Students often make persistent errors with verb + preposition combinations, such as, ‘to think to’ (and not ‘about’) and ‘to participate to’ (rather than ‘in’). The reason for this that it is often not clear (or even logical) which preposition to use.  

Help your students eliminate those common preposition errors with these activities and rules. Below you’ll also find a pdf gap-fill activity to give your student for homework.  

Activity one: match the verb and preposition

All of these verbs have a different preposition in Italian, and so students commonly get them wrong. First, warn the student that these are difficult verb + preposition combinations.

For this activity, the tutor must say the verb and the student says the correct preposition. For example:

Tutor: To depend.

Student: To depend on.

Verb + prepositions
  • To arrive (at)
  • To be capable (of)
  • To be connected (to)
  • To consist (of)
  • To be composed (of)
  • To count (on)
  • To be covered (with/in)
  • To crash (into)
  • To depend (on)   
  • To have/conduct an interview (with)
  • To be interested (in)
  • To be linked (to)
  • To be married (to)
  • To participate (in)
  • To point (at)
  • To be related (to)
  • To suffer (from)
  • To think (about)
The rules

At least some of these verb +prepositions combinations can be explained. Use the information below to clarify the ‘why’ with your student. After each explanation, ask your student to give you an example.

To – to be linked, connected, related, married to someone/something

‘To’ expresses a link between to things. For example, ‘she is married to him’, or ‘this issue is related to the software system.’

‘To’ is also plus a verb. For example, ‘He is studying to get a new job.’ ‘For’ is plus a noun, for example, ‘This cake is for the party.’

Of – to consist, be composed, made of something

‘Of’ talks about the content or ingredients of something. For example, ‘this book consists of 12 chapters’ or, ‘this soup is made of carrots and lentils.’

Note: ‘Of’ also means the object of ‘fear’. For example, ‘to be scared, afraid, frightened, fearful of something.’

About – to think, dream, speak, talk, learn, wonder, care about something

‘About’ expresses the topic of the sentence. For example, ‘I am thinking about starting a business’ or ‘they were wondering about that house. Is it for sale?’

On – to depend on, to count on

‘On’ expresses the focus of an activity, object or idea.

Other examples include, ‘to spend money on something’ and ‘to reflect, concentrate, focus, impact and work on something.’

At – to arrive, point at somewhere/something

‘At’ means location. For example, ‘they arrived at the cinema.’

It also means:

Time – At 2pm.

Events – At the conference, concert, party.

Festivals – At Christmas, Easter, a local festival.

Ability – To be good, bad, great, terrible at something.

To do something ‘to’ (and not ‘with’) the person or thing receiving the action – To laugh, look, point, shout, scream, stare, yell at someone/something.

In this way the person receiving the action is not collaborating or interacting with the person doing the action. They are the object which is having something done to them.

For example, ‘to laugh at someone,’ is bad (they are the object of the joke). ‘To laugh with someone,’ is good (you’re all laughing together).

Homework preposition activity

Download this proposition gap-fill activity and send it to your student in the chat, to complete for homework. The answers are in small print on the second page so your student can check their understanding themselves.

Download the preposition activity

Copy of the preposition activity

Interviewer: We conducted an interview 1. ______Dr Lauren Schneider about a study 2. ______determine common causes 3.______ anxiety at work. Dr Schneider, how did you first become interested 4. _______this subject?

Dr Schneider: I first became interested 5. ______ the topic 6. _______anxiety at work when I was working 7. ______my PHD thesis. We designed a survey which consisted 8. _______ questions to focus 9. _______ the different types of stresses that employees typically feel 10. ______ work.

Interviewer: What were the results?

Dr Schneider: We found that many mental health issues 11. ______ the workplace were linked 12. ______ relationships with colleagues. Whether a worker feels depressed, typically depends more 13. ______ factors like negative interactions 14. ______colleagues, or even bullying, rather than the amount 15. ______ work a person does in a week.

If an employee feels that they can count 16. ______the people around them and participate 17. ______ work activities as a respected member of the team, it is more probable that they will feel happy.

On the other hand, if an employee feels disrespected 18. _______ work; if they are yelled or laughed 19. ______ for example, it is more likely that they will suffer 20. _______ work-related depression.

*Note: This content is invented and not based on a real interview.

Answer key

1. with, 2. to, 3. of, 4. in, 5. in 6. of, 7. on, 8. of, 9. on, 10. at, 11. in, 12. to, 13. on, 14. with, 15. of, 16. on, 17. in, 18. at, 19. at, 20. from


Other preposition homework

Try this preposition activity from the British council.


Activity two: ‘On’, ‘in’, ‘at’ for arrangements

Another common issue for students is when to you use ‘on’, ‘in’ and ‘at’ for scheduling a date. Well, here are the rules.

At

‘At’ is for festivals (Christmas, Easter and so on), events (a party, concert or conference), time (2pm, lunchtime) and the outside of a location you can see in its entirety (the airport, the cinema, the entrance to the park), the weekend and night.

On

‘On’ is for days, (11th, Tuesday, my birthday, Christmas day), floors in a building, planets and ‘on time’ – meaning the exact point in time.

In

‘In’ is for places you can’t see in their entirety (cities, countries, parks) as well as months, years and decades, seasons, morning, afternoon, evening, the future and a period of time (for example, let’s meet in time for Christmas).

Speaking practice: let’s meet

The tutor says four times, dates and places and the student must say the sentence again using the phrase ‘let’s meet’ and the correct prepositions. For example:

Tutor: ‘October, Paris, the Eiffel Tower, Christmas day’.

Student: ‘Let’s meet in October, in Paris, at the Eiffel Tower, on Christmas day.’

Other combinations
  • The conference, 5th floor, 2 pm, summer.
  • Tuesday, lunchtime, 2021, the park.
  • Night, April, your favourite restaurant, London.
  • The weekend, the beach, breakfast, winter.

Final thoughts

We hope that these prepositions prove useful for your classes and students. If we’ve missed any common verb + preposition mistakes please tell us about them in the comments below. Happy teaching!

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