Choosing the correct preposition in English can often be tricky, as the incorrect preposition can not only impair understanding but, in some cases, completely change the meaning of what you are trying to say.
The following feature will focus on the use of IN, ON and AT when speaking about place/position.
We use ‘in’ when we are talking about being specifically inside a larger area. For example:
I am in the classroom (the classroom is larger than me)
The classroom is in the school (the school is larger than the classroom)
The school is in Edinburgh (Edinburgh is larger than the school)
We use ‘on’ when we talk about a surface. For example:
The cup is on the table (the table is a surface)
The picture is on the wall (the wall is a surface)
The teacher writes on the whiteboard (the whiteboard is a surface)
So far, we have learnt that we use in for a larger area and on for a surface. However, let’s look at the following examples:
I’m on the bus
I’m on the train
I’m on the plane
I’m in the car
I’m in a taxi
One reason for this is that the bus, trains and planes are usually public, whereas cars and taxis are private.
Another reason for this is that buses, trains and planes have a pre-determined route (we don’t decide where it goes, it follows a specific route). You can’t for example, ask a train to stop outside your house. It is restricted to the tracks. You also can’t ask a pilot to land the plane in your back garden. However, you can decide where to go in your car or in a taxi.
We use ‘at’ when we talk about a point. For example:
I’m at the bus stop (the point where the bus stops)
Who is at the door? (the point just outside the door)
We also often use at when we are talking about public buildings/services/conveniences:
I’m at the supermarket
I’m at the dentist
I’m at the pub
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ‘IN’ AND ‘AT’?
The following sentences are both correct:
I’m in the swimming pool
I’m at the swimming pool
Why is this?
The first example means you are actually in the water and swimming, whereas the second example could mean you are in the changing room, having a shower or getting dressed.
When we use in, we are specifically inside something (the swimming pool in this case), where at is much more general.
With that logic, you can say “I’m in the supermarket”, if you are INSIDE the supermarket or “I’m at the supermarket” to either mean you’re INSIDE or JUST OUTSIDE the supermarket.
Please note, this only applies to buildings/services/conveniences (you’re unlikely to find someone IN the door, they’re more likely to be AT the door).
This is a very brief overview of these prepositions. As with many language points, the important thing is PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. The more practice you get, the more natural your use of prepositions will become.
It can be daunting (and exciting) to start a new class at Inlingua – but here are some tips from a teacher…
1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions before you go to your class! Perhaps you are not sure about which classroom or what time – please ask us.
2. You might think that you don’t understand the teacher or class-mates – give it a little time, the teacher will soon know if you are not at the right level and will help you find the most suitable level.
3. Don’t sit next to someone of the same nationality! It’s easy to sit to someone who comes from the same place but you are here to learn English not chat to people in your own language – you can do that after school!
4. Please try to avoid using your phone – if you have finished an activity you can perhaps take a quick glance but don’t text – you have plenty of time at break.
5. Try to take part in some of the social activities – you might not like the activity but it is a way to get a free lesson by chatting to the teacher and other students who you don’t know.
6. Try and do all the activities the teacher asks you – he or she is trying to encourage you to use all skills (speaking, reading, listening and writing) – it is important that you can do it all.
7. Let other people speak – if you like speaking it’s tempting to speak all the time but let the others have a chance too – encourage people who are shy to speak.
8. Do your homework! The teacher is trying to make you think (a little) about what is done in the class, you need to think about the lessons outside the classroom.
9. If you want to talk about something in class, please do! Don’t just wait for the teacher to introduce topics, if you want to speak about something then it’s probably of interest to the others too.
10. Last but not least, ENJOY yourself – yes, you are here to learn but we want to make you have fun whilst learning.
A common misconception about the difference between the present perfect and the past simple is that the former is used to talk about the recent past and the latter is used to talk about the distant past. In fact, the key difference between these two tenses is the period of time we are referring to and, specifically, whether that period of time is finished or unfinished.
Look at these examples:
Yesterday I went to the cinema.
I was on holiday last week.
I was born in 1978.
She was here five minutesago.
I have lived here for five years.
He has worked there since2014.
I have worked a lot this week.
I haven’t had a holiday this year.
Past simple vs. present perfect
Have you ever been to the Isle of Arran (in your life/unfinished time)? Yes, I was there last year (finished time).
I live in Dundee. I have lived there since 2013 (still there/unfinished time). Before that I lived in Aberdeen (no longer there/finished time).
Have you seen John recently (unfinished time)? Yes, I saw him yesterday (finished time).
How long have you been waiting for the bus (still waiting now/unfinished time)? About an hour! But that’s nothing, my friend waited for an hour and a half yesterday (no longer waiting/finished time)!
