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LA Guy

at / on / in the corner grammar question

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LA Guy

Hi folks,

As a native speaker, I just realized I didn't understand the grammar rules for:

Put the water bucket back in the corner ( of the room ) please.

( the bucket is resting in the corner )

But I was asked why it shouldn't be

Put the water bucket back at the corner please.

Put the water bucket back on the corner please.

Hmmmm ?

Well....

The people are waiting on the corner ( of the street ).

( they are "standing on" the corner )

Meet me at the corner of the intersection of Main and 1st streets.

So how would you explain this stuff ?

Thanks, LA Guy ( who is NOT an English teacher ) :rolleyes:

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Hofmann

I think it can be broken down to the various usages of the prepositions you listed. As far as I know, the only way to be sure which to use is brute force memorization. Of course, it would also be nice if someone could give a rule.

This corner business is special in English because of the possibility of being "in" it, i.e. the sides are barriers and the thing is close to the side where the angle is less than 180 degrees, most likely a corner of a room. Therefore things are "in the corner" when they're in such a position.

I don't hear "at the corner" much and I don't think it's the same as "in the corner." Therefore "put the bucket at the corner (of the room)" seems a bit unusual. It would more likely be used to describe the position of, for example, point B in angle ABC.

The "on" in your post seems like a position on a road.

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roddy

Prepositions are a pain to teach - you get some rules, but as soon as you explain one someone comes up with an exception. If you actually need to do this kind of stuff, the Collins Cobuild series is excellent.

I'd probably mutter something about two-dimensional and three-dimensional reference and hope that keeps 'em happy.

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jbradfor

piff. That's nothing compared to trying to teach the rules for when to use indefinite articles, definite articles, and when to use no articles at all.

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Silent
As a native speaker, I just realized I didn't understand the grammar rules for:

Put the water bucket back in the corner ( of the room ) please.

I'm a non-native speaker and maybe I'm missing something, but in my perception it's quite simple You just use the word that fits best. As Hofmann already mentioned a corner can be seen as a barrier with an angle.

in the corner = located inside the corner which means at the side of the barrier with <180 degree angle.

outside the corner = located outside the corner, where the barrier shows a >180 degree angle

on the corner = on top of the barrier at the point of the angle

at the corner = imprecise location, essentially means near the corner

But I was asked why it shouldn't be

Put the water bucket back at the corner please.

Put the water bucket back on the corner please.

At the corner is ok, but basicly means near the corner and is imprecise. It means it's not necessarily in the corner. It may also be outside the corner or on the corner.

On the corner of a room is impossible unless you have a room which exists of only walls and no ceiling.

The people are waiting on the corner ( of the street ).

( they are "standing on" the corner )

Exactly! Though at the corner is ok too as it just means you're not 'exactly' on the corner.

Meet me at the corner of the intersection of Main and 1st streets.

You don't ask to be exactly at the corner, only close enough not to miss each other. Also, when you're very strict, the corner is a dot. There can only be one thing on a dot (the corner). If I wait on the corner you can't get on the corner any more to meet me. You will only be able to be at (near) the corner to meet me.

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LA Guy

@Silent

Thank you for the excellent explanation !

As Hofmann already mentioned a corner can be seen as a barrier with an angle.

in the corner = located inside the corner which means at the side of the barrier with <180 degree angle.

outside the corner = located outside the corner, where the barrier shows a >180 degree angle

on the corner = on top of the barrier at the point of the angle

at the corner = imprecise location, essentially means near the corner

Well, i don't get the 180 degree angle. Are you referring to a point in space

located on a 3 dimensional plane with a X Y Z Axis :blink:

Our forum members here are quite an educated group. :)

I should realize I am venturing into Academic English territory.

The finer points of language communication require a precise usage of word combinations ( ugh grammar ).

Seems to take the fun out of teaching / learning ( for me ).

Those of you that teach English must spend a lot of energy and effort on this ?

I guess through reading and conversation that students can "sense" the right words.

Best to all, LA Guy

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Silent

The 180 degree angle is mathematics. Nothing to do with English.

In maths a 180 degree angle is a straight line. So, <180 and >180 degree define at what side of the barrier/corner you are. In case of a room, whether you're at the corner inside or outside of the room.

Essentially I assume a 2 dimensional barrier. However 3D makes no difference. The height of the barrier has no influence on the corner.

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c_redman

While the corner explanation sounds right to me, there are a lot of other cases in English where the right word combination isn't as clear. For example, why do you get on a train, get on a bus, but get in (or into) a taxi? Or, why does a plane land in New York, not into, at, or on? Just like with English phonetic rules, there are plenty exceptions to any rule. Chinese isn't too different actually, as we've all had the experience of being told our grammar is wrong with no good explanation why.

This site looks like a good reference. It even explains why taxis and buses have a different preposition.

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yonglin

When I was learning English, I found prepositions and phrasal verbs were probably the most difficult things to learn. You can try to rationalize preposition use as Silent does above, but this is not infallible since different language have different "natural" rationales (e.g., I always found the French "under the shower" to be way more logical than "in the shower"...)

Personally, I found the best way of learning preposition use was write a lot, first guessing at the preposition and then look it up in an advanced learner's dictionary (they make sense to a non-native speaker and almost always tell you about the correct preposition use -- the Cambridge one is online for free). By doing this sufficiently often, my guesses eventually ended up mostly correct. I still need to check occasionally, though... this is hard stuff.

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Silent

Sure, different language, different rational. Sometimes even within the language different rationals exist. Just think about the first floor US/UK style. And there will always be exceptions and ambiguous situations. Often more than one combination is possible though usually one is preferred. The shower is a very good example of this. You can be in the shower (room/weather condition/spray) or under the shower (spraying nozzle). I think in many languages both approaches are acceptable depending on the context.

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YuehanHao

The discussion regarding corners illustrates that many different types of objects can be said to have corners, and as noted already, it is necessary to partition this concept further in order to select a proper preposition for the intended usage. In some cases, only one will do, while in others, multiple choices can be satisfactory. There are also local variations in preposition preferences.

While consistent and exception free rules do not exist, I think there are often reasonable, if not fully satisfying explanations for which preposition to use.

For example, often one walks up steps to get on a bus, train, or airplane; whereas cars or taxis are typically at our level and we simply get in. Or, New York is too big to land on or at (although we can land on an island or at JFK), and if one lands within New York one might think the plane has unfortunately penetrated into the earth.

Also, in French, perhaps the concept of shower causes one to think of the water flowing from the nozzle, and thus one goes under it; however, I believe English speakers would think of "the shower" as the enclosed location where one showers, and hence we speak of going into that space. For us, going under the shower might be equivalent to walking down one floor beneath it and looking up at the drain pipe coming through the ceiling.

I suspect trivial linguistic details such as this subtly color nuances in mental concepts across cultures.

约翰好

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