Acadia English Blog

Learn English Prepositions with Photos

Who is the English language student’s enemy number 1?


Acadia Center intensive English course students on top of Mt. Battie in Camden Hills State Park.

Acadia Center intensive English course students on top of Mt. Battie in Camden Hills State Park.

Prepositions are small but pugnacious, refusing to fade into the background.

Prepositions laugh at translation (that’s laugh at, not laugh with, because it’s not a friendly laugh). Depende de in Spanish. De = of or from in English. So, it depends of the context, right? Wrong. It depends on the context.

The choice of preposition can be based on the word before and the word(s) after. You work in an area of expertise, for a company, with colleagues, and on a project. You work, for example, in pyrotechnics, for Up in Smoke, with your fellow pyrotechnicians, and on the Great American Fourth of July fireworks display.

Prepositions depend on other words for meaning, and yet, in what are known as phrasal verbs, if you change the preposition, you totally change the meaning of the verb that precedes it. Sadly, when it comes to (talking about, referring to) prepositions, no one has yet come up with (invented) a magic spell to instantly know them all, or come across (find, often when not actively searching for something) a secret key to unlocking their mysteries.

Prepositions are proudly defiant of our awkward attempts to master them, like wild mustangs.

So how do we learn them?

There are only two types of prepositions that can be easily corralled by grammar: prepositions of place and time, and prepositions of transportation (stay tuned for future blog posts). The rest is vocabulary!

Acadia Center student at helm of schooner Olad in Camden, Maine.

Acadia Center student at helm of schooner Olad in Camden, Maine.

And what is the best way to learn vocabulary? Not from a list. Leafing through several pages in the dictionary trying to learn all the phrasal verbs using the word get will get you nothing but sad, mad, and bewildered. Much better to learn them in context, reading (or listening to) things of interest to you, and observing how prepositions are used in the real world.

To illustrate, let’s look at six selections from one of The Guardian’s gallery of amazing photos from around the world, and see how prepositions – free spirits that they are – roam into and around the captions.

Mumbai, India: Rose petals and coloured powder are showered on a huge idol of the elephant-headed Hindu god Lord Ganesha during the 11-day Ganesh festival.

On can have the physical meaning of on top of.
Of follows the idea of representation as in a picture of, a copy of, etc.
During with an event: during the concert, during the meeting. Use for, not during, with a time period: We stayed there during for two weeks.

Kunming, China: A butterfly perches on a boy’s face at a butterfly exhibition.

On: the physical meaning of on the surface of something.
At: during is also possible with an event, but during can emphasize something of relatively short duration (like the shower of powder in the first photo) occurring in the context of an event of much longer duration (an 11-day festival). For another example, see the use of during Catalan elections in the next caption.

Barcelona, Spain: A dog waits outside a booth at a polling station during Catalan elections. Pro-secession parties say they will push for independence within 18 months if they win a majority in the 165-seat parliament.

Outside: Opposite of inside the booth, where the dog’s owner is voting.
At: A specific geographical location.
For: The go-to preposition for purpose or objective.
Within: No longer than. To indicate the maximum time period from now into the future.
In: In a group.

Fribourg, Switzerland: Guillaume Rolland, a professional mountaineer, balances on a highline on top of the Moleson mountain at 2,000 metres above sea level.

On: Physical meaning (see above).
On top of: Physical meaning.
At: For a specific point on a scale, as in Water freezes at 0 degrees Celsius.
Above: Above and its opposite below are used for numbers on a vertical scale.

Brussels, Belgium: A statue is silhouetted against a supermoon.

Against: Indicates contrast or opposition.

Zhodino, Belarus: Up to his eyes in muddy water, a man takes part in an extreme run competition.

Up to: As high as.
In: Physically inside a substance (muddy water), or in an event with the emphasis more on participation than time.

English Immersion in Maine: Perspective Québec

Old Orchard Beach – for many, many generations of French speakers from the province of Québec, those three foreign-sounding words have meant sun, surf, sand, fried food, and fun family holidays on the beautiful coast of Maine. Beginning as long ago as 1842, even before there was a train connection between Maine and points south like Boston and New York, the Grand Trunk Railway was bringing summer visitors from Montréal to Maine’s beaches.

