LINGUIST List 4.677

Thu 09 Sep 1993

Sum: English Prepositions

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  1. Denni Chiavarini, Summary of Preposition Query

Message 1: Summary of Preposition Query

Date: Fri, 3 Sep 1993 10:35:28 ESummary of Preposition Query
From: Denni Chiavarini <DJC100GODUVM.bitnet>
Subject: Summary of Preposition Query

First I want to thank the 80 people who responded to my query. I
did not expect such a large response and therefore it has taken a
little longer to do this summary than I anticipated.

Many of you who responded added comments to your responses. Due to
the length of the query itself and the number of comments, I have
decided not to include the them in this summary. If you are
interested in reading the comments, I will be glad to forward them
directly to you upon request.

I would like to make a few general remarks about the comments,
however. Many people made comments concerning the grammatical
aspects of some of the sentences. I want to remind everyone that
the sentences were taken from free writing samples of students
learning English as a second language (and yes they were Spanish-
speakers, Dave!). I tried not to change them too much when
corrections were needed to make them intelligible. Obviously, from
some of the comments, people felt that even after my minor
adjustments they were still unintelligible (particularly numbers 25
and 42). However, less than 15% of those responding made comments
to that effect which means that over 85% of the respondents could
deal with them as they were written. I think Jim Jewett said best
what many of you wanted to say and in the end did exactly what I
wanted all of you to do. He wrote: "I did have some trouble,
because often I wanted to reword the entire sentences (and
sometimes wasn't sure what they wanted to say). By simply
accepting the sentence at all, I lower my threshold, so that I am
more likely to be concerned with understanding than with proper
speech. (Let alone proper writing.)
The question which had the most comments was 14, which did not
define "Fort Story" and people felt they needed different
prepositions based on whether it was a town, building, actual fort,
etc. (Just so you know, it is a military base here in VA Beach.)
Other sentences frequently commented about were 6, 8, and 10, all
of which had two verbs that people felt needed two prepositions.
In addition, there were numerous comments about baseball going into
"extra innings" instead of "overtime" and whether "spilled (spilt)"
is more appropriate than "dropped" milk (things we ESL teachers
tend to ignore, especially when our focus is on the problem of
teaching prepositions).

As you will see from the choices of prepositions for each sentence,
native speakers do use prepositions differently and this was what
I wanted to know. Many people complained about lack of context but
that too was part of my purpose. Prepositions can change the
meanings of sentences, as many of you pointed out when you listed
your choices. Out-of-context interpretation was part of my
objective. It was most interesting to see how many people went
with only one response when several (or more) were possible. It
was also interesting to see different interpretations of the same
sentence by the use of various prepositions.

My thesis started out to be a simple exploration of ESL student's
misuse of English prepositions order to determine if there were
consistencies in the misuses that might help develop more effective
ways to teach prepositions. There is little pedagogy on
prepositions alone and students are mostly advised to memorize
their uses. After the research I have done, I not only realize
why this is true, but also that it is almost an impossible task.
Just looking at the responses and comments of educated native
speakers, many of whom I assume have extensive backgrounds in the
study of the English language, it is easy to see why a non-native
speaker has so many problems: we can use prepositions quite
arbitrarily in some cases but in others, which preposition we use
may be critical to the meaning of the sentence.

Unfortunately, there did not seem to be much correlation between
regions where people have lived and their choices. Someone
included their parents background and I'm sure this plays some part
in choices. Then there are friends, associates, colleagues, etc.
and their parents and places of residence that probably make some
contribution. In other words, I realized that it will take more
than just a list of the places they have lived to determine why
individuals use the prepositions they do. Regardless of why people
use the prepositions they do, I hope you will find the following
summary as interesting as I did.


