What is the best way to learn how to use English prepositions properly?

Prepositions are one of the most difficult aspects of learning English. They don't have fixed meanings, they can change easily from context to context and they have a lot of different usages in different instances. Well then, how can a person learn English prepositions properly? Here are some facts and suggestions:

First of all, there is a grim reality that you have to accept. It is nearly (not totally) impossible for a non-native speaker to master some features of English completely. Prepositions are one of these features. As a non-native English speaker, I might be making some prepositional mistakes myself while I am writing this. You can even see native speakers talking about which preposition is the right one to use in a specific situation. That is why you have to accept that you can easily make preposition mistakes and as long as you are understood by other people, it is OK to do it. Our aim is going to be to minimize the amount of these mistakes.

Despite these problematic aspects, an English learner should try to master the usage of prepositions as best as he or she can. There is one way which is the simplest and the most effective is exposure.

What is exposure? Exposure can be described as the interaction with a target language. It generally happens through reading and listening. There are some parts of the language which cannot be learned through some systems and rules. Exposure is one of the best ways to learn these types of structures and prepositions are one of these structures. In other words, the best way to learn how to use prepositions appropriately is to read and listen a lot.

You may say that you already know that you need to read and listen a lot. You are right. But to learn prepositions, just reading and listening randomly won't be enough. Here are some tips to make reading and listening more effective in terms of learning prepositions.

  1. While reading, it is important to note down the usages of some prepositions which you have problems about using. For example you can easily take a picture of that usage on your book or on your screen or you can get a screenshot if you are using a smart phone. It is generally easier to take notes or something similar while reading. 
  2. While listening, you can get to hear more prepositions in dialogues. If you are talking to a native speaker, you can ask him or her to clarify the usage of a preposition that you have problems about using. It works a lot and it becomes easier to keep it on mind.
  3. Match prepositions with the words that you are learning. There are many words you learn while trying to learn English. You can try to learn these words with the prepositions that they are frequently used with. To do this, a collocation dictionary (it gives you information about the usages of a specific word) can be really useful. 
  4. Use a corpus (a source which shows you different usages of words) or Google. Whenever, you can't be sure about how a specific preposition is used or with which preposition a word is used, you can type it on a corpus or on Google to check usages. Let's say you want to check whether he scored good in his test or on his test is correct. You can simply type it on Google or on a corpus to check the appropriate usages. 
All in all, it is nearly impossible to master all correct usages of prepositions but it is possible to minimize the mistakes. In order to minimize preposition mistakes, it is important to get exposed to the language and use it actively in daily life by checking usages from Google, from a corpus or by asking others.

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