Prepositions are that class of seemingly innocuous words that indicate spatial relations – in, towards, under, etc. – that can however be rather tricky as well. Using the wrong preposition can alter the sense of what a person is attempting to convey and can also reflect poorly on their English language skills. We look at some of the most common mistakes relating to prepositions and how to guard against them.
In and On
There are several instances when it may not be clear whether to use in or on. ‘In’ indicates being within or a sense of enclosure, but ‘on’ indicates being atop something.
- ride in a car
- ride on a bicycle
- travel in a coach
- travel on a horse
For and Since
‘For’ and ‘since’ can also be confused – ‘for’ indicates a measure of time as long as something lasts, whereas ‘since’ indicates a time when something actually began.
- I have known her since college (indicates that you probably still know this person)
- I was friends with her for the time that I was in college (indicates that you are no longer friends with this person)
Of and From
This mistake usually stems from speech patterns in a person’s native tongue which may fail to differentiate between the two terms.
- Correct: I am from Italy
- Incorrect: I am of Italy
- Correct: I am of Italian extraction.
Over and Above
Though both words indicate something at a higher level, there are differences in how they are used.
- Watch over children
- The car is crossing over the bridge
- Live one floor above your neighbor
- The butter is on the shelf above the counter
Under and Below
You can “shelter under an umbrella” to indicate proximity and you can “enjoy sitting below the rotating fan” to indicate distance.
Between and Among
While you can “sit between two people” you can “sit among several people”. ‘Between’ indicates a more precise location between two objects whereas ‘among’ indicates one’s presence among many. So you can “choose between a pencil and a pen”, but you can “choose one from among the many available writing implements”.