I find preposition is one of the trickiest things to consider when writing. When I consult the dictionary, there are at least dozens of meaning for each (at/on/in...). Is there a general rule or underlying logics for applying each one, or I just have to memorize all the meaning of each one?

Certainly prepositions in verb phrases are one of the use of prepositions that I feel confused about, but I ask more about the general use of preposition, for example, "in the car" is different from "on the car."

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    You're probably feeling overwhelmed by what are called phrasal verbs. There are some patterns, but also exceptions to every rule. Really you just have to learn them. I struggle with these too in German, where they're known as "separable verbs," so I can relate. Hang in there, you'll get them in time!
    – TypeIA
    Commented Oct 10, 2020 at 23:38

1 Answer 1


Prepositions are difficult when you are learning any language: each preposition has many meanings, and the meanings don't overlap with those of prepositions in your own language. The only way to learn them is to look at the definitions and memorise the examples that you will find in a good dictionary.

Looking at in the car / on the car, you will find these definitions in the Cambridge Dictionary:

in: inside a container, place, or area, or surrounded or closed off by something

on: used to show that something is in a position above something else and touching it, or that something is moving into such a position

From these two definitions, it should be clear that, if somebody is sitting in the car, she is probably sitting in one of the seats inside the car. If she is sitting on the car, she is probably sitting on the bonnet (the cover of the engine compartment) or the roof.

Be sure to read all of the definitions, though, because on has other meanings that might be relevant, for example:

used for showing some methods of travelling

This is mainly used for public transport, and would not be used for travelling by car.


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