Common Errors in Prepositions

The prepositions in English are a nightmare for learners of the language. The only way to familiarise yourself with them is to have as much exposure to the English language as you possibly can.

Common Errors in Prepositions

  • I went in London last year. (Incorrect)
  • I went to London last year.

This preposition error is common among ‘Non native’speakers of English. When we use a ‘motion’ verb, we use the preposition of movement ‘to’. The only exception to the rule in English is ‘go home’, otherwise we need the ‘to.’ Example:

  • Walk to school.
  • Run to the shops.
  • Move to the left.
  • Turn to the right.
  • Swim to the shore.
  • Drive to the country.
  • Cycle to work

These are some examples of ‘motion’ verbs. The preposition of movement ‘to’ expresses going from A to B. That is, from the departure point to the destination.

Of course we can use other prepositions of movement depending on what we wish to say. Example:

  • Walk across the road.
  • Run along the road.
  • Cycle round the park.
  • Drive over the bridge.
  • Swim up and down the pool.
  • I arrived to the airport late. (Incorrect)
  • I arrived at the airport late.

Remember, we use ‘to’ with ‘motion’ verbs. ‘Arrive’ is a ‘static’ verb so we need to use the preposition ‘at’, which indicates no movements.

Another example is with the verb ‘be’, which is another ‘static’ verb, and also ‘stay’.

  • I was to the cinema last night. (Incorrect)
  • I was at the cinema last night.
  • I stayed to home last night. (Incorrect)
  • I stayed at home last night.

Of course we can also use other prepositions with static verbs, again, depending on what we mean: Example:

  • I stayed in bed yesterday because I didn’t feel very well.
  • This is the key of my room. (Incorrect)
  • This is the key to my room.
  • I saw it on the newspaper. (Incorrect)
  • I read it in the newspaper.
  • I saw it in the TV. (Incorrect)
  • I saw it on the TV.
  • I listened the radio last night (Incorrect)
  • I listened to the radio last night.
  • I have one question for you. (Incorrect)
  • I have a question to ask you.
  • I’ll explain you the problem. (Incorrect)
  • I’ll explain the problem to you.

You explain (something) to (someone). This is another transitive verb which takes both a direct and indirect object.

Common Errors in Prepositions

  • I’ll answer to the phone. (Incorrect)
  • I’ll answer the phone.
  • I asked to him to buy some bread. (Incorrect)
  • I asked him to buy some bread.

We do not use ‘to’ after the verbs ‘ask’ and ‘answer’. We can use ‘for’ after ‘ask’ but only if we are using a noun as opposed to a verb. Example:

  • They asked me for a lift. (‘for’ + noun)
  • They asked me to give them a lift.

More examples:

  • He answered my email right away.
  • The doorbell rang and they answered the door.
  • I will do my homework during the weekend. (Incorrect)
  • I will do my homework at the weekend.
  • I will do my homework over the weekend.

It is extremely uncommon to hear a native speaker say ‘during’ the weekend.

  • The Nile is the longest river of the world. (Incorrect)
  • The Nile is the longest river in the world.

A common mistake is to use ‘of’ instead of ‘in’. We speak about countries and things in the world, not of the world.

  • We had a lot of difficulty to learn English. (Incorrect)
  • We had a lot of difficulty in learning English.

We say, ‘to have difficulty in + gerund’. It is essential to remember that when a verb is followed by a preposition, the verb becomes the gerund.

  • I’ll wait you. (Incorrect)
  • I’ll wait for you.

As opposed to some other languages, we use ‘wait for’ (something) or (someone). More examples:

  • Wait for me. I’ll be back. (Incorrect)
  • We waited half an hour for the bus.
  • She is going to marry with a lawyer. (Incorrect)
  • She is going to marry a lawyer.
  • Tell me of your holiday. (Incorrect)
  • Tell me about your holiday.
  • There’s two people in the room. (Incorrect)
  • There are two people in the room
  • My brother is good in English. (Incorrect)
  • My brother is good at English.

We use ‘to be good at’ (something) and ‘to be bad at’ (something). Remember! Whenever there is a verb + preposition, the verb takes the gerund. Example:

  • My brother is good at speaking English.
  • It depends from what he wants. (Incorrect)
  • It depends on what he wants.

Shout to Shout at

Both are possible but the meaning changes. When you ‘shout to’someone, you raise your voice as you call them to attract his/her attention.

If, on the other hand, you ‘shout at’ someone, you raise your voice because you are angry with him/her.

Throw to Throw at

If you throw something to someone, such as a ball, you intend for them to catch it. Example:

  • She threw the ball to the dog. He caught it and ran away with it.

If you throw something at someone, you want to hit them with it. This could be because you are angry with them, or maybe you do it with playful intentions. Example:

  • She was so angry with her husband that she threw a plate at him. Luckily it missed him. (It didn’t hit him).

Wave to Wave at

  • He waved at me = he was saying hello or goodbye.
  • He waved to me = he was trying to attract my attention.

 We can also say, ‘he waved goodbye’ without a preposition.

Point to Point at

You can point ‘to’ or ‘at’ a person. You can also point ‘to’ or ‘at’ an object.

If I ‘point to’, I am indicating the location.

  • Look at the stars she said, pointing to the sky (in the direction of the sky)

If I ‘point at’ someone, it could be seen as rude and often accusatory. Example:

  • You’re the one who stole my bag. She shouted, pointing at the thief. (he was directly in front of her)
  • The thief ran away and she pointed to him to indicate him to the police officer who was passing by in that moment. (Indicating the direction)
  • If you are arguing with someone, they may point their finger at you in anger whilst they are shouting at you. (They are directly in front of you.)
  • He pointed a gun at her head and said, ‘don’t move or I’ll shoot’. If he pointed a gun to her head, it would be in the direction and not almost touching. (Similar to towards)
  • He pointed at his watch and said ‘I must go, it’s very late’.

Thanks for reading about “common errors in prepositions.”

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