Prepositions in English

Prepositions are words that help us link nouns, pronouns, and phrases to other words within a sentence. They are one of the most commonly used parts of speech in English and are often essential for crafting an effective and accurate sentence. 

Here, we’ll cover the basics of prepositions in English, including types of prepositions, when to use prepositions, prepositional phrases, and common preposition mistakes.

What is a Preposition?

Preposition definition: “A word that expresses a relationship between two other words or phrases in a sentence”. Prepositions typically come before nouns and pronouns, and they can be used to describe time, location, direction, or other relationships between nouns or phrases.

Prepositions in English

For example, the preposition “in” in the sentence “I’m in the store” expresses the relationship between the speaker and the store. The preposition “on” in the sentence “I put my book on the table” expresses the relationship between the book and the table.

Prepositions are also used to create prepositional phrases, which are groups of words that include a preposition and a noun or pronoun. Prepositional phrases can be used to provide more information about a noun or pronoun in a sentence.

English has 150-200 prepositions. Here is a simple preposition list with 25 common words:

  • about
  • above
  • across
  • after
  • against
  • around
  • at
  • before
  • behind
  • below
  • beneath
  • beside
  • between
  • beyond
  • but
  • by
  • down
  • during
  • except
  • for
  • from
  • in
  • inside
  • into
  • near

Types of Prepositions

There are 10 types of prepositions in English:

  1. Simple Prepositions. These are single-word prepositions such as "in," "at," and "on."
  2. Double Prepositions. These are two-word prepositions such as "outside of" and "from behind."
  3. Compound Prepositions. These are prepositions that contain more than two words, such as "in place of" and "in addition to."
  4. Participle Prepositions. These are prepositions that use the -ing form of a verb, such as "regarding" and "concerning."
  5. Phrasal Prepositions. These are preposition phrases that consist of an entire phrase, such as “with regard to” and “due to the fact that.”
  6. Absolute Prepositions. These are used with nouns or pronouns to create an absolute phrase, which has its own subject-verb relationship, such as “the sun having set…”
  7. Prepositional Verbs. These are verbs that are followed by prepositions, such as “look after” and “rely on.”
  8. Correlative Prepositions. These are pairs of words that work together, such as “both…and” and “either…or.”
  9. Subordinate Prepositions. These are preposition phrases that act like adverbs, such as "in order to" and "so as to."
  10. Interjectional Prepositions. These are prepositions used to emphasize a point, such as "mind you" and "believe it or not."

When to Use Prepositions

Prepositions are used to express relationships between two words or phrases in a sentence. The type of preposition you use should be determined by the type of relationship you are trying to express.

For example, if you are expressing a relationship in terms of location, you would use a preposition like “in,” “on,” or “at.” If you are expressing a relationship in terms of time, you would use a preposition like “for” or “before.”

You want to use prepositions when you need to provide more information or clarity in a sentence. Prepositions can also help to make a sentence sound more natural and conversational. 

Find common preposition examples and explanations below!

Prepositional Phrases

Prepositional phrases are groups of words made up of prepositions and nouns or pronouns. Prepositional phrases can be used to provide more information about a noun or pronoun in a sentence.

For example, the prepositional phrase “in the store” in the sentence “I’m in the store” provides more information about the speaker’s location. Prepositional phrases can also express relationships between two words or phrases, such as time, location, direction, or other relationships.

Prepositional phrases can help us modify nouns or pronouns in a sentence. For example, the prepositional phrase “on the table” in the sentence “I put my book on the table” modifies the noun “book.”

10 example prepositional phrases:

  1. At home
  2. In the morning
  3. On Monday
  4. For dinner
  5. Above the horizon
  6. Below the surface
  7. To school
  8. From New York
  9. Around the corner
  10. Behind the fence

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Prepositions of Place

Prepositions of place are used to express relationships between two words or phrases in terms of location. Some common prepositions of place include words like “in,” “on,” “at,” and “by.”

For example, the preposition “in” in the sentence “I’m in the store” expresses the relationship between the speaker and the store. The preposition “on” in the sentence “I put my book on the table” expresses the relationship between the book and the table.

10 common prepositions of place:

  1. In
  2. On
  3. At
  4. By
  5. Near
  6. Between
  7. Behind
  8. Above
  9. Below
  10. Beside

Prepositions of Time

Prepositions of time are used to express relationships between two words or phrases in terms of time. Some of the most common prepositions of time include words like “for,” “before,” “after,” and “during.”

