Tricky Prepositions

Tricky Prepositions to Clarify Before Your Exam

For my first ever blogpost, I thought I would share about tricky prepositions – something I find very apt as it is definitely a little but mighty word in the English language. Unfortunately, the importance of this group of words is often neglected. As short words that do not have much meaning on their own, they are often overlooked. However, do you know that these little words actually act as vital markers to the structure of a sentence? When we combine prepositions with verbs, adjectives and nouns, they indicate relationships between other words or communicate meaning in a sentence.

More importantly, your knowledge of prepositions can be tested in numerous sections in Paper 2 –  Grammar MCQ, Vocabulary MCQ, Grammar Cloze, Comprehension Cloze and Editing. That’s more than half of the components in Paper 2!

Needless to say, having a good grasp of prepositions will help you go a long way. So for today, let’s look at four commonly mistaken tricky prepositions pairings, shall we?

1. covered in / with / by

Covered in / with: used to express that the covering is spread all over the object but may not necessarily hide it

Example: Sloths are covered in / with algae.

Covered by: used to express that the covering actually hides something it is covering

Example: Her face was covered by her hands.

Do note that the meanings for covered in, with and by are very similar and these three prepositions can be used almost interchangeably. However, some subtle nuances may apply and it is best to consider the context before answering.

We could not see the house as it was covered by snow. (the house is hidden from view)

When we reached the house, it was covered in / with snow. (the house has a layer of snow)

2. good at / with

Good at: used to refer to areas of expertise or activities

Example: Paul is good at Math.

Good with: used to refer to specific objects or people

Example: Paul is good with numbers.

Tricky Prepositions

3. abide by / comply with / adhere to / conform to

Definition: to accept or obey an agreement, decision, or rule

These phrasal verbs mean the same thing but are commonly tested as the verbs go with different prepositions. It will be useful for you to learn the four pairs of words by heart!

Tricky Prepositions


Tricky Prepositions

4. made of / from

Made of: used when the material the subject consists of does not change during the process of making it

Example: The house is made of bricks. (The bricks are still in its original form and have not changed)

Made from: used when the material / ingredient has changed its form during the process of making the subject

Example: This juice is made from natural fruits. (The fruits have disappeared. It has transformed into liquid juice)


I hope that you’ve found these tricky prepositions pairings useful and can differentiate the different use of prepositions better now! Below is a table summarising what we’ve covered today:

Tricky Prepositions

I’m sure you would have realised by now that there are neither rules nor logical ways of deducing which preposition goes with the particular noun, verb or adjective. As such, the expression must be learned as a whole.

Hence, the best way to learn which prepositions to go with which words would be to read more, read widely and read “differently”. Increasing your exposure to a variety of text by reading outside of your comfort zone will help to expand your knowledge of prepositions. When you come across useful phrases, jot them down in a notebook and learn them by heart. Of course, more practice would also help to increase your familiarity with the usage of prepositions.

If you are someone who is a visual learner and prefer to learn through the use of gadgets, stay tuned for my next post on useful apps that will aid you in your learning!

Ms. Siow

Ms Delia Siow is a dedicated teacher who is committed to providing an environment where a child can grow and thrive. She enjoys developing strategies to help students learn in a fun and meaningful way. Through her lessons, she hopes to help students lay a sound foundation in grammar and gain independence in their work. She strongly believes that good grammar is essential in students to gain proficiency in the language and finds joy in watching the bricks of their strong grammar foundation take form. 

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