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English prepositions of place ‘in’, ‘at’, ‘on’ with reference to vietnamese equivalents





Hanoi, 2016

I, the undersigned, hereby certify my authority of the study project
report entitled English prepositions of place “in”, “at”, “on” with
reference to Vietnamese equivalents” submitted in partial fulfillment of
the requirements for the degree of Master in English Language. Except
where the reference is indicated, no other person’s work has been used

without due acknowledgement in the text of the thesis.
Hanoi, 2016

Pham Thi Hang

Approved by

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Phan Van Que


This thesis could not have been completed without the help and
support from a number of people.
First and foremost, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to my
supervisor, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Phan Van Que, who has patiently and
constantly supported me through the stages of the study, and whose
stimulating ideas, expertise, and suggestions have inspired me greatly
through my growth as an academic researcher.
A special word of thanks goes to all of the lecturers of the Faculty of
Postgraduate studies – Hanoi Open university, my classmates, my students
at Sao Do university,and many others, without whose support and
encouragement it would never have been possible for me to have this thesis
Last but not least, I am greatly indebted to my family, my colleague
for the sacrifice they have devoted to the fulfillment of this academic work.


This thesis is intended to investigate the syntactic and semantic
features of English prepositions of place in, at, on with reference to
Vietnamese equivalents. After analysis on these features, their comparison
between English and Vietnamese are discussed to find out the similarities
and differences. From the result of this study, the implication in teaching

and learning English is suggested.
The descriptive and comparative method was chosen to carry out this
study. Many examples are used in the study to illustrate and analyze the
syntactic and semantic feature of these preposition, then making a
comparison between two languages to find out equivalents. The data are
collect from books, dictionaries, internet, stories and novels. Moreover, the
survey was also carried out to find out the mistakes as well as the
difficulties when mastering these prepositions of Vietnamese learners.
The results show that these prepositions in both languages have some
similarities and differences in term syntactics and semantics. However, the
main difference is in term of semantics.

Many students have not

distinguished the use of these prepositions yet. They are not sure about the
equivalents of these prepositions in Vietnamese. Through the result of this
study, the author hopes that it can help Vietnamese students learn English








English as Foreign Language


English as Second Language


Table 2.1. Prepositions of place in English and Vietnamese


Table 4.1. The learners’ answer on task 1


Table 4.2. The learners’ answer on task 2


Table 4.3. The learners’ answer on task 3



Certificate of originality






List of abbreviations


List of tables and figures


Table of content




1.1. Rationale for the research


1.2. Aims of the research


1.3. Objectives of the research


1.4. Scope of the research


1.5. Significance of the research


1.6. Structural organization of the thesis




2.1. Review of previous studies


2.1.1. Previous studies oversea


2.1.2. Previous studies in Vietnam


2.2. Review of theoretical background


2.2.1. Theoretical Framework

8 Syntax

8 Semantic


2.2.2. Theoretical background

11 English prepositions

11 Definition

11 Types of prepositions

13 Position of English prepositions in sentence

17 Syntactic features of English prepositions

vi Semantic features of English prepositions

20 Vietnamese prepositions

25 Definition

25 Types of prepositions

26 Position of Vietnamese prepositions in Vietnamese

28 English and Vietnamese prepositions of place

29 English prepositions of place

29 Vietnamese prepositions of place

32 Contrast between English and Vietnamese prepositions of

33 Summary




3.1. Research – governing orientations


3.1.1. Research questions


3.1.2. Research setting


3.1.3. Research approaches


3.1.4. Criteria for intended data collection and data analysis


3.2. Research method


3.2.1. Major methods and supporting methods


3.2.2. Data collection techniques

39 Selected materials

39 Survey questionnaire


3.2.3. Data analysis techniques


3.3. Summary




4.1. Syntactic features of prepositions of place ‘in’, ‘at’, ‘on’


4.2. Semantic features of prepositions of place ‘in’, ‘at’, ‘on’


4.2.1. Preposition “in”



4.2.2. Preposition “at”


4.2.3. preposition “on”


