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This manual is intended for use by students working alone or as supplementary drill material in a class. The level of difficulty is intermediate. It is assumed that the student has control of the basic grammatical structures of the language but has not attained great fluency. This book and its companion volume (The Key to English Prepositions 2) are designed to acquaint the learner of English with as many as possible of the most useful grammatical patterns and idioms involving prepositions in everyday English. Usages that are restricted to formal or oratorical style have been omitted except where they have been included to point out a contrast.
What is a Preposition?
In English, prepositions are an important class of function words. By "function word" we mean one that has little meaning in the dictionary sense, but whose main purpose in the language is to relate other words to each other and to form grammatical structures. The function of prepositions in English is to connect nouns (and noun-likeconstructions) to other parts of the sentence. They do, of course, have some inherent meaning (on the table is quite different from under the table; on usually means "resting on the upper surface of" and under usually means "lower than"), but we shall see that we can not always depend on logic or meaning to tell us which preposition must be used in which expression. For instance, we live at an address, in a house, on a street, and in a city. There is quite a difference between throwing something at someone and throwing it to someone; and to get along with someone and to get along without someone are not opposites but entirely different ideas. It is impossible to speak or understand English well without a good knowledge of the use and meaning of prepositions, and this knowledge cannot be acquired from the dictionary; it must be gained in practice and experience. A prepositional phrase consists of the preposition and its following noun (or noun-like construction). If a form that looks like a preposition does not have a noun after it, it is not a preposition in that sentence. For instance, by can be used in phrases like by John, by the man, by studying French, by him, by now. In each case it is a preposition. However, in the sentence "He went by," there is no noun following, and by is an adverb.
Prepositions Are Small But Important Words
Most prepositions are short words, and they are almost always spoken with weak stress in the sentence. The listener has to be alert for them. Nevertheless, these little words carry important elements of meaning, as we have seen. They express such ideas as location, destination, direction of motion, time, manner, agent, and many others. There are about fifty words in English that function as prepositions. Some of the most common are of, in, on, by, to, at, from, and with. There are also many two-and three-word prepositions, such as out of, because of, according to, in front of, and the like. Words like but, except, and concerning, which often function as other classes of words, can also be prepositions. When the learner is practicing the sentences in this book, he must be careful not to stress the prepositions, but must always say them with their normal weak stress.
How This Book Is Organized
The material in this book is organized into six units of unequal length, each consisting of one or more lessons. The units are arranged according to the ideas expressed by the prepositions in various contexts. The same preposition often occurs in more than one unit. For example, at is in Units 1, 2, and 3; by is in all of the first four; and so on. Each unit is designed as an independent entity. Neither the content nor the difficulty of the units in sequence is cumulative. The vocabulary has not been rigorously controlled, and for that reason the student may need a bilingual dictionary along with this book, but in general the vocabulary is on the intermediate level. The book presents the most basic and frequently encountered meanings of the common prepositions, though it does not claim to be exhaustive. For further information on prepositions, the learner is referred to The Key to English Prepositions 2, which presents several hundred idiomatic uses of prepositions, organized according to the choice of preposition following certain constructions (suspicious of, delighted at, aware of) or preceding certain nouns (on a hopeful note). The lessons include short expository statements and lists of idioms, but the bulk of the material is designed to teach the prepositions in context. Sometimes the context consists of a single sentence, but there are also consecutive reading selections and short conversations. There are exercises of various kinds and several tests that can be used as check-ups.