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Author Topic: Lesson #8 – Specific Rules for Preposition Usage  (Read 137628 times)
Joe Carillo
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« on: June 19, 2009, 09:49:52 PM »

Most preposition usage is essentially conventional, even quirkish at times, and many preposition choices actually have no inherent or discernible logic of their own. For instance, it’s not easy to discern any logical difference between “in,” “on,” and “at” as prepositions of place and location, and this is why so many nonnative English speakers take a long time to master their proper usage. Achieving this mastery, in fact, requires committing to memory the specific prepositions needed according to established usage, and it’s a task that becomes even more tedious and difficult in the case of the prepositional phrases and prepositional idioms.

The common run of prepositions usually establishes a space or time relationship between ideas within a phrase, clause, or sentence, and they can be divided into five groups:
1. The prepositions of place and location: “in,” “at,” and “on”
2. The prepositions of motion: “to,” “toward,” “in,” and “into”
3. The prepositions of movement and direction: “to,” “onto,” and “into”
4. The prepositions for specific points of time: “on,” “at,” “in,” and “after”
5. The prepositions for periods or extended time: “since,” “for,” “by,” “from…to,”
    “from…until,” “before,” “during,” “within,” “between,” and “beyond.”

Rules for Usage:
PREPOSITIONS THAT ESTABLISH RELATIONSHIPS IN SPACE

The prepositions “in,” “at,” and “on” for indicating place and location. The general rule is to use “in” for an enclosed space, “at” for a point, and “on” for a surface. Here are some specific guidelines for their use in American English:

Use “in” for spaces: “They always meet in a secret room [in a suburban hotel, in a parking lot, in a farm, in a ricefield].”

Use “in” for names of specific land areas: “She lives in a quiet town [in Tagaytay, in Cavite, in Southern Tagalog, in the island of Palawan, in the Philippines, in Southeast Asia].

Use “in” for bodies of water: “That kind of fish thrives in freshwater [in the river, in the lake, in streams, in the sea].”

Use “in” for lines: “The registrants are in a row [in a line, in a queue].”

Use “at” to indicate points: “You’ll find us at the entrance [at the taxi stand, at the supermarket, at the intersection].”

Use “at” for specific addresses, as in “She lives at 40 Lilac St.”

Use “on” for names of streets, roads, avenues, and boulevards: “Her apartment is on San Pablo Street [on Ortigas Avenue, on Santolan Road, on Roxas Boulevard].”

Use “on” for surfaces: “There’s a large stain on the floor [on the wall, on the ceiling, on the roof].”

The prepositions “in,” “at,” and “on” for indicating location.

Use “in” in these cases: “The children are in the kitchen [in the garden, in the car, in the library, in the class, in school]. (The article “the” is mandatory except for the fourth and last example.)

Use “at” in these particular cases: “She was at home [at the library, at the office, at school, at work] when we arrived.”

Use “on” in these particular cases: “They are on the plane [on the train, on the boat].”

Some locations, though, don’t need a preposition between them and the verb: “They sleep downstairs [inside, outside, downtown, upstairs, uptown].”

Rules for Usage:
PREPOSITIONS THAT ESTABLISH MOTION AND DIRECTION

The prepositions of motion “to,” “toward,” “in,” and “into.”  These four prepositions link the verbs of movement—“move,” “go,” “transfer,” “walk,” “run,” “swim,” “ride,” “drive,” “fly,” “travel,” and many more—to their object destination. All of these verbs, except “transfer,” can take both “to” and “toward.”

We must keep in mind, however, that “to” is used to convey the idea of movement toward a specific destination, while “toward” is used to convey movement in a general direction that may not reach a specific destination:

“Please take me to the bus station.”
(The speaker obligates the listener to specifically take him to a particular place.)

“The speedboat headed toward the harbor.”
(The speaker indicates only a movement in a general direction.)

