Why Russians Fail in Learning English Prepositions

Jane Kozhevnikova
3 min readApr 14, 2020

“I am in home right now.” “Whaaat? 😑

To continue the previous article about Why Russians Fail in Learning English and this article discusses issues with English prepositions.

Prepositions exist in Russian and we use them a lot without paying attention to them. I do not remember whether it was hard to learn them or not, because teachers gave this material at elementary school. I do not remember even the way we were learning them. It could be helpful right now. Some Russian prepositions are hard to explain, such as why we use one instead of the other. The same is in English.

There’s no rule about which one you can use with a specific combination of words. (Admit it).

Of course, sometimes you can just translate or find an equivalent.

For example, on the table is the same for both languages, it means on the surface. However, English in winter is not equal to a Russian word. We do not use the same word combination to describe that something happened in winter, we change the form of the word winter. (Most common. In some cases it can be translated as in a winter period).

From time to time, I run into a bunch of problems with choosing prepositions because a word-by-word translation was not always possible, and it was unclear which word combination I should use. There can be two or more convenient prepositions for expression but the overall meaning of a sentence is slightly different for each of them.

My last issue was about which preposition I needed to use with the word “program”.

From the context: we needed to fill the database with rows and we were going to perform that action by/with/via a program. I had several ideas which preposition to use:

  • `by` means the program does an action;
  • `with` has a meaning of using a program to do an action;
  • `via` means by use of a program we do an action.

So, the meanings are almost the same and I decided to rewrite this sentence without using any of these prepositions to make it clear. (Ta-da-da 🥴).

However, prepositions can drastically change the overall meaning of a sentence.

  • I went here during the summer. [I went here at one point in the summer.]
  • I went here for the summer. [I went here from the beginning to the end of summer.]

I think, there is one possible way to tame English prepositions: read a lot, pay attention to word combinations and context.

I would like to add some commonly used prepositions which you should memorise as you memorised prepositions in your native language:

  • on Monday (weekdays)
  • in January (months)
  • in winter (seasons)
  • at night/ at/on the weekend/ at half past three
  • since yesterday
  • for 2 years/days/hours/minutes/
  • from Monday until/to Wednesday
  • a book by [an author]
  • talking about you
  • on foot / on horseback / get on the bus
  • through the tunnel
  • on the left/ on the bus/ on the plane/ on TV/ on radio
  • at the table/at a concert/at the party/ at the cinema/ at the school/at work
  • in the picture/in the world/in the car/in a taxi/in the book

English prepositions are hard and most of them do not have any equivalents in Russian. Read real English texts and pay attention to the word combinations. May the Force be with you.