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Beginner English: 10 most frequent English preposition mistakes (AUDIO, GIFs, and practice included)

Updated: Nov 11, 2022

Recommended level: Beginner / Intermediate

Learning how to use prepositions correctly in a second language can be a challenge. How we use (or don't use) prepositions in our second language is affected by our first language. Most of us try to translate and transfer the preposition usage from our first language because it feels right. Sometimes, this works, but there are cases where it doesn't.

Don't worry. This is a normal part of learning a language. However, common and frequent mistakes need to be addressed in the early stages of second language acquisition, so that they do not become fossilized errors (meaning, a permanent part of our second language usage).

That's what this page is about.

Hi! I'm Alex. I have been teaching English since 2008, and today, I'd like to help you with some preposition error prevention. This information is intended for beginner and intermediate students, but it can be a helpful review for advanced students, too. I hope you find it useful.

Here are the 10 most frequent preposition mistakes that beginner and intermediate English learners make.

Listen to

Incorrect: I didn’t listen my mother.

Correct: I didn't listen to my mother.

Use "listen to" if you want to say things like "I listen to music," "You're not listening to me," or "I like listening to the ocean." If you want to mention something or someone after the verb "listen", you need to say "listen to."

Practice: What kind of music do you like listening to? (Example answer: "I like listening to epic instrumental music.")

Depend on

Incorrect: It depends of the situation. / It depends the situation.

Correct: It depends on the situation.

In French and Spanish, "depend" is followed by "of." This is not the case in English. You must say "depends on." For example: "It depends on the person," "It depends on the weather," or "I depend on my parents." Also, if you want to use the verb "depend" by itself, you can say "It depends" (not "It's depend").

Practice: Whom did you depend on when you were a child? (Example Answer: "When I was a child, I depended on my mother.")

To + verb

Incorrect: I’m studying for get a better job.

Correct: I'm studying to get a better job.

If you want to say that you are doing something for the purpose of something else, you must use "to" followed by a base verb. These are called infinitives of purpose. Here are three more examples: "I need a car to get to work." "She joined a gym to improve her health." "I bought a grammar book to help me improve my English."

Practice: Why are you studying English? (Example answer: "I'm studying English to get a better job.")

Married to

Incorrect: He’s married with Martha.

Correct: He's married to Martha.

If you want to say that two people are married, as in the example above, the correct form is "X is married to Y." The words "marry" and "married" can be challenging. Here are some other common uses: "Are you married?" "When did you get married?" "We got married in 2011." "She married Katashi." "Margaret is married to Ulysses."

Practice: Think of someone in your family who is married. Whom are they married to? (Example answer: "My uncle Richard is married to my aunt Debbie.")

"For" vs. "During"

Incorrect: We stayed there during three days.

Correct: We stayed there for three days.

For specific durations of time, use "for." For example: "I have lived here for five years." "We stayed at the park for two hours." "We talked for a long time." Use "during" when you mention a specific event or period. For example, "I slept during the movie," "My mom called me during the game," or "Don't interrupt the teacher during class."

Practice: How many hours do you spend on your phone every day? (Example answer: "I'm on my phone for at least 3 hours every day.")

Possessive apostrophes vs. "of"

Incorrect: We visited the house of my mother.

Correct: We visited my mother's house.

Technically, there is nothing wrong with the first example. Any first language English speaker will understand what you mean. However, it is much more common to use possessive apostrophes when we talk about people. For example, my sister's dog, Frank's laptop, Didi's parents, his company's employees. The "of" possessive structure is more commonly used with official titles (the prime minister of Canada) or with non-human features (the colour of the wall). For people who posses something, use a possessive apostrophe.

Practice: In your opinion, what is your favourite band's or singer's best album? (Example answer: "I think Leonard Cohen's best album is Songs of Love and Hate."

Good at

Incorrect: I’m good in video games.

Correct: I'm good at video games.

If you are skilled at something, you are good at it. You can be good at guitar, good at speaking, good at a sport, or good at talking to people. You can also be great at, bad at, terrible at, or excellent at something. "Good in" exists in English, but it is used in different cases. For example, if you want to say that an actress performed well in a movie, you can say "Jodie Foster was good in Silence of the Lambs." Just remember to use "good at" to talk about your skill level at something.

Practice: What are you good at? (Example answer: "I'm good at swimming.")

Go home

Incorrect: I went to home.

Correct: I went home.

It's easy to understand why English learners make this mistake. "Go to" is a very common construction. You can go to a park, go to a party, go to work, or go to school. However, there is a group of words that do not use "go." "Home" is one of these words. Why? Because it refers to a general idea or location, not a physical place such as a building. In this case, "home" isn't a noun, but an adverb of place, similar to "there" or "here." Other places you can go include downtown, uptown, overseas, and abroad. You can also "get home" at a particular time, which means you arrive home at that time.

Practice: What time did you normally get home from school when you were a kid? (Example answer: "When I was a kid, I normally got home at 4pm.")

Enter a place

Incorrect: We entered to the building.

Correct: We entered the building.

"To enter" means to come or go into a place. For this reason, saying "enter to" is unnecessary: "to" is already implied in the word "enter." You can enter a room, enter a building, enter an office, enter a restaurant, enter university, enter a stadium, or enter an arena. Just don't say "enter to."

Practice: Who was the last person to enter your room? (Example answer: "The last person who entered my room was my brother.")

Been to / Been in

Incorrect: Have you ever been in Japan?

Correct: Have you ever been to Japan?

All English speakers should understand what you mean if you say you have been in a place. It makes sense. However, the more common and correct usage is "been to." Why? Look at this sentence: "I went in Chicago last year." This sentence is incorrect because you don't go in places--you go to places. So remember, if you want to mention cities, countries, or other places you have visited, use "I have been to." Note the examples: "I have never been to Disneyland." "Have you ever been to Florida?" "I have been to Egypt three times in my life."

Practice: Have you ever been to Canada? (Example answer: "Yes, I have been to Canada," or "No, I haven't been to Canada.")

Have you made any of these mistakes before? Let me know in the comments, and remember that it's okay to make mistakes. They are part of the learning process. By reading an article like this one, you can make better language choices in the future. Good luck!

Finally, if you would like to strengthen your English vocabulary, consider studying with one of my books. They are filled with practical English vocabulary that you will actually use. They are ideal for intermediate and upper intermediate students who want to take their English conversation skills to the next level.

Until next time, thanks for reading, and good luck with your studies.

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1 Comment

Jorge Hernández
Jorge Hernández
Oct 01, 2022

Hi Alex. Could you explain to me the difference between "to do" and "for doing'? Like, "I use this phone to make calls" vs "I use this phone for making phone calls". Are both ok? Thanks!

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