What Are Prepositions?
The Quick AnswerA preposition is a word (usually a short word) that shows the relationship between two other nearby words. For example (prepositions highlighted):
- a boy from the ghetto (Here, the preposition from tells us the relationship between ghetto and boy.)
- a bone for the dog (Here, the preposition for tells us the relationship between dog and bone.)
Note: The word preposition means positioned before. A preposition will sit before a word (a noun or a pronoun) to show that word's relationship to another nearby word.
PrepositionsA preposition is a word (often a short word) that expresses the relationship between two other nearby words. In the examples below, each preposition (highlighted) shows us the relationship between the word book and the word wizard.
- The book about the wizard
- The book by the wizard
- The book near the wizard
- The book behind the wizard
- The book under the wizard
The Role of a PrepositionA preposition precedes a noun (or a pronoun) to show the noun's (or the pronoun's) relationship to another word in the sentence. In the examples above, the preposition preceded the noun wizard to show that noun's relationship with the noun book.
Here are some more examples:
- It is a container for butter. (The preposition for shows the relationship between butter and container.)
- The eagle soared above the clouds. (The preposition above shows the relationship between clouds and soared.)
- He is the President of the United States. (The preposition of shows the relationship between the United States and President.)
List of Common PrepositionsHere is a list of common prepositions:
above, about, across, against, along, among, around, at, before, behind, below, beneath, beside, between, beyond, by, down, during, except, for, from, in, inside, into, like, near, of, off, on, since, to, toward, through, under, until, up, upon, with and within.
A Good Way to Think about PrepositionsWhen you're first learning about prepositions, it is useful to think about prepositions as anywhere a mouse could go.
This works because lots of prepositions show the relationship between two words by expressing their location relative to each other (e.g., on, near, behind, under, inside).
Origin of the Word PrepositionThe word preposition comes from the idea of being positioned before.
Object of a PrepositionThe word (or words) that follows a preposition is called the object of a preposition. If there is a preposition, there will always be an object of the preposition. A preposition cannot exist by itself.
Read more about the object of a preposition.
Prepositional PhraseA prepositional phrase is made up of a preposition and the object of the preposition (including any modifiers). Prepositional phrases are very common. They function as either adjectives or adverbs. For example (prepositional phrases highlighted):
- It is a message from Mark. (Here, the prepositional phrase from Mark is functioning like an adjective because it is describing message.)
- Mark is trapped on the island. (Here, the prepositional phrase on the island is functioning like an adverb because it is modifying the verb is trapped.)
Pitfalls with PrepositionsFor native English speakers, serious grammatical errors involving prepositions are rare. The most common questions involving prepositions are shown below:
Except and AcceptSome writers confuse the words except and accept. The word except is a preposition. It has a meaning similar to not including.
- I know everybody except Tony. (The preposition except shows the relationship between Tony and everybody.)
- I accept.
- She will accept the decision.
Past and PassedThe word past can be used as a preposition. However, the word passed cannot. The word passed is a verb that relates to the action of passing. For example:
- Jennifer passed the exam.
- She passed the salt.
- It went past the post.
- He believes he was a prince in a past life.
- It's all in the past.
See the lesson Past and Passed.
Into, Onto and Up ToThe word into is a preposition. It is written as one word.
- She turned everything she touched into gold.
See the lesson Into, Onto and Up To.