Pesky Prepositions Part 1: Place

Prepositions are nasty little things that, quite unfortunately, are rather important when learning a language. I trip up with German prepositions pretty much every single time, so I know how frustrating (and difficult to remember) they can be. With English, to confuse matters a little further, sometimes prepositions of time and place can differ depending on whether you’re talking/listening to/reading American or British English. For example, British English would say ‘at the weekend’, while American English would say ‘on the weekend’. I say ‘on the weekend’ despite being Australian and Australians generally using British English.

Today I thought we’d wade into the waters of prepositions – not too far, don’t worry – and take a look at prepositions of place. For most of you, this will be absolute revision, but useful revision. Very often I come across quite advanced students still mixing up their prepositions, so it’s good to revisit them every now and then to make sure you’ve got them sorted.

There are three key prepositions of place that are important to get straight, because you will use them a lot when telling people where you live, where you work, where to meet for coffee, where the nearest bank is, where you’ll be spending New Years Eve etc, etc, etc. They’re also necessary for when that lost looking tourist approaches you and says, ‘excuse me, I’m looking for …’

They are:

IN, AT, ON

Small, sweet and a little bit confusing. It’s easier if we use a visual:

peskypreps1

Pretty straight forward right?

You live at an address, on a street, in a city/suburb/country.

But what if you give someone your address, and as they are driving to your house for dinner, they call and say they are completely lost. They can’t find your house – can you give them some more information? You are going to need more prepositions to describe where your house is, and to give them some clearer directions. Eg; ‘we live next to the Sparkasse, behind the big oak tree’, or ‘we live across from a Spanish restaurant.’

This video below gives great visuals for more prepositions of place, that will allow you to go into greater detail about where something is, should you ever need to (and you will, trust me). There are also some prepositions that change meaning when given an article. Check it out, it won’t take long. It comes from this great Youtube channel.

Keeping it short and simple this week! Don’t forget to catch up on previous Englisch Macht Spaß posts, and if you have any questions or comments, I always love hearing from you.

Viel Spaß!

  1. Englisch is Fun
  2. Welcome
  3. A Phrasal What?
  4. Tenses in Pairs Part 1
  5. Tenses in Pairs Part 2
  6. The Future
  7. More Future Possibilities
  8. British & American English
  9. Tricks of the Trade: Idioms
  10. The Bandage was Wound around the Wound
  11. A Short History of the English Language
  12. Root Words and Dirty Etymology

6 Replies to “Pesky Prepositions Part 1: Place”

    1. Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo, I haaaaaaate this new trend, because not grammar. Because trendy/ironic blog speak. Because NERVIG!

  1. Pretty straight forward right?

    Not sure what you mean here, exactly. Those feel natural to me, as a native speaker from the USA, but their equivalents in German are expressions I had to memorize until I got comfortable enough with them to go with my gut.

    Your IN use cases seem to match up with German IN: in Belgien, in Antwerpen, in der Altstadt.

    Your AT use cases sorta line up with German IN. “Wo wohnst Du?” “In der Lindenstraße 96, Bornheim, 53314” But that “in” seems to refer to the street, not to the address as a whole. I wasn’t living IN Lindenstraße 96 when that was my address, but rather Hausnummer 96 was IN der Lindenstraße, and that’s the common turn of phrase. Whereas when I lived at 256 N. Woodward Avenue, the AT referred specifically to that building on that street.

    It gets all weird with your ON use cases. IN der Straße, AN der Straße, AUF der Straße all have different meanings in German, IM 2. Stock seems right to me in German, AN der Kreuzung, AUF der Insel, but not AUF Nordamerika — wouldn’t it have to be IN Nordamerika in German? (“AUF Nordamerika” just feels wrong to me.) And I think you would use ON a continent in English if you’re not using a proper noun — “on the continent” works for Brits, distinguishing themselves from mainland Europe, and even “on my continent we drive on the other side of the road,” but not when the continent is a proper noun. *”On what side of the road do they drive on Australia?” But that would be fine for our satellite in both languages! “On what side of the road do they drive on the Moon?” “Auf welcher Straßenseite fährt man auf dem Mond?”

    The fact that your advanced students are still struggling with them in English suggests that they are not straight forward, unless by that you mean that the list of use cases is fairly short and memorizable. I would certainly understand the uncertainty German speakers feel given the variability of prepositions they have at their disposal in German, and the resulting hesitance in English. I feel a similar nervousness about how frequently the Spanish “EN” is supposed to solve my prepositional problems.

    1. Hi Cliff, thanks for the comment!

      Oh I know it isn’t at all straight forward, that was said completely tongue in cheek. If they were straight forward, advanced students wouldn’t be getting them wrong and I wouldn’t be teaching them so regularly. So no, no straight forward, that was said with a twinkle in the eye (in fact I think I say something along those lines each week, when a rule or similar list is introduced.)

      As for German prepositions … kill me.

      1. Oh, gotcha. I completely missed the twinkly-eyed cheek tongue.

        Rote memorization is about all I can recommend for the German prepositions, at least until immersion takes hold and reflexes drive your not only your German preposition choice, but also how to inflect them. Until then, DOGFU (for accusatives) and for the datives angrily chanting

        Aus! Außer!
        Bei Mit Nach
        Seit Von Zu!

        If the preposition is not in one of those groups, then it’s situational or genitve or not inflecty at all. Good luck.

        1. You are far too clever with your German. Am going to start chanting to myself. Right now, I am only sort of ‘instinctive’ with mit, auf, von and bei. I think … Although that could be total false confidence!

Comments are closed.