10 common mistakes with prepositions made by learners of English

A preposition is a very common little word like at, for, in, on, and to, which the dictionary defines as

a word governing, and usually preceding, a noun or pronoun and expressing a relation to another word or element in the clause.

For example:

PREPOSITION:
Thida works at the market.
This coffee’s for Luca!
Alejandro lives in Peru.
Agnieszka’s on the bus.
Mika’s listening to J-pop again.

Native English speakers rarely make mistakes with these very common prepositions. However, non-native speakers frequently get them wrong, often because they translate directly from their own language rather than listening to native English speakers (and yes, you always listen to something or someone).

The best way to improve your command of prepositions is to:

  • listen to spoken English as much as possible, and
  • test yourself on common prepositions with our quiz

Learners of English around the world often make mistakes with at, for, in, on, and to. Try this quiz and see how many answers you get right:

1) She was married __ Brad Pitt.

2) What are you doing? – I’m looking ___ my phone. I can’t find it.

3) Welcome __ our new house!

4) They arrived __ 2011.

5) We arrived __ the airport just in time.

6) __ night, you can see the stars.

7) They arrived __ February 14th.

8) She’s been studying in Siem Reap ___ two years.

9) My brother works __ Milan.

10) It depends __ how many people there are.

11) __ April, you can see all the cherry blossom.

12) It’s not safe to go out __ night.

13) Felipe has just arrived __ Lima.

14) She’s getting married __ Kento in the summer.

15) Welcome __ Nikko!

16) I’ll see when I’m free – it depends __ my work schedule.

17) Easter Sunday falls __ April 16th this year.

18) They live __ Warsaw now.

19) She hasn’t spoken Khmer _____ fifteen years.

20) We’ve been waiting ___ Juan all day.

Easy? Or not? Before you check the answers, make sure you know how these prepositions work.

1) arrive at or arrive in

*When we arrived to Claudio’s house…

You always arrive at a specific place: school, a restaurant, the airport, your aunt’s house.

✓  When we arrived at Claudio’s house…

✓  The train arrived at Shibuya station thirty seconds late.

You arrive in a city or a country.

✓  On Friday, the president arrived in Poland.

✓  The K-pop band arrived in Phnom Penh last week.

2) at night

*We often go out in the night.

You can work hard in the morning, relax in the afternoon, eat dinner in the evening, but you go out at night.

✓  We often go out at night.

✓  Krakow is beautiful at night.

3) look for or wait for

*I was looking my glasses.

*Giulia was waiting me at the bus stop.

If you want to find something or someone, you look for (or search for) them.

If you stay in one place until something or someone is ready, you wait for them.

✓  I was looking for my glasses.

✓  Łukasz is looking for a new job.

✓ Giulia was waiting for me at the bus stop.

✓ Tevy is waiting for her sister to finish class.

4) for [period of time]

*I’ve been working here since five years

You use for with periods of time, such as:

a few minutes

t h r e e  m o n t h s

t  w  e  n  t  y     y  e  a  r  s

You use since with specific points in time, such as:

  • this morning
  • September
  • the day we met

✓ I’ve been working here for five years.

✓ She hasn’t drunk coffee for years.

✓  Makikos’s been living in Yokohama since February.

✓ I haven’t seen her since yesterday morning.

5) in [months and years]

*It’s my birthday on July!

You always use in for months and years.

✓ It’s my birthday in July!

✓ Ola was born in 2004.

6) live/work/study in [cities and countries]

*I live at Tokyo.

You live, work, or study in a city or a country.

✓ I live in Tokyo.

✓ Roberta works in Sassari.

✓ Hector studies in Canada.

You live at a specific address, work at or for a specific organization, or study at a specific university.

✓ Ania lives at 34 ul. Karmelicka.

✓ Ryosuke works for Toyota.

✓ Dara studies at Phnom Penh International University.

7) on [days and dates]

*It’s my birthday in Saturday!

You always use on for days and dates:

✓ It’s my birthday on Saturday!

✓ It’s my birthday on May 1st. (But remember:  It’s my birthday in May.)

8) it depends on

*It depends of what you want: Italian food or Chinese food.

Remember, you always say it depends on or depending on something or someone – or you can just say it depends.

✓ It depends on what you want: Italian food or Chinese food.

✓ We’ll go to either Disney World or the beach, depending on the weather.

✓ What do you usually have for breakfast – tea or coffee? – It depends!

9) welcome to

*Welcome in Peru!

You always say welcome to any place: a house, school, organization, city, or country.

✓ Welcome to Peru!

✓ Welcome to Cagliari.

✓ Welcome to Meiji University.

✓ Welcome to the Plaza Hotel. We hope you enjoy your stay.

10) married to

*He’s married with Kim.

You are always married to – or you get married to – someone. (However, you just marry someone.)

✓ He’s married to Kim.

✓ Alessandro’s getting married to Sara next summer.

✓ Haruka is marrying my old school friend.

Answers to the quiz:

1) She was married to Brad Pitt.

2) What are you doing? – I’m looking for my phone. I can’t find it.

3) Welcome to our new house!

4) They arrived in 2011.

5) We arrived at the airport just in time.

6) At night, you can see the stars.

7) They arrived on February 14th.

8) She’s been studying in Siem Reap for two years.

9) My brother works in Milan.

10) It depends on how many people there are.

11) In April, you can see all the cherry blossom.

12) It’s not safe to go out at night.

13) Felipe has just arrived in Lima.

14) She’s getting married to Kento in the summer.

15) Welcome to Nikko!

16) I’ll see when I’m free – it depends on my work schedule.

17) Easter Sunday falls on April 16th this year.

18) They live in Warsaw now.

19) She hasn’t spoken Khmer for fifteen years.

20) We’ve been waiting for Juan all day.

This article was originally published as 10 common mistakes with prepositions made by learners of English on the Oxford Dictionaries blog, OxfordWords

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