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Using prepositions correctly is very important to speak Esperanto well. It’s also important for communication. The rules involved are pretty simple, but they’re different from English, so it makes sense to pay attention to their use.
A preposition is a word, usually a small word, which is used to show a relationship between other words. “Between”, in this case, is an example of a preposition. By definition, a preposition is in “pre position” – that is, it comes before the words it goes with. A preposition and the words that follow is called a “prepositional phrase.”
These are all examples of prepositional phrases.
The easiest prepositions to use are what I like to call “ordinary” prepositions. The following is a more or less comprehensive list.
You don’t need to memorize this list. What they have in common is that they don’t show a location. When you use one of these prepositions, you just put it before your noun expression (or pronoun expression.) If the noun is plural, use a -j on the nouns and adjectives, and that’s it. You don’t need to add -n or any other endings here.
Many prepositions show a location. Under the sea. On the table. Between the trees. Over the rainbow. I like to underscore that these are locations that you can be in. If the action is taking place entirely in that location, then these prepositions act just like ordinary prepositions. The only grammatical endings you will need are plural endings.
If, however, there is motion into that location, then you add an –n to show motion into or towards that location.
Some of the more common “prepositions of location” include the following.
Again, you don’t need to memorize. Basically, if a preposition shows a location that you can be in, and there is motion towards that location, then you need the -n. Otherwise, you don’t.
Finally, since there are occasionally questions about what we mean by “a location that you can be in”, I will give you a short list to memorize. As Logano said in our video lesson about prepositions, “Do not use -n after: al, ĝis, de, or el. They already show motion.”
Two more prepositions warrant special mention here. The first is antaŭ. This is often translated “ago”, which sometimes causes confusion because in English “ago” is a “post-position”. That is, it works like a preposition but comes after the words it modifies.
I’ve seen many new speakers translating word-for-word in their heads get to the end of a sentence with “ago” in it and then find themselves stuck. Remember that while “ago” is a post-position, “antaŭ” needs to come first.
Another case worth mentioning at least in passing (saving the detail for a future blog post) is je. This preposition is often described as a “wild card.” Some new learners misunderstand that to mean that it can be used whenever you don’t know which preposition is the correct one to use. On the contrary, it was introduced into Esperanto for those situations when there is not clear logical choice for which preposition to use. In practice this means that you’ll see it in some time expressions (je la tria horo – at three o’clock) and other set expressions (Mi trinkas je via sano – I drink to your health.) More on this in a future post.