For example, the preposition “for” in the sentence “I’m staying for the weekend” expresses the relationship between the speaker and the weekend. The preposition “before” in the sentence “I need to do my homework before dinner” expresses the relationship between “homework” and “dinner.”

10 common prepositions of time:

  1. For
  2. Before
  3. After
  4. During
  5. Until
  6. Since
  7. From
  8. To
  9. Throughout
  10. Within

Prepositions of Movement

Prepositions of movement are used to express relationships between two words or phrases in terms of movement. Some common prepositions of movement include words like “to,” “from,” “into,” and “through.”

For example, the preposition “to” in the sentence “I’m going to the store” expresses the relationship between the speaker and the store. The preposition “from” in the sentence “I walked from the park” expresses the relationship between the speaker and the park.

At this point, you might notice that, for example, the preposition "to" can be both one of movement and of time, depending on what you are trying to say. This is because simple common prepositions can be used in more than one way.

10 common prepositions of movement:

  1. To
  2. From
  3. Into
  4. Through
  5. Along
  6. Across
  7. Onto
  8. Off
  9. Over
  10. Up

Object of Preposition

The object of our preposition is the noun or pronoun that follows it in a sentence. The object of a preposition can be used to provide more information about a noun or pronoun in a sentence.

For example, in the sentence “I’m in the store,” the object of the preposition “in” is the noun “store.” The object of the preposition “in” provides more information about the speaker’s location.

In addition to nouns and pronouns, the object of a preposition can also be a gerund, an infinitive, or a phrase. For example, in the sentence “I’m looking forward to seeing you,” the object of the preposition “to” is the gerund phrase “seeing you.”

Preposition Grammar

Preposition grammar is the set of rules that govern the proper use of prepositions in English. Preposition grammar is important for creating accurate and effective sentences.

Here are a few rules for preposition usage:

Prepositions always have an object. The object of our preposition is the noun, pronoun, gerund, infinitive, or phrase that follows the preposition in a sentence.

  • Prepositions are usually followed by nouns or pronouns. Prepositions can also be followed by gerunds, infinitives, and phrases.
  • Prepositions are never used with auxiliary verbs such as “do” or “have.”
  • Prepositional phrases should not begin with a pronoun unless it is referring to something previously mentioned in the sentence.

Remember that the placement of prepositional phrases in a sentence changes its meaning. For example,  “The dog ran to the bone” implies that the dog ran toward the bone, while “The dog ran the bone to...” implies that the dog moved the bone somewhere else.

Common Preposition Mistakes

One of the many common preposition mistakes is using the wrong preposition to express a relationship. For example, using the preposition “on” instead of “in” in the sentence “I’m on the store” is incorrect, as the correct preposition to express the relationship between the speaker and the store is “in.”

Prepositions can also be misused in prepositional phrases. For example, using the prepositional phrase “in the store” in the sentence “I walked in the store” means you specifically were walking inside it. You would say "I walked to the store" if you were on your way to it.

Here are 10 commonly misused prepositions:

  1. On/At - On is used to indicate a location, while at is used for a specific point.
  2. Between/Among - Between is used for two things, and among is used for more than two.
  3. To/For - To is used to indicate direction, while for indicates a purpose or recipient.
  4. Of/From - Of indicates possession or origin, while from indicates distance or removal.
  5. In/Into - In indicates location, while into suggests movement toward something.
  6. Since/For - Since refers to time, while for refers to duration of an event or action.
  7. By/With - By is used to indicate the agent or means of an action, while with implies accompaniment or association with another person or thing
  8. Above/Over - Above refers to a higher position than something else, while over suggests being above and covering something else as well
  9. Beside/Besides - Beside means next to something, while besides means in addition to something.
  10. Through/Across - Through suggests movement within or passing through something, while across suggests movement from one side to the other.

Summary

Prepositions are an essential part of grammar and can be used to express relationships between two words or phrases, such as time, location, direction, or other relationships. Prepositions can also be used to create prepositional phrases, which are groups of words that include a preposition and a noun or pronoun.

With English prepositions explained in this reference, you should be able to avoid common mistakes and use them fluently. After enough practice, they will become second nature and you won't need to think twice about your language skills!

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