Writing Tips by Gary Speer

Tips for writers, musing about writing and life

Watch those ‘little words’ — prepositions pack a powerful punch

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This is a plea for the little words in our language — prepositions. Don’t leave them out, please.

I just spent some time roaming around the Internet looking for discussions about prepositions, those little words in the language that indicate relationships between words and phrases. You know, of course, the words I mean: “at,” “by,” “of,” “about,” “from,” “for,” “with,” etc.

Most native English speakers have few problems understanding prepositions and preposition usage. But I discovered several forums for English as a Second Language (ESL) students, and you’d be amazed how difficult it is for non-native speakers of English to keep preposition usage straight.

Let me give you a simple exercise to illustrate how important it can be to use the correct preposition in a phrase. Take the phrase “land for sale Branson” as an example. (I live near Branson, Missouri, that country music mecca which now vies with Nashville, Tennessee as the cultural universe of country music. I was posting about Branson on another blog, so it came to mind.)

What preposition would you use in that phrase? How would different prepositions change the meaning of the phrase? For example: “land for sale IN Branson” means something entirely different than “land for sale BY Branson” or “land for sale FROM Branson.” In the first instance, you’re selling land located in Branson. In the second instance, you’re speaking of land being sold by the City of Branson. And in the third instance, you’re telling us someone located in Branson is offering land for sale but the land itself isn’t necessarily located in Branson.

The moral to that story is plain: Be careful to use prepositions when you need them, and please be careful to use the RIGHT preposition when you use one.

As for any ESL students out there reading this — good luck, my friends. English can be a tricky and mysterious language to learn.

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