English is nowadays the global language of science. Most scientific papers are published in English, even in some countries where English isn’t the first language (L1). But it is common for non-native speakers to make mistakes in their writing, partly because of their L1. So how can Writefull help?

This blog is the first in a series on the topic of common ESL errors in academic writing, and looks at ESL errors in the use of prepositions.

Prepositions in English vs in other languages

The correct use of prepositions such as on, at, in or from is one of the most difficult aspects of the English language. The choice of one over another may seem random - why do you say ‘similar to’, but ‘different from’? Do you say ‘consist in’ or ‘consist of’?... and is there a difference between the two?

But things become even more difficult when your L1 uses a different preposition from the English equivalent, for a given word or meaning. For example, the French equivalent of ‘depend on something’ literally translates as ‘depend of something’ (dépendre de quelque chose). In Spanish, the same preposition ‘en’ is used where three different ones can be used in English:

en términos concretos => in concrete terms
probado en ratones => tested on mice
en sitios locales => at local sites

How Writefull helps

Because it has been trained on millions of published papers, Writefull has learned the correct use of prepositions in sentences. So if your text has the wrong preposition (for example because of L1 influence), Writefull will spot this and let you know. See below!

If you have two prepositions in mind and aren’t sure which is correct, Writefull will also tell you. Simply type your phrase including the two prepositions separated by a slash in the Language Search, and find example sentences showing their use in context.

In the above example, Writefull shows very clearly that the preposition ‘to’ follows the adjective ‘similar’ in the overwhelming majority of instances of this phrase in Writefull’s scientific database. So it’s very likely to be the one you should use in your sentence.

How context matters

If Writefull says two prepositions are roughly equally used in the database, it doesn’t always mean they are interchangeable. For example, it is both possible to say ‘consist of something’ and ‘consist in something’, but the former denotes the substance of which the subject is made while the latter defines the subject itself.

By looking carefully at the example sentences given by Writefull as below, you will see that.

Want to see more?

Go to https://writefull.com/researchers.html and download our Writefull for Word add-in. Prepositions will have no more secrets for you!

About the author
Mélodie is an Applied Linguist at Writefull.