Today Old Orchard Beach is as popular as ever with visitors from all over Québec, and French speakers are also starting to discover a small English language institute further up the coast that combines uniquAcadia Center English immersion students from Quebec and Italy.e English language immersion courses with the kind of outdoors fun Québecers have long associated with Maine.

Only five hours by car from Québec City or Trois-Rivières and six hours from Montréal, Acadia Center’s home town of Camden is closer than Toronto for most Québecers.

The beaches are more rugged and rocky north of Portland, Maine, but our students from Québec love the beauty and friendly hospitality of this part of Maine’s Atlantic coast.

Acadia Center English student from Montreal on excursion at Maiden Cliff in Camden, Maine, USA.Click on the video at the top of this post to watch a video interview with Marc-André, a health and safety management consultant and author from Trois-Rivières, Québec, who explains how Acadia Center helped him learn the everyday conversation and business communication skills he needs for his work.

Lobstering in Maine

Acadia Center English student holding a Maine lobster on the Lively Lady tour in Camden.A trip to Maine is not complete without a freshly steamed lobster dinner. And one of the many ways that Acadia Center for English Immersion students get to know more about life in our small town community on Maine’s rocky coast is by learning about lobsters and lobster fishing.

One popular excursion is to the museum at Marshall Point in Port Clyde and the Port Clyde lobster buoy exhibit at Marshall Point Lighthouse museum.lighthouse made famous by Tom Hanks in the film Forest Gump.

In summer, students also take a cruise on the M/V Lively Lady out of our home port of Camden, and see what it’s like to haul a lobster trap.

Not the way to eat a lobster...Check out the current issue of The Maine Thing Quarterly for an in-depth look at lobstering today, including an interview with a lobster fisherman.


Writing: The Best Way to Improve Grammar and Vocabulary in English

conversationHave you ever cornered a native English speaker and begged her or him to correct you every time you make a mistake in English?

If you have, the experience was probably highly frustrating for both of you.

During an online lesson or an immersion course, a good teacher can take notes on the mistakes a student makes in conversation and later, after the student has talked for a while, explain what was wrong and how to correct it.

But if the native English speaker constantly interrupts the English learner, the conversation will soon grind to a halt, and nothing valuable will be learned. The natural flow and rhythm of a conversation just does not allow for frequent stops and starts.

A Man Writing a Letter, by Gabriel MetsuHowever, put what you have to say in writing, and it’s a completely different story. Now teacher and student have time to examine, together, all the small differences between how the student says something in English and how a native speaker of English would say the same thing. This is the surest way to really make progress with the English you produce, whether in writing or speaking.

To see the power of this kind of close examination in action, let’s look at a few paragraphs of an essay by one of our English immersion course students, an essay about the phenomenon of e-mail. The student’s English level is high (she is a native Spanish speaker), and there is no problem at all with clarity, with understanding what she is saying.

Nevertheless, using language in an idiomatic way – in the natural way of a native speaker – is challenging, even for advanced students. At Acadia Center, students expect us to be picky and exacting – after all, how else can you become truly confident that you are expressing yourself in English the way you want to?

In the student’s essay copied below, words to be added are in bold, with changes explained after each paragraph.

The electronic mail, known as e-mail, was invented by Shiva Ayyadurai. He was 14 years old when he started to work on the project at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. His project was converted a memorandum into the computer system.”

Electronic mail, known as e-mail, was invented by Shiva Ayyadurai. He was 14 years old when he started to work on the project at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. His project was to convert the transmission method of memos from manual to electronic.”

Delete the definite article the before the phrase electronic mail. This is a common trouble spot for Spanish speakers, since a translation into Spanish would call for a definite article here. In English, if you are speaking of something in general terms and using an uncountable noun, no article should be used.

His project was converted… To express purpose or objective, use the infinitive form, not a verb in a verb tense.

