239. Prepositions: Verb Collocations

In the last episode I attempted to explain ways that prepositions are used in English, and I failed because I wasn’t prepared. I managed to get across the idea that prepositions are complicated because they’re used in combination with other words, and that you have to remember vocabulary in ‘chunks’ but the idea was also to present you with some useful lists of preposition collocations. This time around I’ve done some more preparation. I’ve spent a bit more time on it and so for round 2 I think we should get a proper grip on the subject, while also having some fun noticing prepositions in an improvised story. [Download]

Small Donate ButtonWe all know that prepositions are one of the most difficult aspects of English grammar and vocabulary. That’s also why they’re hard to teach. They don’t conform to easy-to-teach rules, like other aspects of grammar. Instead, it’s about patterns and collocations. So, often the best way to learn these collocations is to see them as chunks of vocabulary, and try to notice them as they are used naturally. In this episode the idea is to give you a chance to do that by listening to a made-up story which includes loads of verb + preposition collocations.

Some Facts
Let me break it down in a simple way. Here are some “facts” about prepositions.
1. A preposition is always followed by a noun or something like a noun (e.g. a gerund or a noun phrase).
2. We use prepositions to talk about time, position and movement – and these are the easy ones. For example, “The cat is on the chair, the mouse is under the table, the monkey is on the branch. I’ll see you on Sunday at 3 o’clock. The train went into the station. The monkey fell out of the tree. The cat jumped off the chair.” etc etc. These are ‘easy’ because the prepositions seem to have specific meanings of their own, and they don’t change depending on which noun or verb you’re using.
3. The more difficult part is the way we use prepositions to attach nouns to other parts of the sentence. Prepositions tend to collocate with different adjectives, verbs and nouns. For example we say “He’s been accused of murder” and “I’m accustomed to the smell from the restaurant downstairs” and “This flat has really good access to the underground station”. What does collocate mean? It means that these words ‘just go together’. They’re friends. They always hang out with each other. Why? That’s the difficult thing to explain. I’d say – don’t focus on the individual meanings of prepositions. Instead focus on the way they just collocate with other words, and then learn those words together. So, don’t just learn the word “accuse” but learn the phrase “to accuse someone of something”. Don’t just learn the word “doubtful” but learn the phrase “doubtful about”, don’t just learn the word “comply” but learn the phrase “to comply with” and also the noun “compliance” and “to be in compliance with”.
4. Prepositions can be hard to hear because of the way they’re pronounced. They’re not usually the ‘meaning words’ in sentences, and so they can be pronounced using ‘weak forms’ of pronunciation (schwa sounds). Pay attention to the way prepositions are pronounced by native speakers in fluent speech.

There are 4 key points about prepositions, and also reasons why they’re tricky for learners of English.


Really, I am sorry. This makes life much more difficult for you, but you must get used to it right here and now. Accept that you’re now learning phrases, and once you’ve accepted that, every step you’ll take from now on will be in the right direction.

So, it’s these preposition collocations which are the tricky things. Learners of English struggle to know which preposition to use in the right moments. Sometimes these are influenced by the first language. For example, many French people say “It depends of…” e.g. “It depends of the cost” and of course it should be “it depends on the cost”. Watch out for the L1 influence.

What can you do?
– When you’re learning words – don’t learn them in isolation. See how they connect with other words in a sentence. Remember the prepositions that go with them. This will actually help you to become more fluent as prepositions are good transition words. They help you turn individual words into phrases, and those phrases into full sentences.
– Notice when you listen. Just pay attention to the preposition collocations you hear.
– Listen a lot and read a lot. Eventually, a lot of the most common preposition collocations will just go into your subconscious after being exposed to them so many times. After a while you’ll develop an instinct for the right collocation.
– Check out some lists to help you. You could test yourself by looking at some collocation lists (e.g. on this page). Cover the preposition and then try to remember it. Say it out loud. Check your answer. Say the phrase (it’s important that it passes through your mouth, and across your lips). Make full sentences, in different tenses in order to practise.
– Listen to Luke’s English Podcast (of course!)

