I take requests. Today’s Amaze-ing Words Wednesday topic comes from Juliana Haygert, a Brazilian author living in the United States and writing English quite well, I think. However, English prepositions can get a little tricky, so she asked for a little clarification.
A preposition expresses spatial, temporal, or other relationship. In other words or where something is–such as in, on, before, among, under, with, and so on.
Here are some frequently used prepositions:
One of the first things you notice about prepositions is that most of them have antonyms. When possible, it may be easier to learn them in pairs. For instance, over and under, above and below, on and off, with and without, before and after. Of course, some prepositions, such as through, don’t have a perfect opposite.
Also, concerning usage, the preposition itself is usually enough to tell you where or when something is. We tend to add unnecessary words, such as saying “off of” when “off” is sufficient or “in among” when “among” will do the trick.
Again, prepositions express relationships–specifically in the following areas:
Location — such as in, on, under, above, below, atop, between, among.
Time — such as before, during, after, until, since.
Direction — such as toward, away from, into, across.
Figurative Location — such as with, for, against (like claiming during an argument, “I’m with him,” “I’m for that,” or “I’m against that.” You don’t have to be physically there to be figuratively there in these examples.)
We tend to confuse prepositions at times, not knowing whether to use in or into, of or from, and that sort of thing. In conversational English, it may not matter all that much whether you get this exactly correct since meaning can often be derived from context and tone. However, in writing you need to make sure you’ve mastered the proper preposition. Ask yourself which question you are answering: Location? Figurative location? Time? Direction? Then choose the preposition that best fits. Here’s a great primer in the form of a rap song called The Preposition Dance: Puna Style. These three guys demonstrate the meaning of prepositions in relationship to a chair.
By the way, we English speakers and experts can argue from now until Buck Rogers’s day whether one should use between or among in certain scenarios. Having attempted to debate the nuances of that choice, and being fairly stubborn with my position, I have concluded that, between you and me and among all of us, it depends. So if I proofread your writing and see a specific instance, I will have an opinion. But a general rule is that two things requires between and more than two requires among.
There is one preposition that has caused me pause when I consider how people adopting English as a second language would learn its usage: by. It can express location, such as “Put the umbrella by the door.” It can express direction, such as “Let’s run by the store.” It can also express time, such as “I’ll be there by 8:00 p.m.” And it can express figurative location, such as “The novel by Stephen King.” It’s a multi-faceted preposition that I suppose one learns best by listening and practicing.
Here’s one more fun video to practice prepositions. This is The Preposition Dance from Obie Leff of Sing to Learn, with a group of 5th graders dancing along with the lyrics. Get up and join in as you listen! The moves are easy-peasy.
What questions do you have about preposition usage? What prepositions give you pause?