2. Comparison between English and Arabic prepositions (fii..in), (ala..on)

English language researchers are well aware that English prepositional usage is one of the Arab learners are also expected to find similar difficulties in the use of English prepositions because although Arabic and English prepositions have some characteristics in common, they differ in both number and usage. There are only twenty Arabic prepositions the most important and commonly used are six prepositions, (min, ila, ala, ba, la, fi), (Abbas hasan, 1961:pp320) while in English there are one hundred fifty prepositions (Josef essberger, 2000).

A preposition by definition expresses a relationship between two entities: it indicates a relationship in space (between one object and another), andor a relationship in time (between events), andor a more abstract relationship (government). So, the first characteristic is that neither Arabic nor English prepositions can stand by themselves: they get their meanings through their usage in contexts.

The other characteristics is that the number of prepositions in English is more than Arabic in Arabic is limited, as mentioned above; but, at the same time, each preposition may have to serve variety of purposes. The same preposition may express time or space and be followed be anoun, a verb, an adverb or an adjective; also it may be used idiomatically.

The main problem for these learners lies firstly in the fact that not every Arabic preposition has definite equivalent in English and vice versa, and secondly, in that not every English or Arabic preposition has a definite usage and meaning, indicating only time or space or following preceding a certain word. The most problematic of all prepositions for both space and time“fii andon”.

The first example the Arabic preposition ”fii” is used as an equivalent instead of“in, into, at, on, during’, within, inside and also zero equivalent”. This particular preposition has therefore great semantic power in both standard and colloquial Arabic: it’s the filter through which all these English equivalents must pass. It is used to denote time and place and occurs with many different Arabic words in abstract and metaphorical usages. Therefore “fii’ as well as other Arabic prepositions interferes the selection and usage of English once.


I sleptin bed. (Correct response) (In)

Spring beginsin the first of March. (On)

In the end of the journey we brought fruit. (At)

In my last holiday I did many different thinks. (During)

I went homein happily. (?)

The plane is flyinginto the sky. (In)

The first English preposition that is likely to be produced as the equivalent of the Arabic preposition fii is “in” as shown in the first sentence where it is correctly used. However it is incorrectly selected instead of “on, at, during, “?”, and into”. In the sentences 2,3,4 and5. On the other hand students may also they maybe use this preposition and all its other equivalents interchangeably, as illustrated by sentence 6.

Another problem is that Arab use or omit certain English prepositions according to Arabic usage .so, by literal translation when the Arabic context requires a preposion (or requires none), learners make wrong responses accordingly as illustrated in the following examples:

The boy enjoyed the film.

The literal translation of this sentence is

Either              the boy enjoyedwith the film.

Or                   the boy enjoyed from the film.

In Arabic it is necessary to insert a preposition to make a relationship between the enjoyment and the film, which was the cause of the enjoyment. With out such a preposition the Arabic sentence will have no sense.

Therefore Arab learners are likely to insert unnecessary prepositions when they express themselves in English. On the other hand, they may omit necessary prepositions as illustrated by the following examples:

When we arrivedin Jericho we bought fruit.

I must stayat the university for eight years.

I saw the domeof the rock.

These are correct responses in English. The prepositions “in, for, and of” must be inserted to form a relationship between the arriving and the place, which was arrived at, and the stay at the university and the time to be spent there; also between the rock and the dome which is built over it. With out these prepositions the above sentences will make no sense in English. But the literal translations of these sentences don’t need such prepositions because the relationship exists in Arabic without them as shown in flowchart (1).


Locative surface

Locative Point or time

Time period

Flowchart (1) Arabic preposition“Fii” comparison with English preposition“In”

The second example: Ala

The Arabic preposition “Ala’ is used as an equivalent instead of “on, over, above, at and onto”. According to Arab learners these prepositions in English language have the same equivalent and usage. They couldn’t differentiate in the use of these prepositions, they only use “on”, as shown in the examples below.

I saw a football matchon TV.  (On)

The bird is flyingon my head. (Above)

He jumpedon the wall. (Over)

We saton the table. (At)

I will comeon seven o’clock. (At)

The crab was washed upon the shore. (Onto)

As shown in the first sentence above, the first English preposition that is likely to be produced as the equivalent of the Arabic preposition“ala” is“on” . However, its incorrectly selected of“over, above, at and onto” in sentences 2,3,4,5 and 6.

The key to this problem is the fact Arab always resort to literal translation before they form English pattern. In the other words, they translate the English into Arabic and then the Arabic back in to English, word for word .so these mistakes due to the Arabic interference when they speak or translate into English once.  Also the differences between English and Arabic patterns make it difficult to choose the correct preposition, as shown in flowchart (2).


None equivalent/parallel usage





Interior directive



Relationship between two objects but doesn’t touch it

Point or time

Flowchart (2) Arabic prepositions“Ala” comparison with English Preposition“on”