4.3. English prepositions of place ‘in’, ‘at’, ‘on’ with reference to
Vietnamese equivalents


4.3.1. In terms of syntactic


4.3.2. In terms of semantic

48 Preposition “in”

48 Preposition “at’

49 Preposition “on”


4.4. Implications for mastering prepositions of place ‘in’, ‘at’, ‘on’


4.5. Summary




5.1. Recapitulation


5.2. Concluding remark


5.3. Limitation of the study


5.4. Suggestion for further research









In today’s global world, the importance of English can not be denied and
ignored since English is the most common language spoken everywhere.
With the help of developing technology, English has been playing a major
role in many sectors including medicine, engineering, especially education.
Particularly, as a developing country, Vietnams needs to make use of this
world-wide spoken language to help country develop. Awareness about
those important roles of English, there are many policies to develop this
language in Vietnam. English has been the most update foreign language in
comparison with other ones. Everyone who wants to have a large stock of
knowledge, gets opportunities with good jobs, has success in career needs to
learn and master English. Nowadays, English is one of the most three
important subjects after mathematics and literature in most secondary
schools in Vietnam. Textbooks have been renovated; new methods have
been applied in teaching English. Since English is far different from
Vietnamese, it is not easy for learners to master. They sometimes find some
difficulties in mastering all the aspects of English language because English
grammar is different from Vietnamese structure. There are many rules used
to correlate or to combine parts of speech for making good sentences or
phrases such as article, determiners, pronouns, prepositions, subjunctive,
Prepositions are words used to connect nouns or noun structures to
other structures in a sentence. They have been called the biggest little word
in English. They exist in both English and Vietnamese. However,

prepositions have different characteristics and usage in each language. It is
difficult to learn to use prepositions correctly in foreign language. There is a
fact that English prepositions pose a big challenge for the acquisition of
second language. Most English prepositions have several different functions
and these may correspond to several different prepositions in another
Although prepositions have been taught in school, universities, or
even English courses about how to use it, to know functions and kinds of
prepositions but in reality, many students still make mistakes of the use of
prepositions. They still cannot differentiate which preposition is appropriate
for each sentence form. Prepositions are minor significance because they are
limited in number and their meanings are not important to the meaning of
the whole sentence. However, preposition – a small part of speech- creates
troubles for most Vietnamese learners of English, especially prepositions of
place in, at, on. These three prepositions of place with complicated usage
causes a lot of troubles for students. It is said “I am at the hospital to visit a
friend in the hospital”, “She lies in the bed but she sits on the bed”, “ I
watch the film at the cinema but on the television”. So, the words in, at, on
are not easy for learners of English. Even most learners make errors when
using these prepositions. In this thesis, the author wants to focus one aspect
of English grammar – prepositions in general, and prepositions of place in,
at, on in details in two languages. Therefore, a study on English preposition
of place ‘in’, ‘at’, ‘on’ with reference to Vietnamese equivalents is carried
out with the hope that it will help Vietnamese learners of English have a
deep understanding on these preposition and find it easier to learn them.

1.2. Aims of the research

The aim of this research is investigating into English preposition of
place ‘in’, ‘at’, ‘on’ with reference to Vietnamese equivalents in term of
syntactic and semantic features. Therefore, this study focuses on finding out
the similarities and differences between English and Vietnamese in the use
of these prepositions so that it can help Vietnamese learners raise awareness
of this type preposition phrases to use them exactly and fluently.
1.3. Objectives of the research
As an study of English preposition of place “in”, “at”, “on” with
reference to Vietnamese equivalents, this research pursued the following

Investigating the equivalents of English preposition of place “in”,
“at”, “on” in Vietnamese in term of syntactic.


Investigating the equivalents of English preposition of place “in”,
“at”, “on” in Vietnamese in term of semantic.


Proposing some implications for mastering preposition of place
“in”, “at”, “on” in an effective way.

