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.

Prepositions

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.

prepositions

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:

See Also

Take our dynamic test on prepositions What are adjectives? What are adverbs? What are conjunctions? What are interjections? What are nouns? What are pronouns? What are verbs? Ending a sentence in a preposition The object of a preposition Verbs with prepositions - succinct writing More than I or more than me?