On the usage of the preposition in and its Spanish counterpart en

All languages have some grammatical features for which learners find extremely difficult to achieve a complete command. The English preposition in is one of them. I must admit that after spending over half of my life in Australia I still find myself in many situations in which I can’t decide exactly whether to use either the prepositions in or on when they are required especially in the written language.

I could say that I’m now able to use English in an equal footing to Spanish my mother tongue – except of course in relation to the ubiquitous in! The other day I decided to look up in an English grammar textbook of my university days to refresh my knowledge on this preposition, thinking that I would be able to find a complete set of usage rules in a brief manner. To my surprise and bewilderment I was presented with so many entries about it that for a moment I thought that whole book was only about this preposition.

After that I decided that I didn’t have the time or the will to pursue a way to get to know all I need to know in order to possess a complete grasp of this grammar feature. I was really put off by it. I have found that there are other more useful ways for my particular case, to become a better user of in. One of those ways is paying particular attention to the language used by journalists or broadcasters. In spite of this, it can be at real trial for me when it comes to making sure that I’m using in correctly in most instances.

May be a reform of the convoluted rules on the usage of the preposition in can be a very welcoming relief for second language speakers of English like me.

For the English speaking student learning Spanish as a second language, usually there is not any major problem in connection with the usage of en. Some of them think that is quite strange that Spanish doesn’t have a preposition with the exact meaning of on as they know it. I repeat to them over and over how lucky they are when I tell them about the uphill battle that speakers of English as a second language like me have to face in relation to the preposition in.

But then there is always por and para, two Spanish prepositions that most English speaking background students find very difficult to use, even when they have achieved a high level of proficiency. This seems to be a reverse situation in relation to the difficulties the Spanish speaking background users of English find for in. But this is material for another post.

P.S: I always welcome any advice on ways of enhancing the ability to use in:-)

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About L. A. Pinel

I'm the founder and Director of Tres Culturas Spanish Language Studio, a specialist Spanish language school in Melbourne, Australia. As a teacher of Spanish I view the study of issues about the nature of the Spanish language in particular and of applied linguistics in general with great passion. I’m also an avid language learner, my other languages are Italian, Portuguese and French; at the moment I'm studying Latin and Mandarin Chinese.

Posted on August 19, 2010, in Culture, Education, Foreign Language Learning, Language, Language learning, Learning Process, Second Language Learning, Spanish, Spanish Language Learning. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. You are welcome Yeni :-)

  2. You may say- the patient has a wound in his leg, not – a wound on his leg – but he may have a bruise on his leg, and not a bruise in his leg.

    You may say that the patient is lying on his bed, or if his bed is too wide for him or has bed rails to contain him then you may say that the patient is in his bed. You may also help a patient get into his bed.

    Same goes for a patient in a wheelchair or if it is was a regular chair then the patient may be sitting on a chair.

    A person that was born on May will of course celebrate his birthday in May. There appears to have no rules except by using these words like the way people in particular areas use them. Sometimes it just what sounds right to your ears.

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