Session 7 ended with a promise to tackle those “troublesome tiny words in the English Language”. Here we go:

Basically, Prepositions are words that indicate direction, position, time, or location. Common prepositions include words like in, on, to, from, of, with, about, before, up, above, behind, down, near, through, upon, across, below after, beneath, off, within, against, beside, for, onto, without, along, between,  out, toward, among, beyond, under, around, inside, over, underneath, etc.

It’s usually easy to apply prepositions correctly or identify correct usage of prepositions.

E.g. On (surface) in, within (inside, contained by); without (outside, not including); round (surrounding, in a circle); toward (in the direction of, near, on the way to, headed for); at (next to, by the side of, by); by (near, through, via, in, next to) etc.

What is not so easy is to determine their correct usage when they occur with other words in a group, especially with verbs, to form Phrasal Verbs or in prepositional phrases. Consider the following and note the exceptions.

  1. Arrive + in: The team has arrived in Abuja (They are welcome)

NOT: The team has arrived at Abuja.

NOTE: In is normally used with big places like cities, states and countries. Hence:

They arrived in Nigeria. (Not at Nigeria)

They arrived in London. (Not at London)

They arrived in Lagos. (Not at Lagos)

At is used with specific places. Hence:

I’ll be at your shop.

I’ll be at the park.

Exception: In can also be used with a specific place if you mean specifically inside. Hence:

I will meet you at the Supermarket. (could be waiting outside)

Meet me in the Supermarket. (I will be inside)

For time:

At is used for a specific point in time: I’ll be there at 4:30 p.m.

In for a period of time: I’ll be there in 30 minutes. (counting from the current time)

  1. On + (day): The president said he would return on Friday

NOT: The president said he would return Friday.

NOTE: The absence of the preposition in the second sentence creates ambiguity (unclear meaning). Is the president returning Mr. Friday to his village?

  1. Converge + on: Chelsea fans converged on the stadium. (Soccer frenzy)

NOT: Chelsea fans converged in/at the stadium. (Picture bees on a fruit)

  1. Contribute + to: My wife contributed to my success. (Lucky man)

NOT: My wife contributed for my success.

Exception: My wife contributed for refreshments at the party. (Provided entirely for a particular item; not for the music or decorations)

  1. Participate + in: We participated in the seminar.

NOT:  We participated at the seminar.

We participate in and not at an activity.


However, participate is not tied to a particular preposition such as at or in. Like other verbs, the choice of preposition depends more on what commonly goes with the rest of the prepositional phrase or object, and not on the verb.


Everyone will participate in the building project.

I would like to participate at the 1 million Naira donors’ level.

My wife wants to participate with me.

We shall participate through our Foundation.

  1. Continent + on: A lot is happening on the continent. (Standard usage)

NOT: A lot is happening in the continent.

NOTE: On is used when the preposition precedes (comes before) continent.

In is used when the name of the specific continent is mentioned.


A lot is happening in Europe. (Not on Europe)

Lord Lugard lived in Africa. Not Lord Lugard lived on Africa. (Except as a parasitic colonial master, which is another matter)

  1. Accused + of: He was accused of lying (Lie, lie!)

NOT: He was accused for lying. (Pidgin)

  1. Acquaint + with: Get acquainted with one another. (In the spirit of Valentine)

NOT: Get acquainted to one another.

ALSO: Familiar with, furnish with, conversant with.

  1. Provide + for: The First Lady provided clothes for the orphans. (Kind Mama)

NOT: The First Lady provided clothes to the orphans.

BUT: The First Lady gave clothes to the orphans. (Directly)

  1. Comprise +of: Omar’s family comprises his wife and nine children. (Soccer team!)

NOT: Omar’s family comprises of his wife and nine children.

HOWEVER, is comprised of is accepted as standard usage depending on the context. When used in the ACTIVE voice, COMPRISE is not followed by OF but when used in the PASSIVE voice, COMPRISE is followed by OF.


Omar’s family comprises his wife and nine children. (ACTIVE)

Omar’s family is comprised of  his wife and nine children. (PASSIVE)

Semantically, both sentences are synonymous. They both mean Omar’s family is made up of….

More on ACTIVE and PASSIVE voice later.

Composed + of: This, as well as consist + of, also means is made up of. You may use either of these expressions to avoid the ‘controversy’ associated with comprises/comprised of. Therefore:

  1. Omar’s family consists of Omar, his wife and nine children.

BUT NOT: Omar’s family consists Omar, his wife and nine children.

  1. Omar’s family is composed of Omar, his wife and nine children.

BUT NOT: Omar’s family composes Omar, his wife and nine children.

NOTE ALSO that comprises, consists of, and is composed of are not synonymous with includes. The difference is that comprises or consists of or is composed of lists everything while includes lists less than everything.


Esan North East Local Government Area comprises/consists of/is composed of Uromi and Uzea. (Both components listed).

Esan North East Local Government Area includes Uzea. (Only one component listed out of two).

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  1. Comment: Once again, it’s a good job. May I add to this rich lesson by observing that some people use “on” and “off” as verbs. For example, on the generator or off the light. Second, “at” and “about” cannot coexist when we talk about time — at 4 p.m. or about 4 p.m., not “at about 4 p.m.” Finally, the preposition “under” is misused by some writers when they refer to political parties and their candidates. We often hear that John is contesting an election UNDER (instead of ON) the platform of the APC.


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