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Talking about movement

Nope, not verbs. Prepositions, again! I could go on forever about them, there are so many things to explain, but today we're focusing only on prepositions of movement. These are often interchanged with prepositions of place, but they shouldn't be! Hopefully this post helps you understand why, because it's a common mistake that most ESL learners make more than once, and understandably so!

 

The difference between place and movement


This post will be short-ish, because pictures speak louder than words, so check out the picture at the end of the post to see an illustration of all the prepositions you can use to talk about movement. Here I'm going to focus on how they are extremely different from prepositions of place and how to not fall into the trap of confusing them (and the person you're talking to!).


Basically, the best way to remember which type of preposition to use is to decide which of the following questions you are answering:

Where + to be + subject?

Where + to be + subject + going?

​Where is Ben?


To answer this question, we need a preposition of place, because we want to know the current location of Ben.

Ben is on the bus. Ben is in the park. Ben is at work. Ben is under the table (why Ben?!).

Where is Ben going?

To answer this question, we need a preposition of movement, because we want to know about Ben's movement, perhaps from place to place, not where he is exactly at this moment.


Ben is getting onto the bus. Ben is walking through the park. Ben is going into the office. Ben is jumping over the table (again, why Ben?!).


If you are still in doubt, it often helps to ask yourself if the subject of your sentence is capable of moving (by itself, without you picking it up and moving it). For example, which of these two sentences do you think is the correct response to the question:

Where are the cookies?

The cookies are in the jar.

The cookies are into the jar.


If you said sentence 1, you're correct. Where are the cookies? IN the jar. The cookies are not capable of moving themselves, so we just want to know about their current location.

Just for sh*ts and giggles though, let's analyze one more sentence:


What are you doing with the cookies?

I'm putting them in the jar.

I'm putting them into the jar.


If you said sentence 2 you're correct. But sentence 1 is also correct.


*your brain explodes*


Sorry, but this is English. The second first sentence shows their location, and the second sentence shows that they are moving from one place to another (obviously with the help of someone else). Both are valid situations.

 

So what I want you to take away from this post is that you cannot replace a preposition of place (in) with a preposition of movement (into), but sometimes, for example with the prepositions in/on and into/onto, it's okay to substitute those of movement with those of place. Don't hate me, I didn't invent English, I just try to explain it to people 😅. Leave your questions in the comments!


 

Glossary

  • to go on forever [about something]: an informal way to say "to be able to talk about something A LOT".

  • understandably so: just a fancy yet informal way to say "and it's completely understandable"

  • to be in doubt: an expression to say that you don't completely understand a topic or argument

  • sh*ts and giggles: informal, slang and obviously not PG-13 to say, "just because", or "just for the heck of it" - this means to do or say something extra, in this case -perhaps it wasn't necessary for your audience to understand the point, but you want to add some extra info

  • to take away [from something]: phrasal verb - in this specific case it means to gain knowledge or information from something, usually a speech, film, book, presentation or lecture.


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