Have you ever heard that phrase? Little things mean a lot? Whoever said this was probably referring to prepositions. It’s amazing how some of the shortest words in the language produce so much trouble!
Unfortunately, this is a point where many English students make a tremendous amount of mistakes. Another problem is that such mistakes will tell right away that you are not a fluent English speaker yet.
Let’s Talk About Relationships: Prepositions
Imagine that you find two nouns: tiger and book. (Remember that a noun is a word for a person, place, thing or idea.)How many ways can you connect the two nouns to express ideas?
The book in front of the elephant
The book under the elephant
The book by of the elephant
The book behind the elephant
The words in italics relate to nouns to each other. These relationships words are called prepositions. Prepositions may be defined as any word or group of words that relates a noun or a pronoun to another word in the sentence.
Now, the old-fashioned way of teaching this topic in a traditional English school is to memorize a list of prepositions. By this time you might notice that I am biased towards learning online, and this is one of the reasons.
It is not good to learn vocabulary by memorizing a list of words as it will eventually lead to forgetting what you learned. It is far better to learn them in context by building sentences and forcing yourself to use unknown prepositions and making mistakes. Trust me on this one, you will improve dramatically.
Although I really don’t think memorizing prepositions is worth the time, a little bit of familiarity is always nice. Here’s a table with the most common prepositions
Now into Prepositional Phrases
Prepositions never travel alone: they’re always with an object. In the example of the previous section, the object of each preposition is tiger. To put things simply and not use complex terminology, a prepositional phrase consists of a preposition and an object. The object of a preposition is always a noun or a pronoun, or perhaps one or two of each.
Let me give you an example:
In the morning, a powerful breeze went into my old house.
This sentence has two prepositions: in and on. Morning is the object of the preposition in, and house is the object of the preposition on. Another thing to notice with prepositional phrases is that you can throw a few other things inside of them, mainly descriptive words. If we make some sentences with our phrase of the tiger:
Of the apologetic tiger
Of the always charismatic tiger
Of the agonizingly argumentative tiger
Despite the different descriptions, each phrase is still talking about a quite interesting tiger. Also, tiger is a noun, and n¡only nouns and pronouns are allowed to be objects of the preposition. So in the breeze sentence, you need to choose the most important word as the object of the preposition. You need to choose a noun, not an adjective. Take for example the phrase into my old house. House is clearly the important concept, and house is a noun. Thus, house is the object of the preposition.
Right now you might be thinking: All this is quite interesting, but, how do I learn all this? Let me give these three simple tips to doing so:
3 Simple Tips to Master Prepositions
TIP #1: Don’t stress about small things
Now, don’t get me wrong. Prepositions ARE important to learn and they WILL make you sound more fluent. The thing is, they are not the most important word in the sentence. Another point to notice is that whilst making mistakes can make you sound odd, many native English speakers make mistakes with prepositions from time to time.
TIP #2: Remember sentences, not lists.
I told you before the best way to learn prepositions is to use them in sentences, so if you want to learn how to use a particular preposition, start making sentences with it every time you have the chance. One of the best ways of doing this is to always listen and read new materials.
TIP #3: Keep a notebook of sentences.
This is a practical use of memorizing sentences rather than words. Read an article, like this one for example. Choose one preposition and highlight it throughout the article. For example: on.
In the notebook, use a different page of each common preposition that you like. On the on section, write down all sentences that used on in the article. After you have several of these sentences, you can read them out loud and review them. This is way more interesting that word lists!
So, there you have the theory behind prepositions as well as some useful tips to learn. Remember that the key to learning English is always keep practicing and never give up!