We can actually interchange “into” and “in” more or less freely when used with verbs of motion. There are exceptions, though. We can only use “in” (or “inside”) when the preposition is the last word in the sentence or occurs right before an adverbial of time (“today,” “tomorrow”), manner (“quickly,” “hurriedly”) or frequency (“once,” “twice”).

Examples: “The woman went into the manager’s office.” “The woman went in twice.” “The woman went in.” “The new tenants moved into the apartment yesterday” “The new tenants moved in hurriedly.” “The new tenants moved in.”      

We can also use “into” as the last word in a question: “What sort of trouble have you gotten yourself into?” But we should use “in” if the question is said in this form: “What sort of trouble are you in?”

“In/into” also has two unique uses with the verb “move.” The first is when “move in” is followed by a clause indicating purpose or motive: “The hunters moved in for the kill.” “The soldiers moved in for the attack.” In both examples, “in” is part of the verb phrase, so we cannot use “into.”

The second case is when we use “into” with “move” to convey the idea of simple movement: “The firemen moved into the burning building.”

The prepositions of direction “to,” “onto,” and “into.” These prepositions correspond to the common prepositions of location: “to” for “at,” “onto” for “on,” and “into” for “in.” Each is defined by the same space relations of point, line, surface, or area as in the prepositions of location.

“To,” the basic directional preposition, signifies orientation toward a goal. If that goal is physical, like a specific destination, “to” conveys the idea of movement in the direction of that goal: “The troops returned to their base.”

“Toward,” of course, also works as a directional preposition, and means about the same thing as the directional preposition “to.” If the goal is not a physical place, as in an action, “to” simply puts the verb in the infinitive form to express a particular purpose: “She sings to earn extra money.” “She cut her hair to show her displeasure.”

The directional prepositions “onto” and “into” are, as we know, compounds formed by “to” with corresponding prepositions of location: on + to = onto, to signify movement toward a surface, and in + to = into, to signify movement inside a finite three-dimensional space or volume.

When used with many verbs of motion, however, “on” and “in” already have a directional meaning. We therefore can freely use them instead of “onto” and “into.” Note that “on” and “onto” work equally well in the following sentences: “The cats fell on [onto] the floor.” “The whales washed up onto [on] the beach.” “The girl jumped into [in] the river.”

You will notice, however, that always, the compound locational prepositions “onto” and “into” convey the consummation of an action, while the simple locational prepositions “on” and “in” indicate the subject’s end-position as a result of the action.

Let’s look at some examples.
Consummation of action: “The boy fell onto [to] the ground.” “The sailor dived into [to] the pool.”

Position of subject: “The boy is on the ground.” “The sailor is in the pool.”

Now we discover something interesting: directional prepositions actually serve to convey the idea of cause, while locational prepositions serve to convey the idea of effect. This, in fact, is as near a rule of thumb as we can get in dealing with these two kinds of prepositions.

We cannot leave this subject, of course, without discussing “at” as a preposition of motion and direction. Being the least specific of the prepositions in space orientation, we can use “at” in a good number of ways.

To mark a verb of motion directed towards a point: “She arrived at the airport late.” “The marksman aimed at the hostage-taker with precision.”

To indicate direction: “The man leaped at the thief to subdue him.” “She jumped at me without warning.”

Rules for Usage:
PREPOSITIONS THAT ESTABLISH RELATIONSHIPS IN TIME

The prepositions for specific points in time: “on,” “at,” “in,” and “after.”

“On” is used with the days of the week: “We are going out on Monday [on Tuesday, on Sunday].”

“On” is used for specific dates (optional in informal usage): “The trade fair will start on March 12, 2003 [on March 12, on the 12th of March, on the 12th ].”

“At” is used with clocked time: “She picks her son from school at 4:30 p.m.”

“At” is used with the following times of the day: “noon,” “night,” “midnight,” “sunrise,” “sunset”: “We sail for Palawan at noon [at midnight, at sunrise].”

“At” is used with certain major holidays (without the word “Day”) as points of time: “The family always gets together at Thanksgiving [at Christmas, at Easter, at Halloween].”