Let me explain my approach for this episode of the podcast.
In this episode I’m planning to do this:
– I’ve prepared fairly long lists of common collocations with prepositions. Verb + prep, adjective + prep and noun + prep lists. You can check them out on the webpage if you like. Those lists are really useful in themselves. So this is already a really useful resource.
– I’m not just going to read out the lists. That would be boring and not that useful.
– I’m going to try and just make up some kind of story – completely improvise it – and use as many of the preposition collocations as I can. Try to notice them. You could go through the list and kind of ‘tick’ them off as you hear them, or try to notice them without the list.
– Bear in mind that the story is completely made up. The main thing is I want to keep it fun and interesting, while also presenting some language to you.
– There are 3 lists. They’re all quite long. I don’t know how much I can achieve in one episode. I might end up dividing this into three stories. One for verb + prep collocations, one for adj + prep and one for noun + prep. We’ll see.
– When I’ve finished I’ll go through the lists, and I’ll give you a chance to test yourselves.
– Then you can revise by testing yourselves using the lists, you can write your own stories using the prepositions and vocabulary, or you could record yourself reading or improvising a story. Don’t worry if you can’t improvise. That’s a different thing altogether. You should try to produce meaningful sentences using these phrases though. It’ll help you to remember them. Try to make your sentences personalised and very vivid – that’ll help you remember them all.
– You’ll also be picking up vocabulary here from the verbs, adjectives and nouns that collocate with all these prepositions. Just google them or look them up in a dictionary if you don’t know what they mean. I’m not explaining word meanings here, just presenting language.

That’s it!

Verb + Preposition
Let’s go with the first story.oldbaileycourt-room
*Start by opening your eyes – you’re standing in a courtroom. You ask the lawyer what’s going on. You’ve been accused of stealing a biscuit. You’ve got no idea what happened. Then the judge comes in…*

accuse (someone) of ([doing] something)
add (something) to (something else)
admire (someone) for ([doing] something)
agree on (topic)
agree with (someone)
apologise to (someone) for ([doing] something)
apply to (a place) for (something)
approve of (something)
argue with (someone) about (topic)
arrive at (a building, room, site, event)
arrive in (a city, country)
ask (someone) about (someone/topic)
ask (someone) for (something)
believe in (something)
belong to (someone)
blame (someone) for ([doing] something)
borrow (something) from (someone)
care about (someone/something/topic)
comment on (topic)
compare (something) to/with (something else)
complain to (someone) about (something)
concentrate on ([doing] something)
congratulate (someone) for/on ([doing] something)
consist of (some things)
consent to ([doing] something)
contribute to (something)
count on (someone) to (do something)
cover (something) with (something else)
decide on (topic)
depend on (someone) for (something)
discuss (something) with (someone)
distinguish (something) from (something else)
dream about/of (someone/something)
escape from (somewhere)
explain (topic) to (someone)
excuse (someone) for ([doing] something)
forgive (someone for ([doing] something)
get rid of (something)
graduate from (a place)
happen to (someone)
help (someone) with (something)
hide (something) from (someone)
insist (up)on (something)
introduce (someone) to (someone else)
invite (someone) to (an event)
keep (something) for (someone)
matter to (someone)
object to (something)
participate in (something)
pay (price) for (something)
plan on ([doing] something)
pray for (someone/something)
prefer (something) to (something else)
prevent (someone) from ([doing] something)
prohibit (someone) from ([doing] something)
protect (someone) from (something)
provide (someone) with (something)
recover from (something)
rely (up)on (someone/something)
remind (someone) of (something)
rescue (someone) from (something)
respond to (someone/something)
save (someone) from (something)
search for (something)
separate (something) from (something else)
scold (someone) for ([doing] something)
smile at (someone) for ([doing] something)
speak to/with (someone) about (topic)
stare at (something/someone)
stop (someone) from ([doing] something)
subscribe to (something)
substitute (something) for (something else/someone)
subtract (something) from (something else)
succeed in ([doing] something)
suffer from (something)
take advantage of (someone/something/ situation)
take care of (something/someone)
talk to/with (someone) about (topic)
thank (someone) for ([doing] something)
travel to (somewhere)
vote for (someone)
vouch for (someone)
wait for (someone/something)
wish for (something)
work for (company/something/someone)

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  • Antoniya Marinkova

    ROFL! Hilarious :D Thank you, Luke! I’ve been listening to your podcast for a month and decided to take a glance at the old episodes. Can’t wait to hear other stories.

  • Rosana Ramos González

    Hi Luke first at all thank you ever so much for your podcasts.My name is Rosana from Spain although I was born in Uruguay I’ve been learning Englesh for 7 years and I am really into it. I learn a lot from your podcasts. I listen to them as much as I can. They are really useful. Once againthanks for your great job.

