Grammar Monster
Grammar Monster

What Are Prepositions?

The Quick Answer
A 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.)
The following are all examples of prepositions: in, on, at, around, above, near, underneath, alongside, of, and for.

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.


A 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 Preposition

A 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 Prepositions

Here 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 Prepositions

When 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 Preposition

The word preposition comes from the idea of being positioned before.

Object of a Preposition

The 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 Phrase

A 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.)
Read more about prepositional phrases.

Pitfalls with Prepositions

For native English speakers, serious grammatical errors involving prepositions are rare. The most common questions involving prepositions are shown below:
Interactive Test
Interactive Test
Your scorecard:


Except and Accept

Some 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.)
The word accept, on the other hand, is a verb. For example:
  • I accept.
  • She will accept the decision.
See the lesson Accept and Except.

Past and Passed

The 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.
The word past can be used as:

A preposition:
  • It went past the post.
An adjective:
  • He believes he was a prince in a past life.
A noun:
  • It's all in the past.
Whether preposition, adjective or noun, the word past usually relates to either time or distance.

See the lesson Past and Passed.

Into, Onto and Up To

The word into is a preposition. It is written as one word.
  • She turned everything she touched into gold.
However, on occasion, the words in and to appear next to each other in a sentence, and writers are unsure whether to use into or in to. This happens when the verb in the sentence includes the word in (e.g., hand in, step in, turn in).

See the lesson Into, Onto and Up To.