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Prepositions

What Are Prepositions?

homesitemapprepositions
Prepositions link nearby words to show how they relate to each other. For example:
  • The rat is in the corner.
  • (The preposition "in" shows the relationship between "corner" and "rat.")
  • Her party was on Saturday.
  • (The preposition "on" shows the relationship between "Saturday" and "party.")

Examples of Prepositions

In English, there are about 130 prepositions in common use. Here are the 10 most common ones:
  • in, on, at, for, with, by, to, from, into, about
The role of a preposition is to show the relationship between two nearby words. Most of the time, but not always, the relationship expressed by a preposition is about positioning (e.g., "a glass slipper on the stair") or time (e.g., "the spell ended at midnight"). In other words, many prepositions tell us where or when things are.

Examples of prepositions that tell us where:

  • The cat on the table is called Toby.
  • (The preposition "on" shows the relationship between "table" and "cat." It tells us where the cat is.)
  • Our tractor is stuck in the mud.
  • (The preposition "at" shows the relationship between "mud" and "tractor." It tells us where the lorry is.)

Examples of prepositions that tell us when:

  • The meeting is on Saturday.
  • (The preposition "on" shows the relationship between "Saturday" and "meeting." This time, it tells us when the meeting is.)
  • The bell will ring at 7 o'clock.
  • (The preposition "at" shows the relationship between "7 o'clock" and "will ring." It tells us when the bell will ring.)
What are prepositions?
Not all prepositions tell us where or when things are. Prepositions have other roles too. For example, they might show possession (e.g., collar of the dog) or purpose (e.g., a tool for digging).

Table of Contents

  • Find the Preposition Test
  • More Examples of Prepositions that Tell Us Where
  • More Examples of Prepositions that Tell Us When
  • Other Relationships Shown by Prepositions
  • Real-Life Examples of Prepositions
  • List of Common Prepositions
  • Grammar Terminology related to Prepositions
  • Object of a Preposition
  • Prepositional Phrase
  • Video Lesson
  • Why Prepositions Are Important
  • Test Time!

Find the Preposition Test

It's your go! Select the preposition in the following sentences.

More Examples of Prepositions that Tell Us Where

Here are some more examples of prepositions that tell us where something is in relation to something else:
  • the boy behind the bush
  • (Here, the preposition "behind" tells us where "the boy" is in relation to "the bush.")
  • a mouse under the stairs
  • (In this example, the preposition "under" tells us where "a mouse" is in relation to "the stairs.")

A Good Way to Think about Prepositions

When you're first learning about prepositions, it might be useful to think about prepositions as anywhere a mouse could go.
prepositions explained, anywhere a mouse could go
This works because the relationship expressed by many prepositions is about positioning.

More Examples of Prepositions that Tell Us When

Here are some more examples of prepositions that tell us when something is in relation to something else:
  • the calm before the storm
  • (Here, the preposition "before" tells us when "the calm" is in relation to "the storm.")
  • one second after the bang
  • (In this example, the preposition "after" tells us when "one second" is in relation to "the bang.")

About the Word "Preposition"

The word "preposition" means "positioned before." A preposition sits before a word (either a noun or a pronoun) to show that word's relationship to another nearby word. Look at these examples:
  • a bone for the dog
  • (Here, the preposition "for" sits before the noun "the dog" to show the relationship between "the dog" and "a bone." This example is not about where or when.)
  • everyone except the teacher
  • (In this example, the preposition "except" sits before the noun "the teacher" to show the relationship between "the teacher" and "everyone." So, this example is not about where or when either.)

Other Relationships Shown by Prepositions

Expressing where and when are two key roles for prepositions, but they have other roles too. For example, they might show possession or purpose.
  • These are the wishes of the people.
  • (Here, the preposition "of" shows possession.)
  • It is a device for opening jars.
  • (Here, the preposition "for" shows purpose.)
In the examples below, each preposition sits before the noun "the wizard" to show us the relationship between "the wizard" and "the book."
  • 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
Here are some more examples:
  • It is a container for butter.
  • ("For" shows the relationship between "butter" and "a container.")
  • The eagle soared above the clouds.
  • ("Above" shows the relationship between "the clouds" and "the eagle.")
  • He is the President of the United States.
  • ("Of" shows the relationship between "the United States" and "the President.")

Can You Identify Prepositions?

Real-Life Examples of Prepositions

Here are some real-life sentences featuring prepositions.
  • I cook with wine. Sometimes, I even add it to food. (Actor W C Fields)
  • ("With" shows the relationship between "wine" and "cook." "To" shows the relationship between "food" and "add it.")
  • Behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes. (Actor Jim Carrey)
  • ("Behind" shows the relationship between "every great man" and "a woman." The term "every great man" is a noun phrase. Note that a preposition can sit before a noun, a noun phrase, a noun clause, or a pronoun.)
  • The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits. (Physicist Albert Einstein)
  • ("Between" shows the relationship between "stupidity" and "genius.")
  • If you haven't got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me. (Writer Alice Roosevelt Longworth)
  • ("About" shows the relationship between "anybody" and "to say." "Next to" shows the relationship between "me" and "sit." Note that a preposition can be more than one word. Other common multi-word prepositions are "close to," "ahead of," "in front of," and "according to.")

Grammar Terminology related to Prepositions

Object of a Preposition

The word (or phrase) 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.
object of a preposition
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.

Video Lesson

Here is a 9-minute video summarizing this lesson on prepositions. video lesson

Are you a visual learner? Do you prefer video to text? Here is a list of all our grammar videos.

Why Prepositions Are Important

Most native-English speakers can use prepositions without any snags. However, there are a few traps and writing conventions that writers ought to know. Here are five common issues related to prepositions.

(Issue 1) Do not capitalize prepositions in a title.