“In” is used with the following times of the day: “morning,” “afternoon,” “evening”: “She waters her roses in the morning [in the afternoon, in the evening].”

“In” is used with dates that do not carry the specific day: “The Spanish explorer reached the Philippines in March 1521.”

“In” is used with months, years, decades, and centuries as points of time: “The famous writer was born in April [in 1946, in the 1940s, in the 20th century].”

“In” is used with the seasons as points of time: “He promised not to leave her in autumn [in summer, in spring, in winter].”

“After” is used with events that happen later than another event or point of time:  “The overseas worker came home only after the holidays.”    

The prepositions for periods or extended time: “since,” “for,” “by,” “from...to,” “from...until,” “during,” “within,” “between,” and “beyond.”

“Since” is used with an event that happens at some time or continuously after another time or event: “She has not watched a movie since last month.” “They have been producing noodles since the war.”

“For” is used with particular durations: “Our president will be abroad for three weeks [not for long, for most of next month].”

“By” is used with an act completed or to be completed by a certain time: “She expects to finish writing the book by April [by then, by the second quarter].”

“From...to” is used to refer to the beginning and end of an activity or event: “The weather was stormy from Wednesday to Friday.”

“From...until” is used to refer to the beginning of one period to the beginning of another: “Our sales rose continuously from Christmas until right before Holy Week.”

“During” is used to refer to a period of time in which an event happens or an activity is done: “She had coffee during the morning break.”

“Between” is used to refer to an action taking place between the beginning and the end of a period: “You must get the job done between now and Friday.”

“Within” is used to refer to an action that must take place or be completed within a given period: “You must get the job done within the week.”

“Beyond” is used to refer to a period of time after a particular event has taken place or a particular time has elapsed: “Beyond the mid-1990s all of our offices had shifted to word processors.”

Prepositions for specific time frames. “In” is used with the three basic time frames: “past,” “present,” “future”: “He was a kindly man in the past.” “She is doing nothing in the present [“...at present” is the preferred usage at present].” “In the future, change the oil of your car regularly.”

“In” is used with prescribed time periods: “The project must be completed in a month [in a year, in five years].”

Next: Dealing with the Prepositional Phrases

RELATED DISCUSSIONS:
Lesson #9 - Getting to Know the Prepositional Phrases
Lesson #10 – Dealing with the Prepositional Idioms
« Last Edit: March 04, 2015, 07:44:33 AM by Joe Carillo » Logged

hill roberts
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« Reply #1 on: December 10, 2010, 03:41:48 PM »

Why is it that Filipino facebook users always insist on saying:

"I'm in Facebook..."  or  "...in my page..." and not "on" ?
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Joe Carillo
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« Reply #2 on: December 10, 2010, 04:51:37 PM »

I’m not absolutely sure, but I guess this is simply a manifestation of the differences between American and British English. As I observed in my essay that I posted in the Forum last January about their differing uses of the prepositions “in” and “on,” “Londoners live in a street and stay in farm cottages at weekends,” but “New Yorkers and English-speaking Manilans live on a street and stay in farm cottages on weekends.” Although “in” and “on” are interchanged in their usage, both are grammatically correct. It’s all a matter of convention and preference.

You may want review some of the other usage differences between American English and British English by clicking this link to that essay, “How American English and British English Differ.”
« Last Edit: December 10, 2010, 08:21:37 PM by Joe Carillo » Logged

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« Reply #3 on: March 31, 2011, 11:47:28 AM »

i had to say ,it it really a good website to know the english,i think i will always come here to improve my English level Smiley Wink
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« Reply #4 on: July 26, 2011, 05:59:19 PM »

good info thanks
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It is ameliorate for me totally to detect decent resume writing service  point-device, because chiefly I miss to check developed job.
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« Reply #5 on: March 23, 2012, 02:40:02 AM »

