Prepositions are tricky words, especially if you speak English as a second language. They’re common, mostly short (e.g., at, in and on), and many have several uses, which can make it difficult to know which preposition to use.
We won’t try to give a full explanation here (that would take a small book). But to help you avoid mistakes, here are six common preposition errors that you may want to watch out for in your own writing.
1. From Morning to Night (In vs. At)
With “in” and “at,” the correct term may depend on the time of day! For example, in English we use “in the” with “morning,” “afternoon,” and “evening.” But we usually use “at” when talking about the night:
Helen goes running inthe morning.
Tim goes running in the afternoon.
Shirley goes running inthe evening.
Bob goes running at night.
You could go for a run “in the night,” but that sounds like something a sporty vampire would do. So make sure to use “at” with “night” in your writing.
2. Arrivals (In and At vs. To)
You can use the preposition “to” for discussing journeys (e.g., “I’m going to Tasmania”). But with the word “arrive,” we use “in” or “at” to describe reaching a destination. For instance:
She arrived in Tasmania just after lunch.
He arrived at the restaurant five minutes late.
Whether to use “in” or “at” typically depends on the destination:
Use “in” for cities, countries or other large areas.
Use “at” for specific places (e.g., a library, a bar, or someone’s house).
3. Time, Days, Months, and Years (At, On, and In)
When referring to a time or date, we use different prepositions depending on the situation. If you’re talking about a time of day, the correct term is “at”:
The party starts at 9pm.
For a specific day or date, meanwhile, we use “on”:
The party is on Saturday.
And for a month or year, the correct preposition is “in”:
We’re having a party in April.
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In other words, the preposition depends on the time window in question.
4. Of vs. Have
It’s common to see the preposition “of” used alongside helper verbs like “should” or “must.” For example:
I should of gone to bed earlier.✗
However, this is an error. The correct word here isn’t even a preposition.
Rather, it should be the verb “have,” which sounds a bit like “of” when spoken (hence the confusion). Thus, it should say:
I should have gone to bed earlier.✓
5. For vs. Since
When talking about how long something has been happening, we use “for” when referring to a length of time (e.g., a period of hours, days, or months):
I’ve been writing for six hours.
But if we’re using a specific time as a point of reference, we use “since”:
I’ve been writing since breakfast.
The difference here is that the first refers to a measure of time, while the second refers to a fixed point in the past when the activity began.
6. Talking About and Discussing
“Talking” and “discussing” are similar activities, so people often treat these words as interchangeable. However, you should only use the preposition “about” after “talking.” For example:
We’re talking about extreme sports. ✓
We’re discussing extreme sports. ✓
We’re discussing about extreme sports. ✗
To make sure you’ve used all the right terms in all the right places, try submitting a document for proofreading today.