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Three Ways to Improve Your Conversational English by Using Prepositions and Phrasal Verbs Correctly


Statue of Liberty SpoonIf you use prepositions incorrectly, you will not be understood, or even worse misunderstood, when you communicate in English. This article provides ways to improve your conversational business English by using prepositions correctly.

What are prepositions? These are small, but important words that describe relationships between words in a sentence. They link a word or word group to others. If you misuse them, you will confuse your listeners. Most commonly used prepositions are – of, in, on, at, for, to, from, among, between). Prepositions convey different types of information, such as place (in the room, at work), time (at 7 o’clock, in three hours, on November 7th) or they may give a new meaning to verbs, such as show up, give in, come across.

If you use prepositions incorrectly, you will not be understood, or even worse misunderstood, when you communicate in English.

The challenge in using prepositions correctly comes from the fact that in many cases there is no logic or rules about using prepositions (in other words, in many cases, they have idiomatic or figurative usage).

Here is my position on prepositions – you need to memorize their usage. I repeat, ESL and ELL students and professionals need to memorize which prepositions are used in certain phrases and situations.

Here are three points that will help you to use prepositions correctly in conversational English. 

  1. Be aware of difference of using prepositions in your native language and English and the fact that in many cases they don’t translate directly from one language to another. To make matters worse, in some languages prepositions do not exist at all. Also, there are differences not only in the choice of prepositions, but also in whether a preposition is used at all. Even languages that are relatively not so different from English (e.g., Romance languages, such as French, Italian, German or Rumanian or Slavic languages, such as Polish, Serbian or Russian) may also have challenges with prepositions. And for the same reason – in English prepositions are often used in idiomatic way, rather than governed by grammatical rules or “logics.”
  2. Record preposition usage. Become a “language Sherlock Holmes.” When you read books, newspapers or your co-workers’ e-mails, record preposition usage in a separate file or note-book. Make a list of preposition usage in a sentence. Use a good dictionary to understand their meaning.
  3. Practice. Once you have a list, repeat aloud prepositions in sentences.

So keep these three points in mind, and you will dramatically increase your conversational English. 

One final thought. Keep in mind that sometimes words that look like prepositions, do not function as prepositions. For instance, go over, speak up, get along, or make up. These expressions are called phrasal verbs. Phrasal verbs have idiomatic meaning which means that the meaning of two words together does not correspond to the meaning of component words.