How to Learn Prepositions

Compared to nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs, prepositions—which identify relationships between things in sentences—are harder to categorize and often more difficult to learn. Because there isn’t much logical order in the way prepositions are used in the English language, memorization is an important part of learning them. Fortunately, this memorization can include drawing pictures, listening to podcasts, and playing “Simon says,” among other things! Also note that, while the primary focus here is on prepositions in English, most of these suggestions are applicable for other languages as well.


[Edit]Using Learning Aids

  1. Utilize images to help you visualize prepositions. Combining text and images helps to reinforce what you’re learning and can make it easier to remember specific prepositions. Either use learning aids that include both text and images, or create your own as you work on prepositions.[1]
    Learn Prepositions Step 1.jpg
    • For younger learners, for instance, try worksheets that include a sentence using a preposition and a corresponding image to color—such as an image showing “The cow jumped over the moon.”
    • You might buy, download, or make flash cards that contain an image on one side and a corresponding sentence using one or more prepositions on the other side.
  2. Refer to preposition charts that use categories and examples. Prepositions are easier to “digest” when they’re broken down into smaller “chunks.” Instead of trying to memorize a random list of prepositions, download or make preposition charts that are broken down by category. Make sure the charts provide lots of examples as well![2]
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    • A chart might use categories like “Time” and “Place.” Note that a single preposition like “on” can appear in multiple categories—“on Wednesday” (time) and “on the table” (place)—which makes the inclusion of specific examples very helpful.
    • Look over the charts regularly, but don’t try to just memorize everything in them. Instead, use them to write your own sample sentences, draw corresponding pictures, and so on.
  3. Use quizzes and learning drills you find online. There’s no magical shortcut to learning prepositions—it takes time, patience, and practice. Frequent, brief drills and quizzes may help you get a firm grip on the most commonly-used prepositions and prepositional phrases in English. Check out well-known, well-respected e-learning sites and apps for free quizzes and drills.[3]
    Learn Prepositions Step 3.jpg
    • A quiz might be as simple as picking the right preposition usage from 4 options, or filling in the blank in a sample sentence with the correct preposition. But simple quizzes can really work!

[Edit]Hearing, Reading, and Writing Prepositions

  1. Listen to podcasts, audiobooks, and similar sources. Many aspects of the English language don’t follow a logical pattern, and prepositions definitely fall into that category. This doesn’t mean that memorizing list after list of prepositions is your only alternative, though. Instead, listen carefully to how strong English speakers use prepositions in context.[4]
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    • Podcasts and audiobooks are great listening options, because you get to listen at your own pace to speakers who typically have a strong command of English. That said, listening to anyone using the language helps to build your familiarity with different prepositions and their usage.
  2. Repeat to yourself the prepositional phrases you identify. When you pick out a preposition while listening, quietly say the phrase or the entire sentence. Additionally, visualize what is being described while you repeat the words.[5]
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    • For instance, if you hear “He put his coat in the closet,” repeat it to yourself and picture a man putting his coat in the closet.
    • Alternatively, jot down the phrases or sentences you identify. You can also make quick sketches—for instance, of a stick figure putting a coat into a closet.
  3. Read widely in the language you’re learning. The more you read, the more prepositions you’ll encounter, recognize, and remember. Use any reading material that’s appropriate for your age and reading level—and that you also find interesting![6]
    Learn Prepositions Step 6.jpg
    • Read slowly and carefully so you can pick out the prepositions.
  4. Highlight the prepositions you find. Use an actual highlighter, if possible, on written pages, or a digital highlighter for e-texts. Alternatively, jot down the preposition and where you can find it in the text.[7]
    Learn Prepositions Step 7.jpg
    • If you’re not sure if you’ve found a preposition, ask yourself the following about the whole prepositional phrase: Does it establish a “when,” “where,” or “how” relationship among people, objects, locations, or actions within the sentence? For instance, in “She likes to go to the store,” the first “to” isn’t a preposition, but the second “to” is.
  5. Sort by preposition and write complete sentences from the text. Once you’ve highlighted the prepositions in your reading passage, grab a notebook and write down each separate preposition—“in,” “under,” “at,” and so on—at the top of its own page. Then, write down each sentence in the text that uses that preposition.[8]
    Learn Prepositions Step 8.jpg
    • For example, your “on” page might include sentences like “Joe went on vacation last week,” “He wrote his phone number on a scrap of paper,” and “They got on the boat with a bit of trepidation.”
    • This exercise helps you to recognize and eventually memorize different ways in which common prepositions are frequently used.

[Edit]Learning with Games and Activities

  1. Try the activity “look at me now” alone or with others. This simple but helpful activity involves nothing more than describing—to yourself or others—your situation in the present moment. So long as your description goes beyond the most basic details, you’ll have to choose and use at least one preposition in the process.[9]
    Learn Prepositions Step 9.jpg
    • You may want to make a game out of how many prepositions you can use: “I am sitting” (0); “I am sitting in my chair” (1); “I am sitting in my chair at home” (2); “I am sitting in my chair at home on a rainy day” (3).
    • This is a useful activity at home alone and in a classroom setting. As a teacher, you might ask the class at different times during the school day, “OK, who wants to give us a “look at me now” update?”
  2. Play “Simon says” to introduce different prepositions. Most of the common commands in this game—“Simon says put your hand on your head,” “Simon says stand on one foot,” “Touch your nose with your finger,” and so on—use one or more prepositions. While playing with a group of friends or in a classroom, you’ll hear and start to recognize how prepositions are used in English.[10]
    Learn Prepositions Step 10.jpg
    • Alternatively, you might play a variation on this game in which the goal is to follow the commands only when the correct preposition is used—for instance, “Stand on one foot” versus “Stand at one foot.”
  3. Have fun with charades or quick-drawing guessing games. While describing what the person is acting out or drawing, you’ll probably have to use one or more prepositions. As a variation on the game, you might have different individuals or teams compete to see who can use the most prepositions to describe what’s being acted out or drawn.[11]
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    • To reinforce what’s being learned, write out the answers, circle the prepositions, and underline the prepositional phrases.


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