Thanks for the useful information. In fact it is one of the most confusing things in grammar. So it is going to help them in a great way.
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« Reply #6 on: April 12, 2012, 02:41:47 PM »

Excellent information. This is one of the most difficult things in the English language. It is going to help pwoplw in a big way.
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« Reply #7 on: July 20, 2012, 02:32:28 PM »

Most preposition usage is essentially conventional, even quirkish at times, and many preposition choices actually have no inherent or discernible logic of their own. For instance, it’s not easy to discern any logical difference between “in,” “on,” and “at” as prepositions of place and location, and this is why so many nonnative English speakers take a long time to master their proper usage. Achieving this mastery, in fact, requires committing to memory the specific prepositions needed according to established usage, and it’s a task that becomes even more tedious and difficult in the case of the prepositional phrases and prepositional idioms.

The common run of prepositions usually establishes a space or time relationship between ideas within a phrase, clause, or sentence, and they can be divided into five groups:
1. The prepositions of place and location: “in,” “at,” and “on”
2. The prepositions of motion: “to,” “toward,” “in,” and “into”
3. The prepositions of movement and direction: “to,” “onto,” and “into”
4. The prepositions for specific points of time: “on,” “at,” “in,” and “after”
5. The prepositions for periods or extended time: “since,” “for,” “by,” “from…to,”
    “from…until,” “before,” “during,” “within,” “between,” and “beyond.”

Rules for Usage:
PREPOSITIONS THAT ESTABLISH RELATIONSHIPS IN SPACE

The prepositions “in,” “at,” and “on” for indicating place and location. The general rule is to use “in” for an enclosed space, “at” for a point, and “on” for a surface. Here are some specific guidelines for their use in American English:

Use “in” for spaces: “They always meet in a secret room [in a suburban hotel, in a parking lot, in a farm, in a ricefield].”

Use “in” for names of specific land areas: “She lives in a quiet town [in Tagaytay, in Cavite, in Southern Tagalog, in the island of Palawan, in the Philippines, in Southeast Asia].

Use “in” for bodies of water: “That kind of fish thrives in freshwater [in the river, in the lake, in streams, in the sea].”

Use “in” for lines: “The registrants are in a row [in a line, in a queue].”

Use “at” to indicate points: “You’ll find us at the entrance [at the taxi stand, at the supermarket, at the intersection].”

Use “at” for specific addresses, as in “She lives at 40 Lilac St.”

Use “on” for names of streets, roads, avenues, and boulevards: “Her apartment is on San Pablo Street [on Ortigas Avenue, on Santolan Road, on Roxas Boulevard].”

Use “on” for surfaces: “There’s a large stain on the floor [on the wall, on the ceiling, on the roof].”

The prepositions “in,” “at,” and “on” for indicating location.

Use “in” in these cases: “The children are in the kitchen [in the garden, in the car, in the library, in the class, in school]. (The article “the” is mandatory except for the fourth and last example.)

Use “at” in these particular cases: “She was at home [at the library, at the office, at school, at work] when we arrived.”

Use “on” in these particular cases: “They are on the plane [on the train, on the boat].”

Some locations, though, don’t need a preposition between them and the verb: “They sleep downstairs [inside, outside, downtown, upstairs, uptown].”

Rules for Usage:
PREPOSITIONS THAT ESTABLISH MOTION AND DIRECTION

The prepositions of motion “to,” “toward,” “in,” and “into.”  These four prepositions link the verbs of movement—“move,” “go,” “transfer,” “walk,” “run,” “swim,” “ride,” “drive,” “fly,” “travel,” and many more—to their object destination. All of these verbs, except “transfer,” can take both “to” and “toward.”

We must keep in mind, however, that “to” is used to convey the idea of movement toward a specific destination, while “toward” is used to convey movement in a general direction that may not reach a specific destination:

“Please take me to the bus station.”
(The speaker obligates the listener to specifically take him to a particular place.)

“The speedboat headed toward the harbor.”
(The speaker indicates only a movement in a general direction.)

