Thursday, June 2, 2011

Date Prepositions

When it comes to prepositions, words like in, for, at, etc, English is utterly unpredictable.  Based on my experience, it is impossible to teach phrasal verbs, verbs with prepositions, because there is no connection between the verb, preposition, and meaning.   While take in and take out might make sense, take over and take for can only be learnt by living in an English speaking country.  Even then, it often makes a difference which country that is, as in the case of pissed off.  In the United States, a person is angry while in the UK s/he is drunk. 

Nevertheless, some logic can be found, occasionally.  For example, the use of prepositions before dates (the numbers on the calendar, not the ones written on the calendar or eaten) follows clear rules:

In goes before any period of time, i.e. month or year: The final exams are in July.  The next Olympic Games are in 2012.

On goes before the date, i.e. the exact day: The first (unmanned) landing on the moon was on September 13, 1959.

By the way, English is not the only tricky language in terms of prepositional use.   Russian has two prepositions  на [na] and в [v] that roughly mean the same thing.  In some contexts, the difference is not subtle.  For example, when I began studying Russian, one of my fellow students wanted to say that the Empress was at her toilet, i.e. putting on makeup, surrounded by admirers.  He used the wrong preposition, creating the impression that she was on the toilet, surrounded by admirers.  My teacher's reaction was "Really?" (I imagine that even Catherine the Great preferred to pee in private.)

 I will now close up this blog, ending with hope that you can take in all those propositions and shutting off my computer.

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