Collocation Prepositions: Common Confusions

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Today, we’re going to be looking at 10 common collocation preposition mistakes that learners often make.

But before we go any further, let’s ensure we’re on the same page about what collocations and prepositions are.

Collocations are word combinations that frequently occur together to form meaningful expressions. Think of phrases like “burst into tears” or “pay attention”.

Prepositions, on the other hand, are small but important words that link nouns, pronouns, and phrases to other words in a sentence, indicating relationships, time, location, or direction. 

Some examples of prepositions are words like “in,” “at,” “on,” “of,” and “to”.

Whether you’re discussing preferences, expressing opinions, or narrating experiences, the correct usage of collocation prepositions is critical for clear and precise communication in English. Mixing them up can lead to some rather embarrassing misunderstandings and confusion, as I explain to you in this episode of the My English Matters podcast!

Listen to the episode here.

You can also listen to this episode on SpotifyApple Podcasts or Google Podcasts.

Here are the ten common collocation preposition mistakes discussed in the episode:

1. Saying “avoid to make” instead of “avoid making”

When using “avoid”, it’s important to follow it with a gerund (the -ing form of a verb). For example:

  • Instead of saying “avoid to make mistakes” it should be avoid making mistakes”.
  • Similarly, it’s avoid using public toilets” not “avoid to use public toilets”.

2. Using “discuss about” instead of “discuss the”

When discussing a specific topic, use “discuss the…” For example:

  • “Let’s discuss the agenda” is correct, while “Let’s discuss about the agenda” is incorrect.
  • Similarly, it’s “We discussed the upcoming project in the meeting this morning” not “We discussed about the upcoming project in the meeting this morning”.

3. Saying “emphasise on” instead of “emphasise the”

When highlighting importance, use “emphasise the…”, not “emphasise on the…” For instance:

  • It’s “She emphasised the need for punctuality” not “She emphasised on the need for punctuality”.
  • Similarly, it’s “I would like to emphasise the importance of effective communication in building strong relationships” not “I would like to emphasise on the importance of effective communication in building strong relationships”.

4. Confusing “at the end” with “in the end”

The phrases “at the end” and “in the end” have distinct meanings:

  • “At the end” is used for specifying a location, time, or conclusion. For example:
    • “We’ll meet at the end of the street.”
    • “We’ll meet at the end of the day to discuss the project.”

  • “In the end” refers to the final result or outcome of a situation, considering various factors or events. For instance:
    • “Despite all the obstacles, they succeeded in the end.”
    • In the end, his hard work paid off, and he secured the promotion.”

5. Using “harmful to” instead of “harmful for”

“Harmful to” is the preferred phrase for describing something with negative effects, indicating the direction of harm towards a person or entity.

For clarity and fluency, it’s commonly used over “harmful for”. For instance:

  • “Smoking is harmful to your health” is more natural than “smoking is harmful for your health”.

6. Saying “reason of” instead of “reason for”

“Reason for” is the correct phrase used to explain the cause, motive, or explanation behind a situation or action. It’s widely used in English and sounds natural to native speakers. For example:

  • We say “What is the reason for your absence?” rather than “What is the reason of your absence?”
  • Similarly, it’s “Can you explain the reason for your decision?” instead of “Can you explain the reason of your decision?”

7. Confusing “good at” with “good in”

“Good at” describes proficiency or skill in performing an activity, while “good in” refers to suitability within a specific context. For example:

  • “She is good at playing the piano” is correct, while “She is good in playing the piano” is incorrect.
    “He’s good in group projects” indicates proficiency in working within a group setting.

8. Saying “talking about” instead of “speaking of”

  • When using “talking about,” we discuss a topic in a general manner that has been mentioned or is currently being discussed. For instance:
    • “I was talking about my favourite books when you walked in.”

  • “Speaking of” is used to introduce a topic related to something previously mentioned. For example:
    • “She mentioned her trip to Paris. Speaking of travel, I’m planning a trip to Turkey next month.”

9. Using “need of” instead of “need for”

  • “Need for” expresses necessity or requirement in a situation, emphasising its importance. For instance:
    • “There is a need for more affordable housing” highlights the necessity of affordable housing options.
  • “Need of” is less common. It’s used to indicate a lack or requirement of something specific. For example:
    • “She is in need of financial assistance.”

10. Saying “possibility to” instead of “possibility of.”

“Possibility of” indicates the potential or likelihood of something happening, focusing on the probability of an event occurring.

It is never followed by an infinitive. For example:

  • “She acknowledged the possibility of being promoted if she continues to excel” is correct, while “She acknowledged the possibility to be promoted” is incorrect.

We hope you find the podcast episode helpful. Let us know what you think!

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We’re Azimah, Amnah and Aisya from Malaysia. We created My English Matters as an online platform to help people improve their English.

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