Below are the (slightly edited) opening paragraphs of the epic, classic novel Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville. Published in 1851, this story is studied in schools as one of the Great American Novels, and its opening line, “Call me Ishmael” is one of the most famous in English literature. As a classic, it uses advanced and sometimes archaic language, making it good practice for formal (and difficult!) prose. To give you an extra challenge, this passage has missing prepositions, and it’s up to you to complete the text. Blank spaces show where there should be prepositions, the answers are given below. Continue reading
A few weeks ago I wrote an article about the differences between the words plain and plane; it’s one of many articles I have on this site exploring confusing, or easily misunderstood, words and phrases. With so much content on this site, I thought it was time I created a quick, simple list of such articles so you can quickly learn the differences. I’ve placed example sentences beneath each heading so you can get an idea of what you’ll learn. Continue reading
How can we define the rules for placing a preposition in a sentence? Before a noun? After a verb? One of the additions to the second edition of Word Order in English Sentences is a guide to prepositions. Though they are often connected to other parts of a sentence, such as noun phrases, and often have specific or flexible rules, like adverbs, prepositions have some general rules that can help with understanding how they fit into a sentence, explained in detail below. Continue reading
What is the difference between She smiled at him. and She smiled to him.? Sometimes, there is none. Other times, one might clearly be correct (or incorrect). It’s useful to look at individual examples of preposition use like this with examples and explanations to get a grasp of them in practice, as I have previously covered with topics such as display with in and on, or by/on foot. So what can the difference between smile to and smile at tell us? Continue reading
Certain prepositions like from, out of and among may be used interchangeable in certain contexts, in this comparison with all essentially meaning chosen from a group. For example, these three sentences essentially mean the same thing:
- I had to choose which I liked best from ten ice creams.
- I had to choose which I liked best out of ten ice creams.
- I had to choose which I liked best among ten ice creams.
In this case, it easy to understand that choice was from among a group of ice creams, whichever preposition you use. However, each preposition has its own nuances, and has slightly different meanings – differences that have no effect in some contexts, but make a sentence wrong in others. Continue reading
Prepositional phrases and phrasal verbs often have very specific patterns that are difficult to guess. This means it is sometimes necessary to learn such phrases individually. The following exercise will test a range of prepositional phrases and phrasal verbs in a selection of sentences. Answers are given underneath, with brief explanations.
Remember, in prepositional phrases, we use a specific preposition to relate one noun (subject or object) to another – in phrasal verbs the preposition is combined with a verb as a particle to create a very specific action. Continue reading
Depending on the object you can agree with, on, about or to something. All of these prepositions can be connected to a noun, so the nature of the object decides the appropriate preposition. Here’s which is which: Continue reading
When we talk about walking, we can say you go on foot or by foot, as a mode of transport. Which preposition is correct? Technically, on is more accurate, and common, and in exams you may be marked incorrect for using by foot. But why is by foot a mistake? Or is it a mistake at all? This is a perfect example of English grammar as a matter of style, not accuracy – and as you’ll see here, both are actually possible. Continue reading
There is sometimes disagreement among English speakers when labelling days in a sequence with this and next, and you may hear people say either this or next to refer to the coming day. If you study sequences of time more carefully, it can help you to understand why this is, and how you can clarify what an English speaker means by, for example “This Friday” or “Next Friday.” Continue reading
Choosing between prepositions can be confusing, especially as the same words can follow different rules for different uses. My previous articles explaining the differences between at, in and on for time and place and the differences between since, for and ago for time showed how these prepositions can be used differently, with a brief exercise to practice. This is a follow-up exercise, mixing time and place uses, and containing a few other prepositions (such as by and to). This exercise takes the form of a brief story, to help you remember as your practice your prepositions: Continue reading