“He received his patent of the system until 2004 and the copyright on 1984.”

“He copyrighted his system in 1984 but did not receive a patent for it until 2004.”

Patent is followed by the preposition for.

Use the preposition in when referring to anything more general than a day or date. Use at for a specific time (at 8 am), and on for a day or date (on Wednesday, on September 8).

The student was right to use the preposition until to emphasize the surprise in the fact that it took Ayyadurai so long to get his patent; however, the verb used with until needs to be in the negative. If the verb is positive, it becomes a simple statement of fact, without the emphasis on surprise, and the preposition used would be in rather than until.

“Actually the e-mail is one of the most important means of communication on business and in personal life. We can have contact with all people around the world immediately. Before we used to send letter written by hand by courier, it was very slow way to be in touch with someone. We didn’t often use the phone because this service was very expensive.”

Now e-mail is one of the most important means of communication in business and in personal life. We can have contact with everyone around the world immediately. Before we used to send hand-written letters by courier; it was a very slow way to be in touch with someone. We didn’t often use the phone because this service was very expensive.”

Another very common mistake by Spanish speakers, who understandably assume that actually in English and actualmente in Spanish must mean the same thing since they look so similar. Actually in English is used to state a fact, often in the form of a correction – for example, “You lived in Peru, didn’t you?” “Actually it was Colombia.” To say that something is true now, in the present, use now or currently as adverbs and current as an adjective.

Instead of using all with people and things in general, we usually prefer to use everyone or everybody, not all people, and everything, not all things, except in certain fixed idioms such as all things being equal…

In is the preposition to use for an area or aspect of something, e.g. in business and in personal life.

“The e-mail help us to be efficient in work. I usually receive an average of 20 mails per day. I need to reply them and work on the tasks related of these e-mails. Sometimes I expend one hour just writing an e-mail because I double check the grammar to make me look good.”

“E-mail helps us be efficient in work. I usually receive an average of 20 e-mails per day. I need to reply to them and work on the tasks related to these e-mails. Sometimes I spend one hour just writing an e-mail because I double check the grammar to make me look good.”

Help is an unusual verb in that it can be followed by either a verb in the infinitive (to be), as here, or by a verb in the base form (be). E-mail helps us be efficient (leaving out the infintive marker to) would probably sound more natural to a native English speaker, following the principle that shorter is better.

Before the invention of electronic mail, mail was almost always an uncountable noun, which meant that you could talk about letters and packages in the plural but not mails. For the word mail by itself, that still holds true. But e-mail can be either uncountable or countable depending on the context. In e-mail helps us to be efficient, e-mail is used in the general sense and is uncountable; in I get 20 e-mails a day it’s countable and can be plural. In short, say e-mails or messages, not mails.

After reply, use to. After answer, no preposition is used – reply to the message, answer the message.

After relate or related, use to, not of or with.

Use the verb spend with time and money. Expend is used more with the word energyhe expended so much energy setting up the climbing rope that he had to take a rest before continuing the ascent.

I want to emphasize that even before the edits, this was an excellently written essay. But even an advanced English student can benefit from a close look at the small details. That’s the best way for intermediate or advanced students to raise their English to the next level, and that’s why at Acadia Center, when it comes to the small details and differences, we try hard to be picky!

Learn English through Classic Songs: They All Laughed

Written by brothers George and Ira Gershwin for the 1937 film Shall We Dance, the famous song They All Laughed has been covered by so many great singers, it won’t be easy to choose your favorite: the original version with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers? Or Frank Sinatra? Sarah Vaughan? Ella Fitzgerald, Stacey Kent, or a duet of Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga?

The classic song revolves around the idiom to have the last laugh, which means to succeed when others think you will not. In the intro, the singer strikes a defiant pose against the pessimists who predict his/her budding romance doesn’t stand a chance.