Remember that the key is whether the period of time we are referring to is finished or unfinished. If an action took place five minutes ago it is very recent but we use the past simple because five minutes ago is finished time (e.g. I spoke to her five minutes ago). Likewise if an action began 20 years ago and continues today we use the present perfect because we are referring to an unfinished period of time that started twenty years ago (e.g. I have lived in Edinburgh since 1996).
Today Ronnie from EngVid teach you a bunch of common slang words that we use in English. You’ll hear these words in social conversations and in movies. You’ve probably already heard many of these words and expressions, but you didn’t know their slang meaning. The funny thing is that all the words she is teaching you come from the bakery – pies, buns, dough, muffins, and more. English speakers come up with some interesting slang!
Note: this lesson is 100% gluten free!
2. How to talk about skin color in English
Talking about skin color can be complicated! Some words are very offensive and will make you sound like a racist! What is acceptable to society changes over time. With this second video you’ll know how to talk about skin color without hurting or offending someone. This lesson is VERY important because you can get in a lot of trouble by using the wrong words!
3. How to Ask Questions: How long, How much…
What is the difference between “how much time” and “how many times”? Do we say “how long” or “how long time”? In this lesson, Emma will teach you how to use “how much time”, “how long”, and “how many times”. She’ll also look at some of the most common mistakes students make with these question words.
4. Learn English with 5 Stupid Jokes!
Learning English can be FUNNY! This special lesson is all about simple, easy jokes that dads tell their kids. We call them these “dad jokes”. These jokes are a great way to learn English because they are based on pronunciation, puns, and vocabulary.
5. How to use “to” before an “-ing” verb
In this lesson, Emma explains how and when to use “to” before a verb with the “-ing” ending. The use of “to” before an “-ing” verb is not always correct. But it is correct in a particular case to express an emotion or action happening in the present referring to a past or future event. If this sounds complicated, have no fear! It is a simple structure once you understand how it works.
When we ask our students which aspects of English they find most difficult, most will include ‘spelling’ and ‘pronunciation’ in their reply.
Our students aren’t alone; last week, a Guardian newspaper article summed it up: “You can’t tell the spelling from the pronunciation, and you can’t tell the pronunciation from the spelling. No wonder people find English difficult!”
Here is a well-known puzzle which illustrates this issue:
How do we pronounce the word ‘ghoti’?
The answer is ‘fish’.
So how can ‘ghoti’ and ‘fish’ sound the same? They can, if we pronounce:
gh as in enough f
o as in women i
ti as in nation sh
Of course, this is a joke – ‘ghoti’ is not even a real word. But it shows the inconsistency of English spelling. It is very important to understand – and most students do, very quickly! – that English spelling and English pronunciation are often not the same.
Consider blue, shoe, flew, through, you, two and too. That’s right, seven different spellings but only one sound. How about sound, soup and southern? The same spelling, ‘ou’, pronounced differently each time.
Here at inlingua we use a number of methods and techniques to help our students with spelling and pronunciation, both textbook methods as well as making use of poems and songs. With careful guidance our students, without exception, are very quickly able to make themselves understood when speaking and writing.
Of course, to become a proficient user takes time, and most learners will have moments where they feel some part of the language they are learning is a challenge too far.
How can you overcome this feeling?
Some teachers, myself included, try to encourage students to embrace – to enjoy – this aspect of the language. There is a reason – well, an explanation! – as to why English has such irregular spelling, and that explanation takes you through the history of the language.
So why not take an interest not only in learning how to use the language, but in its interesting history, too?
An alternative is to hope that the English Spelling Society, founded in 1908, finally succeeds in ‘updating’ ‘British English’ spelling. Their guide to the history of the language is an interesting read (there are also some useful guides to English spelling on their website), but I wonder if you’ll agree with their arguments?
As well as irregular spelling, we’ve had a number of students complain that English has ‘too many sounds’. So how many does it have? The number most often given, is 44 – or 43.5! However, if you travelled around a number of English-speaking countries, you’d encounter many more, and would notice that some English speakers use less.
There are many languages with more sounds than English, but as teachers we recognise that 44 is a fairly high number in comparison to some of our students’ mother tongues. Spanish, for example, has approximately 24 sounds, and so Spanish speakers learning English really have to exercise their tongues!
Of course, it’s the number of sounds new to students that presents a challenge. Again, at inlingua we take great care in coaching and guiding our students towards correct pronunciation. That process can be fun – and messy.
Finally, when it all seems too much, let’s not forget Ubyjkh. Unfortunately it’s thought that the last speaker of that language died in 1992, but he/she would have used at least 86 sounds, 84 of them consonants. Compared to that challenge, we have it easy!