1.4. Scope of the research
It is due to the framework of a Master thesis, this study focuses on the
semantic and syntactic features of three English preposition of place ‘in’,
‘at’, ‘on’ with reference to Vietnamese equivalents, the study will not
survey all English prepositions of place. The participants involving the
survey are firs – year students from different high schools. The survey
questionnaire designed in this study focus mainly on the use of these
prepositions in term of syntactic and semantics. The implication for
mastering these prepositions will also be taken into consideration with a


view to help students at Sao Do University to overcome their difficulties in
acquiring English as a foreign language.
1.5. Significance of the research
This study deals with the semantic and syntactic of English
preposition of place “in”, “at”, “on” with reference to Vietnamese
equivalents which will provide more information about the prepositions of
place in, at, on to help non-native English speakers use these prepositions
more fluently in two terms: theoretical and practical. Theoretically, the
study helps to find out the syntactic and semantic features of preposition in
general and prepositions of place ‘in’, ‘at’, ‘on’ in particular. Practically, it
provides useful ways in learning, teaching and translating between two
languages. In addition, this study is carried out with the hope to help
students at Sao Do University to have deep understanding on these English
prepositions to avoid making mistakes.
1.6. Structural organization of the thesis
This study is designed with five chapters:
Chapter 1- Introduction gives an overview of the thesis including rationale,
aims, objectives, scope and significance as well as the organization of the
Chapter 2- Literature Review presents an overview of some previous
studies on the same subject both in English and Vietnamese. At the same
time, the chapter gives a theoretical background to the study with theoretical
preliminaries directly related to the investigation of syntactic and semantic
features of English prepositions of place ‘in’, ‘at’, ‘on’ with reference to
Vietnamese equivalents.

Chapter 3 – Methodology refers to the researching approach of the study
and the method to collect and analyze the collected data which help the
author achieve the best result in the research.
Chapter 4 - Findings and Discussion, in which the author will summarize
the findings, discuss the similarities and differences of prepositions of place
‘in’, ‘at’, ‘on’ in two languages in two terms syntactic and semantic and
give implication for mastering these prepositions.
Chapter 5 – Conclusion provides the recapitulation, concluding remarks
and limitation of the study, and suggestion for further studies.


For hundred years, prepositions have attached the attention of many
language researchers. They play important role in the sentences. They
cannot appear alone independently; therefore we treated them together with
their complement, which form prepositional phrases. This chapter provides
a review of previous works related to the study as well as theoretical
background. In addition, the chapter is to explain several related terms and
definitions such as syntax, semantics, prepositions, and prepositions of place
in, at, on.
2.1. Review of previous studies
2.1.1. Previous studies oversea
According to Otto Jesperseen , who is one of the prominent
traditional linguists and grammarians, groups prepositions as a subclass of
particles and defines them very briefly in “ Essentials of English Grammar”
as elements which signal different types of relationship in the sentence as
follows: in, at, through, for, etc. As a traditional grammarian, Curme (1935)
pays special attention to preposition as an indeclinable word of relation, he
also considers the item governed by the preposition, which must be a noun
Lawal (2004) shows that prepositions indicate various relationships
between words or phrases in sentence. The relationship includes those of
time, points, position, direction and various degrees of mental or emotional