(X = no preposition needed)

1. My parents lived ___________ me in Puerto Rico but then they
 moved to New York.
 with next to near by beside across from next door to
 69 8 6 3 3 3 2

 opposite behind around above under without for before
 2 2 1 1 1 1 1 1

 instead of as no answer
 1 1 1

2. ....and begin to put their energies _________achieving
 positive goals.
 into in towards toward
 72 1 5 7

3. They are not ready to decide_________their own.
 on no answer
 79 1

4. The students are concentrating_______ their education.
 on in spite of upon
 80 1 1

5. We must take all factors _______ consideration.
 into under
 80 2

6. Is the student puzzled or confident __________what is being
 about with of at in over concerning as to
 76 5 4 2 1 1 1 1

 no answer

7. I am sure no one is going to give anyone anything ________ a
 silver platter.
 on for except but like
 76 2 1 1 2

8. The use of solar systems can replace gasoline and reduce
 pollution__________ cars.
 from by in of due to no answer
 62 22 14 1 1 1

9. If we are to succeed ________this research.......
 in with at through
 73 41 3 1

10. We don't have to worry about an embargo or a cutoff _______
 the supply of oil.
 of in to on for from with no answer
 61 18 3 4 2 1 1 4
11. I like to get presents, especially my birthday.
 on for near after
 77 29 1 1

12. She made a cake _______ me.
 for with without of no answer
 80 16 1 1 1

13. I am always thinking__________ her.
 of about for on
 64 62 4 1

14. I lived _______ Fort Story for one year.
 at in near by on behind around beside
 78 5 4 5 4 1 1 1

15. It was not unusual to see people in wigs because ________that
 time people wore wigs a lot.
 at during in about around throughout
 78 15 8 1 1 1

16. I was working __________an unemployment agency.
 for at in with through near
 62 59 35 14 2 1

17. When people put their index finger ______their face........
 on to in above up to below in front of
 47 33 14 2 5 1 3

 against next to onto toward no answer
 2 1 2 1 3

18. My parents are worried _______ me.
 about for over by X
 80 12 2 2 1

19. They help me __________everything.
 with on in at for despite in spite of
 80 2 4 2 1 1 1

20. I am going to tell you about my family. I will begin ________
 with by
 80 1

21. Taking their backgrounds __________ consideration....
 into for under
 79 1 4

22. Water combined _______ oil can cause problems.
 with into(archaic) no answer
 79 1 1

23. I don't believe in abortion as the solution _______the problem.
 to for of
 79 11 2

24. When I first arrived________ this country......
 in at
 80 1

25. I am going to compare it based _______the old people of Costa
 Rica and the United States.
 on upon with no answer
 76 7 1 1

26. Also, it is a vice ________which smokers spend a large amount
 of money each year.
 on for in upon through
 73 13 5 3 1

27. I got married __a___ 1977 and I went to live __b__ a small city
 in the northwest of Spain.
(a) in during around after about before (b) in near
 80 1 1 1 1 1 80 6

28. ...but _______the other hand....

29. The World Series baseball game went _______ overtime yesterday.
 into X to no answer
 72 5 2 1

30. Later, I am going to an activity _______my church.
 at with for of in through
 78 7 5 3 5 1

31. In the U.S., there were no women doctors___________1846.
 until in before after during as of by
 25 63 30 3 1 1 1

 around till
 1 1

32. All the children bring candy to school to share _________the
 other children.

33. Every night I watch news and sports________TV.

34. We arrived____a___ New York Airport, ___b_____ the United
 States,___c____December 1978.
 (a) at in at the in the (b) in X (c) on in X
 77 8 2 1 80 1 42 40 1

35. I got a job ______ New York City twelve days after we arrived.
 in near from for
 80 1 1 1

36. I like this country because the people are great________ me.
 to with for towards
 78 3 2 1

37. ....because all of us laughed_________my jokes.
 at with over
 80 1 1

38. ...when a student is copying the answer _________ the student
 next to him and the teacher sees him.
 from of off off of for with no answer
 66 20 8 3 3 1 1

39. When she dropped milk __________the table........
 on under from beside off onto off of by
 78 5 3 2 5 13 4 1

 off from from off at next to all over unto beneath
 1 1 1 1 1 1 1

40. He is__________the seventh grade.

41. The teacher should not deprive the disabled student ________
 that right.
 of from X up?
 78 2 2 1

42. They shouldn't continue hanging________ thoughts associated
 with the "good old days."
 onto on to on over to about through for out no answer
 48 10 7 1 1 1 1 1 2 10

43. The U.S. should look _______ the rest of the world and learn
 about regulated health care.
 at to around toward after
 68 36 1 2 2

44. She got married_______ him last year.
 to with no answer

 76 3 2
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