  • carlos arturo garcia

    Hi Luke ..as always many thanks for your job. Please I got a question: Just starting the podcast, at second 40 you said: I said this in a “ton and cheek” way …meaning you are half serious half kidding. Could you please tell me the right spelling of this expresion.

    Thanks again

  • adnan

    Hey Luke
    I have been listening you podcasts for ages an these are use insightful.These days I am working on improving my vocabulary which I do learn from movies.So,currently I am looking for a good British movie to get good Vocab from.There are thousands of movie so I am kinda confused,Here I need your assistance to tell me British movie or Movies to learn from.
    thanks in ADVANCE

  • Pravin Patel

    Hi Luke,

    Thanks you very much on your efforts and helping international community to learn english.

    This is really lip opener episode, now I understood that if you able to use prepositions then you can make phrase and then convert them into sentences and eventually you become good speaker in English.

    Very soon I will donate my contribution and participate in your mission, not right now but very soon, as there are some limititions of making payment through pay-pal, but I promise will do on regular bases.

    Again thank you so much. Convey my best regard to your parent, your brother, your girlfriend(s)/wife and your friends who have supported you.

    Special thanks to your brother Jems/Jim, I really enjoy his speaking as we know he is not professional speaker but really very humorios and fluent.

    I wish all success in your life and career, and best wishes and compliments for the new year to you and your family. Big thanks to your family.

    Kindly ignore my mistakes in English drafting as I am from India.

    Regards and best wishes,

    Pravin Patel.
    Mumbai, India.

  • VietNam

    I love this and do more talk like this. Real and fun! The story are so funny!

  • Badou

    Hello luke,

    thanks a lot for the nice job about verbs + prepositions, it’s such a nice job and you’re also such an amazing personality as I usually say. I would be very pleased to help you out by improving your french, unfortunately I live abroad, in Toronto. just wanna let you know I’m really looking forward to the next (adj+prepositions). you really make my english learning easier. encore une fois Merci infiniment :)

  • Amber

    I listened to this cool episode in the Company I work for. Just had to wait for my working hours to end first. So thank you Luke for all the explanations. That story was very inspiring.
    It also made me a bit peckish as well and I wished for some biscuits (well, who wouldn’t…?!) , so I went down to the nearest supermarket to get myself a pack of those sweets. And you won’t believe what happened to me inside!

    There was a big billboard at the entrance of that building with a face of the famous politician on it who looked about ten years younger than he really is. Photoshop, right.
    I thought: You’re smiling at me in vain. I’m not going to vote for you!
    But that’s not what I’d like to tell you about. I’ll get to that later.
    Anyway, I entered in, took a trolley and began filling it with stuff. I was among other consumers and it felt good. Women and shopping… you know…
    A young man in the corner was selling books and magazines. I also saw daily newspapers with a weird headline: “Man accused of stealing the last biscuit! The trial continues.”
    Really? Here? In the supermarket? It’s called shop-lifting according to the Oxford dictionary, and it’s wrong. I stopped by, looked at the cover and flicked through the pages. I found out from the article that it actually happened at work, somewhere in England.
    Oh, I see… How strange! Poor guy, the accused one. Was the biscuit That good?
    Then I realized I got hungry and…
    – You can’t read the newspapers unless you buy them, miss! – said the man behind the desk – so don’t take the advantage of this…
    For a moment I thought: What are you going to do about it? Sue me, like that guy sued his co-worker?
    I said nothing, just left the newspaper and moved on. When will the inhumanity stop? – I wondered.
    Then I took a bottle of milk and corn flakes from a shelf and added them to other stuff I’ve already placed in my trolley.
    They always play nice, ambiance music in these shops, but this time a voice from the speakers sang very loud: Living la vida loca… just like it was a disco club.
    Some people were making moves to the rhythm while comparing food in jars to other food in tins and so on. I didn’t. I can’t dance. I can’t “get down, get down…jungle boogie”.
    Excuse me for stepping on your foot! – Said one lady when she ran into me.
    I forgave her for that. Then I recognized a friend of mine. We graduated from the same Uni and used to travel to the shore together every summer with other friends of ours. She was happy we met there and insisted on talking to me about things like the politics, election etc.
    – Sure, I’d love to discuss it with you. You know you can always count on me – I said.
    We finished shopping, paid for our goods and escaped from that disco club, I mean supermarket.
    We usually prefer taking a stroll to taking a tram, and as we walked, I told her about the odd article, well, a half of it I’ve read, and said I tend to vote for the Party that will take care of people, us, who really like eating biscuits at work, including the last one left which doesn’t belong to anybody. And I’ll vote for politicians who’ll protect us from being taken to the court for such thing, who’ll protect us by the Law.
    She agreed with me and high-fived.
    – Me too! But why do you speak to me in English? – she asked.
    – Sorry, I got carried away. It happens sometimes.
    She then reminded me of something important: I haven’t bought any biscuits as I had planned on doing.
    – Oh, God! I forgot!
    My friend smiled at me and said she had to go to watch the debate on telly. They often argue with each other about politics.

