Acquisition of English Language Prepositions in the Absence of Formal Grammar Teaching

Beena Sudhakaran


An oft-debated issue is whether or not English grammar has to be taught formally. One group insists that students will not be able to learn grammar unless they are taught formal grammar rules, while the other maintains that students will pick up grammar on their own in due course.

To determine the extent of acquisition of English prepositions in the absence of formal teaching of prepositions, a longitudinal study was carried out on a single matriculation student. Data was collected on the errors in the use of prepositions in various speaking and writing tasks – essays, journals, interviews and presentations - at six monthly intervals, over a period of two years. An analysis of the student’s use of prepositions was carried out to determine whether or not there had been any changes over this period.

The results of this study show that there were indeed improvements in the use of prepositions by this student for both speaking and writing tasks. Regarding the types of errors, there were more errors of commission than errors of omission. A common error was the unnecessary use of the phrase involving a preposition, ‘for me’. With respect to the progress made, in speaking tasks,  most improvement was seen in the prepositions ‘for’, ‘in’ and ‘about’, while in writing tasks, the best results were with the prepositions ‘to, ‘of’ and ‘in’.

These findings imply that, grammar should be taught in a way that is compatible with the natural processes of acquisition, rather than with the use of formal grammar rules.


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English Linguistics Research
ISSN 1927-6028 (Print)   ISSN 1927-6036 (Online)

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