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Three Easy Ways to Know You’re Using The Preposition ‘On’ Correctly

Congratulations for your promotion? Congratulations for your wedding? Put the blame to her? Place the book to the table? See you at Saturday? The assembly convenes at Mondays.

Don’t the above sentences sound a little odd, but we often hear them?

At this point, I’m guessing it’s quite clear that the correct way is to replace the ‘for’, ‘to’ and ‘at’ with ‘ON‘ – Congratulations on your promotion! Congratulations on your wedding! Put the blame on her. Place the book on the table. See you on Saturday. The assembly convenes on Mondays.

So let’s begin with the kind of negative impact using ‘On’ incorrectly may cost you. Let’s see an example: “You shall pay on my services.” Did you know that that sentence implies that your customer can pay you on a recurring term and not in lump sum? So of course, the right way to say it is, “You shall pay for my services.”

It should also be clarified here that it is really easy for everyday Malaysians to confuse the correct usage of the preposition ‘On’ because ‘On’ most usually means atas or untuk to us. The root of the incorrect usage of ‘On’ stems from its direct translation from Bahasa Melayu to English.

Let’s delve more into ‘On’ so we can see how easy it is to use this preposition for our professional correspondence (and avoid monetary consequences!).

There are three reasons to use the preposition ‘On’, as follows:

  1. To express time (day).
  2. To express location (noun).
  3. To express occasion.

Now I’ll give you some examples with its Bahasa Melayu translation so that we can see the correct usage of ‘On’ more logically.

Example 1. The meeting is happening on Monday, do we have all invitees’ response on their attendance? Mesyuarat akan berlangsung pada hari Isnin, sudahkah kita terima maklum balas akan kehadiran mereka?

In Example1, we can see the usage of ‘On’ twice. Firstly to express time (day) and secondly to express an occasion (attendance to meeting). If you compare with its translation in Bahasa Melayu, you will see that the preposition ‘On’ is replaced with ‘pada‘ and ‘akan‘, not the usual direct translation of ‘On’ which are ‘atas‘ or ‘untuk‘.

But the point I want to drive Bahasa Melayu native speakers to see is this – we can replace the preposition ‘On’ in the sentence with ‘atas’ and ‘untuk’, BUT IT WOULD BRING AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT MEANING TO THE SENTENCE!

Mesyuarat akan berlangsung untuk hari Isnin, sudahkah kita terima maklum balas atas kehadiran mereka?

The sentence above still makes sense in Bahasa Melayu, but the entire meaning of the sentence had changed, Instead of asking on the attendees’ response for a meeting to be held on Monday, the sentence asks for the attendees of the meeting on Monday’s slot, because the phrase ‘untuk hari Isnin‘ assumes that there is a bunch of similar themed activities happening for a few days.

Do you see the difference between ‘pada hari Isnin’ and ‘untuk hari Isnin’?

So that is the difference in meaning when you use the preposition ‘On’ correctly in ‘on Monday’ and ‘for Monday’.

Same goes if we were to directly translate the sentence to ‘Mesyuarat akan berlangsung untuk pada Isnin, sudahkah kita terima maklum balas untuk kehadiran mereka?’ where the phrase ‘on their attendence’ is directly translated to ‘untuk kehadiran mereka‘. This direct translation not only alters the meaning of the sentence in Bahasa Melayu, I’m sure it would bring about a lot confusion and waste of time in clarification of the requirement of the meeting in a normal day-to-day business environment.

And that exactly why we need our English Language grammar to be spot on, to be crystal clear in our communication and eliminate time wasted in clarifying and explaining an ineffective communication.

Okay, let’s try with another example to make the usage of the preposition ‘On’ crystal clear.

Example 2. I’ll be travelling on a bus to Ipoh on Friday so I’ll be in town over the weekend to celebrate with a dinner on your promotion. Saya akan menggunakan bas untuk ke Ipoh hari Jumaat ini maka bolehlah kita menyambut kenaikan pangkat awak hujung minggu ini.

Notice that the translation in Bahasa Melayu only carries the gist of the English sentence and is not a word-by-word translation. Example 2 uses the preposition ‘On’ three times, to express a location (noun), a time (day) and occasion. Let’s go through each of its usage.

‘…travelling on a bus…’ implies a location as the writer expresses it as a noun ‘a bus’. Most commonly expressed as ‘travelling by bus’ or ‘travelling by plane’ or ‘travelling by train’ etc, but it is worth to note that the use of preposition ‘On’ in such circumstances require the expression of the noun. Examples include, ‘travelling on a plane’ or ‘travelling on a train’ but do note that it can’t be expressed as ‘travelling on a car’ because the preposition ‘On’ is used to express a location wherein a bus or a plane or a train one sits on, without needing to drive or navigate the vehicle.

‘…on Friday…’ is a direct usage of the preposition ‘On’ to express the time (day) of the writer’s travel to Ipoh.

‘…celebrate with a dinner on your promotion.’ implies that the dinner is to celebrate the occasion of the promotion of the writer’s friend. While we are at this phrase, I would like to grab your attention that it is a common error among us Malaysians to use the preposition ‘for’ instead of ‘on’ when expressing an occasion. A direct Bahasa Melayu translation of ‘…celebrate with a dinner on your promotion.’ would be ‘…sambutan makan malam atas kenaikan pangkat awak.‘ The preposition ‘On’ is replaced with ‘atas‘ here.

My question to you now is, is it ‘…sambutan makan malam atas kenaikan pangkat awak.’ or is it ‘…sambutan makan malam untuk kenaikan pangkat awak.’? Do you see the difference in meaning when we use the preposition ‘On’ correctly to express an occasion?

To wrap things up, we just need to remember the golden rule of ‘On’ – LOT.

L – Location (noun)

O – Occasion

T – Time (day)

When you counter an L-O-T in your English sentence creation, consider using the preposition ‘On’ to help convey your message effectively. Because your global audience needs your knowledge and solutions.

Now, I would like to hear from you. Are there times when you hit a block in deciding which correct preposition to use? Do you puzzle yourself with the usage of above, on, on top of, in, for, with, etc when creating English Language sentences? Do reply with a comment below or reply to my email if you are a The Baini Mustafa Newsletter subscriber.

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Have a great productive week ahead and I’ll see you next week!

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