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A preposition links a noun or noun phrase to a verb, adjective, or another noun or noun phrase. In English, “on,” “at,” “underneath,” and “during” are prepositions. Zamenhof sought to define the meanings of Esperanto prepositions as precisely as possible. When no particular choice of preposition was obvious from the sense, the generalized preposition je was to serve. In actual practice, je is surprisingly rare.
On the other hand, sometimes the prepositions that are used seem a bit arbitrary and vary from one speaker to another. Does one knock on a door? At a door. Outside the door? Against the door? Does one live on a certain street? Beside the street? Along the street? In the street? Different languages traditionally select different prepositions, and there is considerable range of usage in Esperanto. Notice how Zamenhof changes prepositions he uses with the verb frapi = “to strike, knock”:
In general, if a very literal meaning of a preposition is applicable, that is the best preposition. If not, you may usually assume there will be variation in usage. Not everybody’s instinct is the same, so sometimes you may be a little surprised by a preposition someone uses, but the results are ordinarily perfectly intelligible:
If nothing seems appropriate, je will usually work fine:
When je is the appropriate preposition, it is allowable to omit it and put its object into an accusative case, but this is advisable only if no other use of the accusative is likely to be confused with it.
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