Quirk and Greenbaum (1973) concern about the relational meanings
that the prepositions establish among the constituents of the sentence and
prepositions meanings are difficult to describe systematically in “Concise
grammar of English”.
Charles Fillmore has different view of prepositions. He attributes a
very distinctive role to English prepositions in “ Toward a Modern Theory
of Case”. He regards them as elements which specify the different cases of
the noun phrase.
In his grammar textbook “Mastering American English”, Hayden,
et.al focus on the usage of prepositions. He mentions that “a preposition
shown relationship between its object and other words in a sentence…Some
of the relationships that prepositions express is place or position, direction,
time, manner and agent.”
Concerning about the implications for teaching prepositions, Celce –
Murcia and Larsen – Freeman show the nine most frequent prepositions (at,
by, from, in, for, of, on, to, with) in “ An English Grammar for Teachers of
English as a Second Language” (1978). He recommend that beginning
students should master at an early stage the primary meanings of the nine
prepositions in his book.
2.1.2. Previous studies in Vietnam
Prepositions and prepositional phrases have been also studied deeply
by many Vietnamese linguists such as Dinh Van Duc, Diep Quang Ban, Bui
Duc Tinh.
In Vietnam, The oldest material which mentioned preposition may be
“ Báo cáo vắn tắt về tiếng An Nam hay Đông Kinh” in a dictionary that was

called “Việt – Bồ - La” of Alexandre de Rhôdes (1651). In the part III of
this article, the author stated Vietnamese prepositions as one of four non
inflected part of speech (adverb, interjection, conjunction and preposition)
According to Bui Duc Tinh (1952), preposition and preposition
phrase are words used to show the meaning correlativeness of two words or
two phrases.
Dinh Van Duc (2001) states that preposition like conjunction is used
to express the relationship among words of open word class. The function
of conjunction is not to express the grammatical meaning.
Nguyen Kim Than in “Nghiên cứu về ngữ pháp tiếng Việt” separated
preposition as one types of part of speech and definite that prepositions is a
kind of empty words that are used to connect to link the sub – word with the
main word to show the relationship between the two words
From the basis of the previous studies, it can be seen that the
investigation of prepositions of place ‘in’, ‘at’, ‘on’ and their Vietnamese
equivalents have not discussed so far in both languages,

English and

Vietnamese. A research relating English prepositions of place ‘in’, ‘at’, ‘on’
with reference to Vietnamese equivalents has been chosen for my thesis.
2.2. Review of theoretical background
2.2.1. Theoretical Framework Syntax
The word “syntax” is derived from the Greek “syntaxis”, which
means “arrangement”. Syntax in linguistics deal with the ways the elements
of a sentence or phrase can be arranged to express different meanings. In

other words, it is set of rules, principles, and processes that govern the
structure of sentence in a given language, specifically word order. More
simply, syntax can be defined as the arrangement of words in a sentence.
The term syntax is also is used to mean the study of the syntactic properties
of a language. It dictates words from different parts of speech are put
together in order to convey a complete thought. Perhaps the most important
aspect of syntax is how the various parts of speech connect together. Every
language has rules that dictate types of words can be used in a sentence, and
how to interpret the resulting sentence. For this reason, discovering the
syntactic rules common to all languages is the goal of many syntacticians.
Syntax is one of the major components of grammar. Traditionally
linguists have recognized a basic distinction between syntax and
morphology which is primary concerned with the internal structures of
words. However, this distinction has been somewhat disrupted by recent
research in lexicogrammar.
Syntax allows speakers to communicate complicated thoughts by
arranging small, simple units in meaningful ways. For example, in English,
a sentence can be simple as a one – word interjection, or it can be a lengthy
composition with multiple clauses strung together.
According to R.M.W. Dixon ( 1991), syntactic clues have to be
treated with care, and the relevant syntactic categories must be established
empirically, not determined a priori.
Syntax plays important roles in language, it makes human language
unlimited. Humans can create new sentences or phrases to express different
meanings with the rules of syntax. Semantics