We can actually interchange “into” and “in” more or less freely when used with verbs of motion. There are exceptions, though. We can only use “in” (or “inside”) when the preposition is the last word in the sentence or occurs right before an adverbial of time (“today,” “tomorrow”), manner (“quickly,” “hurriedly”) or frequency (“once,” “twice”).

Examples: “The woman went into the manager’s office.” “The woman went in twice.” “The woman went in.” “The new tenants moved into the apartment yesterday” “The new tenants moved in hurriedly.” “The new tenants moved in.”       

We can also use “into” as the last word in a question: “What sort of trouble have you gotten yourself into?” But we should use “in” if the question is said in this form: “What sort of trouble are you in?”

“In/into” also has two unique uses with the verb “move.” The first is when “move in” is followed by a clause indicating purpose or motive: “The hunters moved in for the kill.” “The soldiers moved in for the attack.” In both examples, “in” is part of the verb phrase, so we cannot use “into.”

The second case is when we use “into” with “move” to convey the idea of simple movement: “The firemen moved into the burning building.”

The prepositions of direction “to,” “onto,” and “into.” These prepositions correspond to the common prepositions of location: “to” for “at,” “onto” for “on,” and “into” for “in.” Each is defined by the same space relations of point, line, surface, or area as in the prepositions of location.

“To,” the basic directional preposition, signifies orientation toward a goal. If that goal is physical, like a specific destination, “to” conveys the idea of movement in the direction of that goal: “The troops returned to their base.”

“Toward,” of course, also works as a directional preposition, and means about the same thing as the directional preposition “to.” If the goal is not a physical place, as in an action, “to” simply puts the verb in the infinitive form to express a particular purpose: “She sings to earn extra money.” “She cut her hair to show her displeasure.”

The directional prepositions “onto” and “into” are, as we know, compounds formed by “to” with corresponding prepositions of location: on + to = onto, to signify movement toward a surface, and in + to = into, to signify movement inside a finite three-dimensional space or volume.

When used with many verbs of motion, however, “on” and “in” already have a directional meaning. We therefore can freely use them instead of “onto” and “into.” Note that “on” and “onto” work equally well in the following sentences: “The cats fell on [onto] the floor.” “The whales washed up onto [on] the beach.” “The girl jumped into [in] the river.”

You will notice, however, that always, the compound locational prepositions “onto” and “into” convey the consummation of an action, while the simple locational prepositions “on” and “in” indicate the subject’s end-position as a result of the action.

Let’s look at some examples.
Consummation of action: “The boy fell onto [to] the ground.” “The sailor dived into [to] the pool.”

Position of subject: “The boy is on the ground.” “The sailor is in the pool.”

Now we discover something interesting: directional prepositions actually serve to convey the idea of cause, while locational prepositions serve to convey the idea of effect. This, in fact, is as near a rule of thumb as we can get in dealing with these two kinds of prepositions.

We cannot leave this subject, of course, without discussing “at” as a preposition of motion and direction. Being the least specific of the prepositions in space orientation, we can use “at” in a good number of ways.

To mark a verb of motion directed towards a point: “She arrived at the airport late.” “The marksman aimed at the hostage-taker with precision.”

To indicate direction: “The man leaped at the thief to subdue him.” “She jumped at me without warning.”

Rules for Usage:
PREPOSITIONS THAT ESTABLISH RELATIONSHIPS IN TIME

The prepositions for specific points in time: “on,” “at,” “in,” and “after.”

“On” is used with the days of the week: “We are going out on Monday [on Tuesday, on Sunday].”

“On” is used for specific dates (optional in informal usage): “The trade fair will start on March 12, 2003 [on March 12, on the 12th of March, on the 12th ].”

“At” is used with clocked time: “She picks her son from school at 4:30 p.m.”

“At” is used with the following times of the day: “noon,” “night,” “midnight,” “sunrise,” “sunset”: “We sail for Palawan at noon [at midnight, at sunrise].”

