I am looking for 'rules' for all (most?) prepositions: which one to use when/where and why. I assume there will be different rules for different parts of the English speaking world. I was born and raised in western Canada. I 'know' what 'sounds' correct to me but I haven't been able to find formal rules. I listen to several BBC podcasts & I noticed they often use prepositions in ways that sound strange to me. Also I am helping a Quebec French speaker learn English. I am finding it almost impossible to explain which preposition to use when and why.
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Sorry. There aren't any, for anywhere.
Usage of prepositions in English is normally not determined by general rules, but by Government. This is the term used in syntax to refer to affordances, prohibitions, and requirements imposed on a construction by particular words (mostly verbs) that are said to govern some particular effect.
For instance, look and listen are officially intransitive; they can't take direct objects:
- *He looked the picture.
- *She listened the sonata.
But of course we usually want to know what was the source of the sensory input, so we use a preposition to indicate it.
- He looked at the picture.
- She listened to the sonata.
But why at and to? Because look governs at and listen governs to. That's it.
Every type of construction has some government restrictions on it, normally influenced by whatever verbs it contains. This kind of extremely deep dependency between and among constructions, predicates, and constituents is what makes English syntax so complex -- though it's no more so than any other language, mind. It's just by far the best-studied syntactic system. So far.