    Yes, I went back to that disco… no, supermarket and had to concentrate on buying biscuits this time. The song they played when I arrived at that place was by Clash: “I fought the law and the law won”. That sounds much better. Punk is not dead…Yet! And I began my biscuit hunt.
    I searched for those which consist of oat flakes and cinnamon and are covered with dark chocolate. Yummy! So morrish.
    Comparing to other flavours, they’re my favourite. Along with those biscuits with sour cherry filling. I also tried the sandwich-shaped ones, with both strawberry and raspberry flavour,
    but I couldn’t distinguish one from another ’cause they tasted the same to me.
    I thought I should ask one of the employees there about the orange pack of biscuits I was looking for, but I couldn’t count on any of them. They seemed very busy therefore I depended on myself only. However, I believed in finding at least one, despite the fact they weren’t on the shelf where they usually are, so I looked left, right and center… Yet, I couldn’t see any.
    When I’ve finally seen that all shelves with biscuits were empty I thought: Now I can only dream
    about eating those sweets soon.

    And then it happened. Right in front of me was a man standing with his trolley full of all kinds of packs, mostly the orange ones, my favourite. He took all of them!
    How dare you! – I thought while starring at him. And that wasn’t all. He also opened one pack and held two biscuits in his hand.
    Then an idea came up to my mind: I’d borrow one pack from him gladly. But I was too shy to speak to him. I stood next to him, apologized for disturbing him and asked if I could have one orange pack from his trolley. His mouth was full, so he just mumbled something and handed out biscuits I wanted. I thanked him for being kind and then I took a closer look at his face.
    It was him! That face from newspaper. The accuser.
    Why did he come here all the way from England? I was too embarrassed to go and talk to him again. Besides, I was really hungry. And I also had to go to the loo. And it was getting dark outside… And…
    I hurried up hoping that machine won’t respond to me as it does sometimes: Unexpected item in bagging area! That’s always annoying. I prayed God for mercy and that device didn’t bother me this time. Thank you, Lord!
    After I left with my preccciousssss in a plastic bag, and walked by the newspaper guy again, I decided to buy one sample and check out that story again. It seemed familiar for some reason…
    – Why did you leave so quickly? I just wanted to talk to you and perhaps invite you to a party tomorrow. – the man said.
    But I didn’t have time for small talk and chatting up. I had to read the whole article, so I got rid of him nicely saying I was in a hurry. And I was.
    What a scandal! – I thought when I read the whole article. That face on the picture below was the same face I saw about ten minutes ago. Jeff. Or was it him? I wasn’t quite sure.
    I looked around, but I couldn’t see that kind man anymore. He was gone.
    And what did he buy all those biscuits for? Is he going back to England and taking them as souvenirs? When did he arrive in this city anyway? How did that machine respond to his items? Does he suffer from culture shock during his visit? I know I would if I were him.
    I’ll never know the answers. The mystery remains.

    What I knew for sure was that biscuits with cinnamon and dark chocolate were umm, luvvly jubbly! And that was all that mattered to me at that moment. Oh, I also really had to go to.., as they used to say; to spend a penny. Well, to spend a k. mark, in this case. Ili obaviti gradjansku dužnost. This isn’t England, unfortunately, to spend pennies and quid. In fact, we can use the loos in supermarkets for free. Yes! Good.
    Then I had to go home and do my homework; write a made up story using a list of prepositions and collocations.
    So here it is. Hope it isn’t too ridiculous and a piss poor attempt.
    I’m still learning English, you know.

  • Thank you so much , master Luke. This is a very special podcast for story lovers like me. The improvised story is very interesting and lovely.