“At” is used with certain major holidays (without the word “Day”) as points of time: “The family always gets together at Thanksgiving [at Christmas, at Easter, at Halloween].”

“In” is used with the following times of the day: “morning,” “afternoon,” “evening”: “She waters her roses in the morning [in the afternoon, in the evening].”

“In” is used with dates that do not carry the specific day: “The Spanish explorer reached the Philippines in March 1521.”

“In” is used with months, years, decades, and centuries as points of time: “The famous writer was born in April [in 1946, in the 1940s, in the 20th century].”

“In” is used with the seasons as points of time: “He promised not to leave her in autumn [in summer, in spring, in winter].”

“After” is used with events that happen later than another event or point of time:  “The overseas worker came home only after the holidays.”   

The prepositions for periods or extended time: “since,” “for,” “by,” “from...to,” “from...until,” “during,” “within,” “between,” and “beyond.”

“Since” is used with an event that happens at some time or continuously after another time or event: “She has not watched a movie since last month.” “They have been producing noodles since the war.”

“For” is used with particular durations: “Our president will be abroad for three weeks [not for long, for most of next month].”

“By” is used with an act completed or to be completed by a certain time: “She expects to finish writing the book by April [by then, by the second quarter].”

“From...to” is used to refer to the beginning and end of an activity or event: “The weather was stormy from Wednesday to Friday.”

“From...until” is used to refer to the beginning of one period to the beginning of another: “Our sales rose continuously from Christmas until right before Holy Week.”

“During” is used to refer to a period of time in which an event happens or an activity is done: “She had coffee during the morning break.”

“Between” is used to refer to an action taking place between the beginning and the end of a period: “You must get the job done between now and Friday.”

“Within” is used to refer to an action that must take place or be completed within a given period: “You must get the job done within the week.”

“Beyond” is used to refer to a period of time after a particular event has taken place or a particular time has elapsed: “Beyond the mid-1990s all of our offices had shifted to word processors.”

Prepositions for specific time frames. “In” is used with the three basic time frames: “past,” “present,” “future”: “He was a kindly man in the past.” “She is doing nothing in the present [“...at present” is the preferred usage at present].” “In the future, change the oil of your car regularly.”

“In” is used with prescribed time periods: “The project must be completed in a month [in a year, in five years].”

Next: Dealing with the Prepositional Phrases




this is such a great information. very useful site for learning. Smiley
« Last Edit: July 22, 2012, 10:30:38 PM by Joe Carillo » Logged
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« Reply #8 on: July 22, 2012, 07:33:50 PM »

oh thank you! i consider  your forum sooo helpful!  Roll Eyes
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« Reply #9 on: December 04, 2012, 04:02:26 PM »

Thanks a lot. The information given above was something else. It is really helpful... Appreciate you!!! Smiley
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hill roberts
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« Reply #10 on: July 09, 2013, 05:40:46 PM »

Is there a way  to share "Lesson #8 - Specific Rules for Preposition Usage" to one of my facebook sites? Thanks, Joe!
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Joe Carillo
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« Reply #11 on: July 09, 2013, 06:04:45 PM »

Yes, of course! In your reference to "Lesson #8 – Specific Rules for Preposition Usage," simply paste this link right after: http://josecarilloforum.com/forum/index.php?topic=139.0 . Facebook will automatically make the link to that Forum posting. Do it now and let me know if you encounter any problem.
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« Reply #12 on: January 12, 2014, 07:05:25 PM »

Thanku for this shairing
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past papers are of great importance for the student
"http://vugujranwala.com/Download/pastPapers/index.php?v=1&csid=CS101
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« Reply #13 on: April 07, 2014, 06:05:10 PM »

After studying all the information about Prepositions (It's types, rule of using) I desire to state that this is the kind of details which I'm looking for, After searching on Google I found this topic and thank you very much Joe.
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« Reply #14 on: August 16, 2014, 09:31:17 PM »

Thank you so much for these simple yet clearer explanations.
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