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  1. #1
    stuartnz's Avatar
    stuartnz is offline Senior Member
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    Default Idiomatic preposition choice

    Or perhaps the subject line could have been "Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes?"

    I'm on the prowl for some good basic material for beginner's ESOL lessons. I came across a 10-question quiz on prepositions, and got one wrong! Here it is:

    Q: He works ____ a bank.
    (1) in
    (2) at
    (3) on
    (4) to

    The answer I chose was "(2) at". This usage is standard in NZ English, and is heard at least as often as the answer that the quizmaster stipulated "(1) in". My question has to do with this sort of idiomatic variation. Am I better to follow the example of the person who set this quiz and tell my students to use "in", marking "at" as "wrong" for the sake of simplicity, or can I tell them that in the English they are going to hear used all around them, either option is like to be used?

  2. #2
    Anglika is offline No Longer With Us
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    Default Re: Idiomatic preposition choice

    Normally in Britain it will be "work in a bank".

  3. #3
    stuartnz's Avatar
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    Default Re: Idiomatic preposition choice

    Quote Originally Posted by Anglika View Post
    Normally in Britain it will be "work in a bank".

    Thanks for the reply. As I mentioned, it's probably 50/50 here, so what I'm wondering is whether I should tell my students this or just get them using the one that is preferred elsewhere.
    Last edited by stuartnz; 18-Mar-2008 at 00:01.

  4. #4
    Anglika is offline No Longer With Us
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    Default Re: Idiomatic preposition choice

    When you use the verb "work" with a location, do you always use "at"? So far as I can tell, "in" would be the accepted normal preposition, with occasions when "at" is an alternative.

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    stuartnz's Avatar
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    Default Re: Idiomatic preposition choice

    Quote Originally Posted by Anglika View Post
    When you use the verb "work" with a location, do you always use "at"? So far as I can tell, "in" would be the accepted normal preposition, with occasions when "at" is an alternative.

    It seems that my own communication skills are lacking in clarity. I thought that I had explained that here in NZ, the choice is 50/50. Both in my personal use in the usage I hear from others in various registers, "at" and "in" are interchangeable. There is no discernible preference. If my meaning is still not clear, please forgive me, but after three attempts to convey the same thought, I'm out of further rephrasing options.

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    stuartnz's Avatar
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    Default Re: Idiomatic preposition choice

    If anyone is in a position to offer an answer to the question I asked in my original post, I'd be grateful. Thanks!

  7. #7
    Anglika is offline No Longer With Us
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    Default Re: Idiomatic preposition choice

    It's late at night. I had gathered what you said, but you were also asking what to tell your students, and was trying to work out what might be the best answer.

    Probably what you suggest - both are to be found but that they may be penalised for using "at".

  8. #8
    stuartnz's Avatar
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    Default Re: Idiomatic preposition choice

    Quote Originally Posted by Anglika View Post
    It's late at night.
    Thanks for staying up past midnight to help me!

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    NearThere is offline Member
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    Default Re: Idiomatic preposition choice

    I am not rebuting anyone's opinion here, I'm just a student learning English.

    I just find it fascinating that different countries have preference even in prepositions. I have been in the united states for 12 years, I can honestly say I more often hear "at" used than "in" in a sentence such as that given by Stuart. Furthur more I remember a little while back a thread with a string of discussion about pp (or pp continueous?) using a sampled sentence: I have worked in the company for 10 years to which a native speaker cautioned a correction from "in" to "for".

    So I am simply fascinated. So is it "in" or is it "at"?

    NT

  10. #10
    stuartnz's Avatar
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    Default Re: Idiomatic preposition choice

    Quote Originally Posted by NearThere View Post

    So I am simply fascinated. So is it "in" or is it "at"?

    NT
    I was interested to read that you have heard "at" more than "in" in the sort of phrase being discussed. Given your location, perhaps that suggests that the use of "at" is more common in Asia-Pacific Englishes. As for which one is "right", I would say "both." I am a passionate defender of the variety and diversity of World English in all its many flavours, and see no need to kowtow to any one variant as being inherently superior or more correct than another. NZ and Australia have long suffered what's called cultural cringw when comes to their varieties of English, with their accents being contemned and their word choices derided. Now, these and other variants of English are beginning to realise that they need not be embarrassed about their differences from other variants, but can instead celebrate them. IN NZ, for example, our accent is moving away from that of Australia and our English vocabulary is adopting a growing number of Maaori words. Indian English gives us the wonderfully useful "prepone". There are any number of examples of this sort of thing, that's why I say that a varietal preposition choice like "at" vs. "in" is simply that, a choice that serves a marker of varietal difference, not an issue of wrong or right. Of course, I only teach English part-time to a few Punjabi friends, so I'm not an expert.

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