The lyrics, courtesy of Wikipedia:


The odds were a hundred to one against me
The world thought the heights were too high to climb
But people from Missouri never incensed me
Oh, I wasn’t a bit concerned
For from history I had learned
How many, many times the worm had turned

Odds refers to how likely it is that something will or will not happen. In a race like the Kentucky Derby, if the odds on a particular horse are 100-1, the horse is considered a long shot and very unlikely to win.

Incensed, here a verb but usually used as an adjective, means to make someone very angry.

The idiom the worm has turned, originally used by Shakespeare to suggest that even the most harmless of creatures will fight to defend itself, evokes again the idea of expectations upended.

In the first verse, the narrator compares herself/himself to famous inventors and explorers (click on the links for more information) who proved the doubters and skeptics wrong.

1st verse

They all laughed at Christopher Columbus when he said the world was round
They all laughed when Edison recorded sound
They all laughed at Wilbur and his brother when they said that man could fly
Why, they told Marconi wireless was a phoney – it’s the same old cry
Why they laughed at me, wanting you – said I was reaching for the moon
But oh, you came through – and now they’ll have to change their tune
They all said we’d never get together – they laughed at us and how
For oh, ho, ho – Who’s got the last laugh now?

Changing a preposition can have a powerful effect on meaning: to laugh with someone means to share one’s amusement with another, and the tone is friendly; to laugh at someone is to mock them, and the tone is distinctly unfriendly.

Phoney (also spelled phony) means fake, or in this context worthless.

Cry is used here in the sense of shout rather than weep.

To reach for the moon is to try to attain the unattainable.

To come through is a phrasal verb meaning to succeed despite the difficulties.

To change your tune is to voice an opinion contrary to your previous opinion.

The second and final verse lists a series of inventions (and an architectural project) that were mocked when new.

2nd verse

They all laughed at Rockefeller Center – now they’re fighting to get in
They all laughed at Whitney and his cotton gin
They all laughed at Fulton and his steamboatHershey and his chocolate bar
Ford and his Lizzie kept the laughers busy – that’s how people are
Why they laughed at me, wanting you – said it would be “Hello – Goodbye”
But oh, you came through – and now they’re eating humble pie
They all said we’d never get together – darling, let’s take a bow
For oh, ho, ho, Who’s got the last laugh –
Hee, hee, hee, Let’s have the last laugh –
Ha, ha, ha, Who’s got the last laugh now?

To eat humble pie is an old-fashioned idiom describing an apologetic, chastened, and somewhat humiliated attitude. Here, the idea is that the gossips who thought this couple’s romance was doomed should now be embarrassed.

To take a bow is to acknowledge applause and admiration, and that’s exactly what Fred and Ginger do at the end of their elegant and fast-footed dance number in Shall We Dance.

Business Communication: Acadia Center Seminar

Business communication – in e-mails, presentations, conference calls, meetings, and social media – has been the subject of a series of business English seminars for Acadia Center for English Immersion students, offered by business executive and university business instructor Larrain Slaymaker.

Acadia Center for English Immersion students with business English seminar leader Larrain Slaymaker.Larrain has extensive experience working for both small businesses and multi-national corporations and as an entrepreneur. She has taught business administration at the university level, and she has taught English in China.

“When we communicate in a professional environment, we need to be clear and concise,” said Larrain in describing the focus of her seminars. “But how do we do this? How do we decide how to say something?  How do we know we are listening and reading effectively?  Cross cultural communications, business styles, vernacular, acronyms and a variety of business environments all add to the challenges of professional communications.”

Seminar discussions have included strategies for improving writing ability, people skills, and the capacity to think critically and strategically in English.

Business English seminar at Acadia Center.“Seminar participants include a health and safety management consultant from Quebec, an accountant from Mexico, and a supermarket executive from Colombia,” said Acadia Center director Brian Boyd, “and they all have benefited from Larrain’s tips on such subjects on the importance of tone and clarity in e-mails. They have also really enjoyed her interactive games and role-playing that allow for plenty of practice with the new vocabulary and idioms she is teaching.”


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Register now for an intensive English course in Camden, Maine.English immersion course teacher with student from Quebec in Acadia Center garden.