The word semantics was first used by a French philologist, Michel
Breal. In international scientific vocabulary semantics is also called
semasiology. The simple definition of semantics is the study of the meaning
of linguistic expressions. The formal study of semantics intersects with
many other fields of inquiry including lexicology, syntax, pragmatics,
etymology and others. It contrasts with syntax, the study of the combination
of units of a language without reference to their meaning, and pragmatics –
the study of the relationships between the symbols of a language, their
meaning, and the users of the language.
In linguistics, semantics the subfield that devoted to the study of
meaning, as inherent at the levels of words, phrases, sentences, and larger
units of discourse. It is also closely linked to the subjects of representation,
reference and denotation. In traditionally, semantics has included the study
of sense and denotative reference, truth conditions, argument structure,
thematic roles, discourse analysis, and the linkage of all these to syntax.
According to Hurford and Heasley (1983) semantics is the study of
meaning in language. Language is a mean of communication, and people
use language to communicate with other by making conversations, giving
information, and other things to make social relationship.
Morries as quoted by Lyons (1977) at first defines semantics as the
study of the relations of signs to the objects to which the signs are
applicable. And then he revised his definition, saying that, semantics is that
portion of semiotic which deals with the signification of sign in all modes of


The concepts as well as the studies of syntax and semantics are basis
study to investigate syntax and semantic features of prepositions of place
“in”, “at”, “on” in English.
2.2.2. Theoretical background
Prepositions are words used to combine nouns or noun structures to
other structures in a sentence. However, they have different characteristics
and usage in each language. English prepositional usage may be treated in
different ways depending on the starting points chosen and the aspects that
are being emphasized. English prepositions
The important feature of preposition is that they cannot stand alone,
regardless of how many words they combine with. As prepositions are not
independent element, they always combine with other elements such as
nouns, pronouns, verbs. Thus, the study of preposition should focus on
finding characteristics of prepositional phrase than separating them from
other elements. Definition
Preposition is a word that comes from Latin, a language in which
such a word is usually placed before its complement. It is often used in
English, both in spoken and written language. In the most general term, a
preposition is the first word of a phrase that contains a noun or a pronoun.
Preposition is defined “A preposition may be defined as connecting word
showing the relation of a noun or a noun substitute to some other word in
sentence” (“Preposition: definition and usage”).


According to Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary a preposition “
is a word or group of words used before a noun or pronoun to show place,
position, time or method”. Agoi (2003) described preposition as a word or
group of words used with a noun or noun equivalents to show the link
between that noun which it governs and another word. According to Richard
Nordquist, he defines preposition as “a word that show relationship between
a noun or pronoun and other words in a sentence”. Ehrlich and Murphy
(1990) state that preposition is a word conveys the meaning of position,
direction, time or other abstraction. Prepositions according to Lawal (2004)
indicate various relationships between words or phrases in sentence. The
relationship includes those of times, points, position, direction, and various
degrees of mental or emotional attitude. Wishon and Burks (1980) state
“Prepositions are always followed by nouns or pronouns. They are
connective words that show the relationship between the nouns following
them and one of the basis sentences elements: subject, verb, object, or
Another definition of preposition within traditional grammar is
presented by Curme (1935) “A preposition is a word that indicates a relation
between the noun or pronoun it governs and another words, which may be a
verb, an adjective, or another noun or pronoun”. This definition emphasizes
the function of expression relation. It offers an extremely comprehensive
definition of a preposition.
Prepositions in English consist of one word (in, at, on, to) or two
words (ahead of) or three words (in front of). They are used with a lot of
functions including time, location, manner, means, quantity, purpose and
state or condition. In other words, prepositions have different functions and
meaning in English sentences.

The important feature of preposition is that they can not stand alone,
regardless of how many words they are combined with (Downing and
Locke, 1992). As prepositions are not independent element, they are always
combined with other elements, such as nouns (at night), verbs (to give), and
adverbs (for ever).
The part following a preposition is called its object. The object of a
preposition can be a noun, pronoun, a gerund or a noun clause. For example:
a noun: We gave a present to our secretaries.
a pronoun: We gave a present to them.
a gerund: We thought about giving a present to them.
a noun clause: We thought about giving a present to whoever worked
for us.
(Lougheed, n.d) Types of preposition
In term of components, prepositions are divided into two main
groups: simple prepositions and complex prepositions.
A simple preposition is made up of only one word. They are words
like ‘in’, ‘at’, ‘on’, ‘to’, ‘off’, ‘about’, ‘for’, ‘by’, ‘along’, ‘following’,
‘until’, ‘with’,’ through, etc. Here are some examples of the uses of the
simple prepositions.
My cottage is on that road.
There are only two beds in the cottage.
My car is at the cottage.
They were driving to Edinburgh.
He was standing by the door.