As a rule, a preposition in a title is not capitalized unless it is the first word.
  • The Last of the Summer Wine correct tick
  • Interview with a Vampire correct tick
  • In the Name of the Father correct tick
  • ("In" is capitalized because it is the first word.)
This convention for writing titles is called title case. In title case, articles ("a," "an," "the") and conjunctions (e.g., "and," "or," "but") are not capitalized either. Read more about title case.

(Issue 2) Do not use the wrong case after a preposition.

The noun or pronoun governed by a preposition is called the object of a preposition. The object of a preposition is always in the objective case. This just means that words like "I," "she," "we," and "they" change to "me," "her," "us," and "them" when they're governed by a preposition (e.g., "about me," "with her," "for us," "against them"). This is a pretty simple concept for a native English speaker, but it still catches some people out.
  • It is a present from my wife and I. wrong cross
  • (This is wrong because "I" cannot be the object of the preposition "from.")
  • It is a present from me and my wife. correct tick
  • Between you and I wrong cross
  • (This is wrong because "I" cannot be the object of the preposition "between.")
  • Between you and me correct tick
Ironically, many people use terms like "from my wife and I" and "between you and I" with a highbrow tone, believing them to be grammatically pure. They're not grammatically pure. They're wrong.

Another one that catches people out is using "who" after a preposition. "Who" becomes "whom" in the objective case. In other words, "who" is to "whom" as "he" is to "him" or "they" is to "them." The bottom line is "who" cannot be the object of a preposition. You need "whom.")
  • You went with who? wrong cross
  • You went with whom? correct tick
  • (Write "whom" after a preposition.)

(Issue 3) Do not confuse prepositions with other words.

Writers sometimes confuse prepositions with other words. Here are the most common issues ordered by how frequently they are seen:
RankWriting Mistake
1Writing the adverb "too" (which means "overly" or "as well") instead of the preposition "to" (which has several meanings including "towards" and "for").
  • Give it too me. wrong cross
Read more about "too" and "to".
2Writing the preposition "of" instead of "have" when writing "could've," "should've," or "would've" in full.
  • You should of asked me first! wrong cross
Read more about "could've," "would've," and "should've.
3Writing the noun "dependant" (a person, usually a child or spouse) in the multi-word preposition "dependent on" (which means "reliant on").
  • He is dependant on his parents. wrong cross
Read more about dependent and dependant.
4Writing the preposition "past" (beyond) instead of "passed" (past tense of "to pass").
  • She past me the parcel. wrong cross
Read more about "past" and "passed".
5Writing the preposition "between" (usually used with two distinct points) instead of the preposition "among" (in the middle of a group).
  • Listen everyone! Share the sweets between yourselves. wrong cross
Read more about "between" and "among".

(Issue 4) Try to avoid ending a sentence in a preposition.

1/5 people think you cannot end a sentence with a preposition.

About 20% of people think it is wrong to end a sentence with a preposition. This figure is supported by our own poll, which has more than 4,000 votes.

Lots of people think you cannot end a sentence in a preposition because, as we've just covered, prepositions sit before nouns. (It is, after all, how preposition gets its name.) Therefore, if a preposition is the last word in the sentence, it can't sit before anything. So, there is some logic to their thinking. Interestingly, this issue is more complicated than many realize, but here is a summary:

  • It is perfectly acceptable – from a grammatical perspective – to end a sentence in a "preposition."
  • (I'll explain those quotation marks around "preposition" shortly.)

Here's the rub. If you end a sentence with a preposition, a fair few of your readers will think it's a grammar mistake or sloppy writing. So, it makes sense to avoid a preposition at the end of a sentence. Those people aside, there is another good reason to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition. Your sentence will be sharper. So, yes, you should avoid an end-of-sentence preposition. Think of it as a game rather than a ruling.

Let's look at an example:
  • It is a scenario I have not thought of.
  • (This is natural sounding, but it ends in a preposition.)
Let's "play the game." Let's restructure our sentence:
  • It is a scenario of which I have not thought.
  • (This sounds awful. It's unnatural and contrived. On the plus side, our preposition now sits before the pronoun "which," and that fits the rule for siting a preposition.)
Even though it's grammatically fine, the sentence above sounds terrible. Let's keep "playing." Let's reword our sentence:
  • It is a scenario I have not considered.
  • (Yes! This sounds natural, and it does not end in a preposition. This keeps everyone happy...except those people who think we shouldn't pander to those who still think you can't end a sentence in a preposition.)
So, for everyone's sake (including yours), it is worth avoiding an end-of-sentence preposition.

Why was the word "preposition" in quotation marks earlier in this section? Well, quite often, your sentence will end in something that looks like a preposition but isn't. Bear in mind that your "preposition" could be part of a phrasal verb, i.e., a verb comprising a main verb and another word that looks like a preposition, e.g., "fill in," "stick to," "catch up," "catch out." Quite often, these words must be next to each other, which is a factor in your sentence structure. Ending a sentence with the "preposition" (usually called a "particle") of a phrasal verb is fine.

Top Tip

Avoid a preposition at the end of a sentence by choosing better words (usually a better verb). This will give you a shorter, better-flowing sentence, and that's the best reason to avoid an end-of-sentence preposition.
  • It is a scenario we should not put up with.
  • (This is sloppy, but it's not technically wrong.)
  • It is a scenario we should not tolerate. correct tick
  • (This is much sharper.)

(Issue 5) Keep your writing succinct.

Some phrasal verbs (i.e., multi-word verbs) have "prepositions" that do not add anything. When you encounter one of these, delete the preposition to improve succinctness.
  • I cannot face up to the consequences.
  • (This is correct, but it's not succinct.)
  • I cannot face the consequences.
  • (This is sharper. The prepositions were a waste of ink.)

Key Points

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.

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