12 February 2013

Namibia: Correcting Commonly Confused English Prepositions


EVEN professional writers get tripped up now and then by some commonly confused words. Today we are looking at prepositions that may be a challenge in English, our official language.

A preposition is a word or group of words, such as in, from, to, out of, on behalf of, used before a noun or pronoun to show place, position, time or method.

Here are some of the challenging prepositions. After for In: When speaking of a period of time in the future, use in, and not after. E.g. we do not say "He may be able to go after a week" but rather "He may be able to go in a week" or "He may be able to go in a week's time". Here in means after the end of. Sometimes in is confused with within.

In means after the end of, within means before the end of. Therefore we say: "She will come back within an hour" instead of "He will come back in an hour", if you mean before the end of an hour.

There are cases when to is confused with at. We use to to express motion from one place to another and at to denote position. We do not say, "We come at school every morning", but rather "We come to school every morning". Also we do not say "Someone is standing to the door" but "Someone is standing at the door". Often to is also confused with till. For example say, "We walked till the lake and back", instead of saying "We walked to the river and back".

The explanation here is that we use to with distance, and till or until with time.

In the following sentence in is confused with at. "Lahja has a house at Otjomuise". The correct sentence would be "Lahja has a house in Otjomuise".

So remember that we use in to describe the physical location of something as part of a larger thing or place. What about telling someone where someone stays? Do not say, "Felles is staying in 77 Omulunga Street" but instead say, "Felles is staying at 77 Omulunga Street".

The rule here is that, we use at when we are talking about an address, a public place or building (a bus stop, a taxi rank, the library, the post office etc.) and situations in which the location is irrelevant or not important but what we do there is what matters (school, the dentist, debate class, dance class etc.).

Sometimes in is also confused with into. For example, "Sarafin spent all the day into her room". The correct sentence is "Sarafin spent all the day in her room".

In the following sentence into is confused with in. "Anna came in the room and sat down". Instead, say "Anna came into the room and sat down". The rule here is that in denotes position inside something, while into denotes motion/movement or direction towards the inside of something. Remember always write the preposition into as one word, not in to.

Often between is confused with among and vice versa. Do not say, "There was a fight among two boys but rather say "There was a fight between two boys". We also do not say, "Divide the orange between you three" but we say, "Divide the orange among you three", instead. This is because between is used for two only, while among is used for more than two.

The last commonly confused prepositions of attention are since for for, and From for Since. Often since is confused for for as in this example: "Shatipamba has lived here since three years". The correct sentence would be "Shatipamba has lived here for three years".

The rule here is, place the preposition for before words or phrases denoting a period of time: for four days, for six weeks, for a few minutes, for a long time. We use it with any tense except the present tense. For example we do not say "I live here for seven years" but rather say "I have lived here for seven years".

What about From for Since? "Aleta has been ill from last Thursday" is a wrong sentence, and so the correct sentence would be "Aleta has been ill since last Thursday". Remember to always place the preposition since before words or phrases denoting a point in time: since Tuesday, since yesterday, since eight o'clock, since Christmas.

When we use Since, the verb is usually in the present perfect tense, but it may be in the past perfect: I was glad to see Tutu. I hadn't seen him since last Christmas. Keep in mind that from can also denote a point in time, but it must be followed by to or till: "He works from eight o'clock without a break"

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