The book is off the shelf.
The house stands between two farms.
We didn’t sleep until midnight.
He jumped into the lake.
Ann climbed onto the roof.
You can’t leave the country without a passport.

[16: 35]

You must get the job done within the week.
She spoke during the meeting.

[22: 689]

As regards stress, simple prepositions can be divided into two groups:
- Prepositions which have no reduced form in their pronunciation
such as like, round, since, through.

Prepositions which have reduced forms such as from /frɔm, frəm,
frm/ and where the choice of phonetic form varies according to
(Quirk et al, 1985)

Complex preposition is made of more than one word. According to
Quirk et al. (1979), most complex prepositions can be assigned to one of
three categories: adverb + preposition, verb/ adjective/ conjunction +
preposition, preposition + noun + preposition.
In two- word sequences, the first word is an adverb, verb, adjective
conjunction, and the second word is a simple prepositions. These simple
prepositions are often

for, from, of, to or with. Some of two –word

sequences: ‘away from’, ‘close to’, ‘instead of’, ‘up to’, ‘except for’,
‘because of’, ‘next to’, ‘due to’, ‘back of’, ‘according to’, etc. Here are some


We had to leave early because of the bad weather.
I sat next to an old lady on the train.
Except for Margaret, everybody was in favour of the idea. [22: 669]
She was sitting close to me.

[22: 680]

At last we are out of the forest.

[22: 684]

She is up to the top ten students in her class.


According to me, she is a very good student.


I lived away from home when I was a student.


The type consisting of three words is the most numerous category of
complex prepositions, as in : Prep1 + N + Prep2 : ‘in line with’, ‘in
connection with’, ‘in term of’, ‘in favour of’, ‘on account of’, ‘in front of’,
‘on top of’, ‘ in spite of’, ‘ at the back of’, ‘ in place of’, ‘in search if’, ‘ in
comparison with’, ‘in view of’, ‘in addition to’ etc. Examples:
In term of money, her loss was small.
How many delegates are in favour of this motion
In line with latest trends in fashion, many dress designers have been
sacrificing elegance to audacity.

[22: 670]

His name is at the back of the cover’s story.

[16: 34]

In spite of being a good student, she failed the exams.

[16: 56]

On account of raining I stay at home today.

[16: 67]

Besides, complex prepositions may be subdivided according to
which prepositions function as Prep1 and Prep2 such as:
in + noun + of: in view of, in search of, in place of, etc…
in + noun + with : in line with, in comparison with, etc…
by + noun + of: by virtue of, by dint of, etc…
on + noun + of : on pain of, on the strength of, etc…

However, the boundary between simple and complex prepositions is
not clear – cut. Many simple prepositions are derived from complex.
In term of meanings, prepositions are divided into five groups:
prepositions of place, prepositions of time, prepositions of reason,
prepositions of manner and concession. Prepositions can be used to show
several types of relations depending on the context because prepositions
usually have more than one meaning.
Preposition of place: in, at, on, behind, under, in front of, over, above,
between, next to, etc…Examples:
A large flock of pigeons is perched on the tree..


He works in London, but he lives in the country.
She’s a student at Oxford University.

[22: 676]

The car is behind the bus.

[22: 678]

He lives under the bridge.
The flag is in front of us.

[25: 316]

Prepositions of time: in, at, on, for, since, during, by, before, after,
till, until, etc…
We stayed up during the night.

[22: 688]

I wrote my paper on Friday.
I have to submit the paper by Monday.
Victoria arrived at Waterloo Station at 7pm.

[25: 320]

We took a swim before breakfast.

[25: 323]

We camped there until September.

[22: 690]

Prepositions of reasons: because of, due to, out of, for, on account
of. Examples:

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