The problem with English prepositions is that students need to learn most of them by heart, since not all of them can be literally translated from Croatian. The usual comment I hear from my students regarding the prepositions is that ‘people will understand what I wanted to say’.
That’s true…but in many cases the genuine meaning of what you wanted to say can be lost or misunderstood if you use the wrong preposition. Since English has no cases, prepositions play an important role in expressing relations between two people, things or places. Here I am going to focus on the three most commonly used prepositions in English: in, on and at that are also most commonly misused.
Did you have any doubts about certain phrases? One of the most common mistakes my students make is related to the days of week, when saying ‘in Friday’ or ‘in the bus’ (typical examples of a literal translation from Croatian). However, there are certain rules about the use of these three prepositions and the best way to memorize them is by visualizing and using them every now and then so you get used to them and they do not ‘sound strange’.
‘IN’ – mostly used with three-dimensional, enclosed spaces and the months (in July, in December) seasons (in winter, in summer) countries, cities (in France, in Paris), places, areas and containers (in the kitchen, in the country, in a bag), times of the day (in the morning /afternoon / evening), centuries and long periods (in the 19th century, in the past), years (in 1999, in 2005). fixed expressions (in cash, in advance, in a hurry, in person, in touch, in time =early enough to do something, in the middle, etc.).
* But at night, at noon, at midnight, except: It rained in the night (a short time during the night).
‘ON’ – mostly used with two-dimensional spaces and the following: on days and dates (on Saturday, on 8th October), surfaces (on the table, on the wall) means of transport (on the bus /train / plane), fixed expressions (on the first floor, on the phone, on foot, on time = at the right time, on vacation, etc.).
* Notice the difference: in the morning – on Monday morning (specific morning) and in the car.
‘AT ‘– mostly used with three-dimensional reference and the following: at precise time (at 9 o’clock, at 10 p.m.) time of the day (at lunchtime, at noon, at sunset), locations and positions (at the bus stop, at the door), locations and positions (at the bus stop, at the door), fixed expressions (at school, at work, at university, at the front /back, at present, at a good price, at a loss /profit, etc.).
* But: on Christmas Day. In American English: on the weekend.
Here it is important to mention that when the above-mentioned phrases are used with words such as last, next, every and this, we do not use prepositions:
Autor: Ljiljana Breulj Štimac