prepositions List
Josef Essberger

This English preposition list shows English prepositions and gives you example sentences for each one.

Prepositions can be divided into one-word prepositions (after, in, under) and complex prepositions (apart from, because of, in spite of).

This e-book lists almost all the one-word prepositions and most of the complex prepositions.

Here's what it contains:

  • 150 prepositions, including:
  • 94 one-word prepositions
  • 56 complex prepositions
  • plus 370 example sentences
  • 200 quiz questions and answers
  • illustrations

I hope that this article has helped you and that if you do get any of these books that they help explain prepositions and make them easier to learn. Good luck! 


Back to Grammar > English Prepositions

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