Common Preposition Errors Writers Make
A preposition is a word that describes the relationship between two or more words or elements. Prepositions are essential to the logic of a sentence as they show position, intention, or action.
Although prepositions are important, English has many preposition rules and these are often confusing, especially to non-native speakers and writers of English. Here, we present some of the most common preposition errors that writers make and show you how to fix and avoid these common mistakes.
Examples of Common Preposition Errors
A preposition is a word that describes the relationship between two or more words or elements. Prepositions are essential to the logic of a sentence. Take for example the following sentence.
- The cat lies the box.
This phrasing does not make sense because the relationship between the lying cat and the box is unclear. Is the cat lying inside the box? Is it lying on top of the box? To clarify this, we need to use prepositions.
- The cat lies in the box.
The cat lies on the box.
The cat lies by the box.
Prepositions are among the most confused word types. This is because the exact relationship between two elements is not always clear. As such, many people end up choosing the wrong preposition. Read on for explanations of the most common errors in preposition usage.
In vs. At
Of all the prepositions, “in” is perhaps the most often misused. People tend to confuse “in” and “at” when describing locations or times.
- She is at London right now.
She is in a bookstore on Vanderbilt Ave.
- She is in London right now.
She is at a bookstore on Vanderbilt Ave.
Both “London” and “a bookstore on Vanderbilt Ave” are locations, but “in” is appropriate for the former, and “at” is appropriate for the latter. This is because “in” and “at” correspond to different levels of specificity. As an entire city, “London” is more general, while “a bookstore on Vanderbilt Ave” is an exact, specific location. The same applies to descriptions of time.
- At the afternoon, he will go to the post office.
There is a meeting in 3 pm.
- In the afternoon, he will go to the post office.
There is a meeting at 3 pm.
“In” is used with more general descriptions of time. “The afternoon” is a general, non-specific moment in time. 3 pm, on the other hand, is a precise time, so the use of “at” is appropriate.
In vs. On
“In” and “on” are confused for much the same reasons “in” and “at” are confused. “On” and “at” are sometimes confused as well but at a lower frequency than the in-at or in-on pairs.
- They are currently staying on Virginia.
Can you meet me in Vanderbilt Ave?
- They are currently staying in Virginia.
Can you meet me on Vanderbilt Ave?
Once again, “in” is used for more general locations whereas “on” is used for more specific locations. The difference between “on” and “at” is that “on” is used for slightly less specific locations. In terms of specificity, “in” is the most general; “on” is less general; and “at” is the least general.
- She is at a bookstore on Vanderbilt Ave, which is a street in NYC.
The same applies to time: “on” is more specific than “in.”
- Many bands that debuted on the 90s are still active today.
Can we meet in the 25th of next month?
- Many bands that debuted in the 90s are still active today.
Can we meet on the 25th of next month?
In vs. Of
“Of” is often used to indicate belonging. As such, it can be confused with “in” when talking about something that belongs to a greater entity that is also a location, such as a state or country.
- The One World Trade Center is the tallest building of the U.S
- The One World Trade Center is the tallest building in the U.S.
The One World Trade Center is a building that belongs to the U.S., but “in” rather than “of” should be used here because while the U.S. is a political entity, it is also a location.
In vs. To
“To” is another preposition that is used with locations. The main difference between “to” and “in” is that the former is associated with movement and direction.
- We are travelling in Moscow next week.
We will be to Moscow next week.
- We are travelling to Moscow next week.
We will be in Moscow next week.
To vs. With
“To” and “with” are both prepositions that are often used when describing the relationship between two people.
- He is married to the tall woman standing by the piano.
They are speaking with each other.
As briefly mentioned above, “to” is associated with direction. So, when talking about people, “to” indicates direction from one person to another. “With,” on the other hand, is more inclusive.
- He works to her.
- He works with her.
There are also instances that allow for either “to” or “with.” However, this will lead to the meaning of the sentence changing.
- She is travelling to him.
She is travelling with him.
To vs. Of
“Of” is usually used to indicate belonging, while “to” is used to indicate direction. However, they both indicate connection and thus are mixed up quite often.
- The teacher opened page 82 of the textbook.
- The teacher opened the textbook to page 82.
Of vs. Have
“Of” and “have” are often confused because they can sound similar when spoken in sentences. Many native English speakers have the tendency to slur the word “have” when speaking; this makes “have” sound similar to “of.” (e.g., “would have” → “woulda”; “should have” → “shoulda”)
- He should of applied to more universities.
- He should have applied to more universities.
This is a good example of why you should not rely only on familiar pronunciation of spoken words when writing.
From vs. For
“From” and “for” are both often used to describe time. However, “from” is used to indicate a starting point, whereas “for” is usedThe fiber mixture is then to indicate duration.
- She has been learning English for 5 years.
He will be in the office from 8 am tomorrow.
- They have been studying from 8 hours.
- They have been studying for 8 hours.
From vs. Since
“From” and “since” are more confusing because they are both used to describe the temporal starting point of an activity.
- She worked at her previous company from 2010 to 2019.
He has been working at the company since 2008.
- She has been working from 7 am today.
The library is open since 10 am on weekends.
- She has been working since 7 am today.
The library is open from 10 am on weekends.
Can you see the difference? “Since” indicates the starting time of an activity that is continuing to the present. It can also only be used with perfect tense forms. “From,” on the other hand, can be used with all tense forms and can indicate repetition and range.
Fix Preposition Errors with the Wordvice AI Proofreader
Although preposition errors occur often, they are fairly easy to fix with profressional proofreading services or by using an automatic text editor like the Wordvice AI Proofreader. Powered by AI and large language models (LLMs), the AI Proofreader can instantly identify and correct errors in grammar, punctuation, mechanics, and even style and flow.
Let’s look at one preposition error and see how the AI Proofreader fixes it when set on “Light” editing mode. Can you spot the error?
In this sentence, the word “to” is incorrect and is changed to “with” by the AI Proofreader.
Let’s look at a slightly more complicated example of a preposition error in research writing. The editing mode has been set to “Academic” to more accurately capture the nuance and context of this academic sentence. There are two ways to fix the preposition error in this sentence, but let’s see how the AI Proofreader revises it.
In this sentence, since “between” is used, the conjunction “and” should be used instead of the preposition “to.” (Read more about conjunction rules.) However, another way to correct this sentence would be to change the preposition “between” to the preposition “from.” There are many such rules in English when combining prepositions in sentences.
And after using our free AI tools, send your important work to a professional language editing service to polish your paper before submission.