Prepositions: Table of Contents
- ○ Time
The Complexity of English Prepositions
The truth is that native speakers and English language learners alike struggle with the correct usage of prepositions. Why is this so?
For starters, prepositions can have various uses and meanings, and they also lack concrete grammatical rules to govern their usage.
Let’s meet on Monday.
The package is on her desk.
In the sentences above, the preposition on conveys a different meaning in both examples. In the first example, it’s being used as a preposition of time, whereas in the second, it’s being used as a preposition of location (more on that later).
Additionally, learning prepositions can also prove difficult for English learners because English prepositions may not align with the prepositions in their native language.
The watermelon is on the refrigerator.
The watermelon is in the refrigerator.
If you use a translation tool to convert both those sentences into Spanish, you get the same sentence:
La sandía está en el refrigerador.
But as confusing as prepositions may seem, it is possible to learn how to use them correctly in both writing and speech. First, you have to have a basic understanding of what prepositions are.
What Are Prepositions?
Prepositions are words that indicate the relation of nouns and noun phrases to other words within the sentence. Put differently, they provide context by helping us understand the time, location, direction, relationship, and other important elements within a sentence.
The nursery rhyme Jack and Jill is a perfect tool to illustrate how prepositions work.
- What direction did Jack and Jill run when on the hill? Up, not down.
- They fetched a pail of (containing) water, not milk, juice, or anything else.
- Unfortunately, Jack fell. But in what direction? Down. Which, admittedly, might be obvious, but one can technically fall to the side, too.
- And when did Jill take a tumble? After Jack did, not before, and not at the same time.
Do you now see how prepositions add information by connecting nouns and noun phrases to other words in a sentence?
List of Prepositions
Many people want to know exactly how many prepositions there are in English, but it’s not possible to provide an exact number for a few reasons. One is that new prepositions can emerge over time. Secondly, prepositions can have various uses. Lastly, some of them also function as different parts of speech.
Having said that, maybe you’re simply looking for a list of common prepositions. If that’s the case, here you go:
Now that we’ve explained what prepositions are, let’s go over a few subcategories and their functions.
Prepositions of Time
Prepositions of time indicate when something happened or will happen. In other words, they help express timing.
Prepositions of time include (but aren’t limited to): at, in, on, during, for, since, from, to, by, until, after, before, and past.
The fireworks went off exactly at midnight.
We will discuss this during the meeting.
I work five days a week, from 7 AM to 3 PM.
Jeffrey asked if we could have ice cream after dinner.
It’s half past three.
Prepositions of Place/Location
Prepositions of place or location express the point or position of a noun or noun phrase in relation to another.
A few examples include: in, on, at, inside, outside, under, over, beneath, above, below, between, beside, and through.
We will be meeting in London, and then will take another flight to our destination.
It’s really cold outside this room.
I usually place the cleaning supplies beneath the bathroom sink.
They wanted to plant a garden in the alley between the two buildings.
Do you mind if we pass through here?
Prepositions of Direction
Prepositions of direction express the path or trajectory of movement.
Examples of prepositions of direction are: to, from, into, out, towards, across, over, under, up, down, and around.
We’re taking a road trip from Florida to Texas.
They stepped out of the car and took a deep breath of fresh air.
Take a few steps towards me.
They wanted to see how fast they could swim across the river.
I have to wait for the paint to dry before I can turn it around.
As you may have noticed, prepositions can fall into more than one category. As we stated earlier, this is one of the reasons many people struggle to use them properly.
What’s more, there are several other categories of prepositions. For example, prepositions of manner describe how something is done.
He painted the room with a paint roller.
Now that we’ve covered the foundation of prepositions, let’s answer a common question: Is it okay to end a sentence with a preposition?
Ending a Sentence With a Preposition
In casual speech and writing, ending a sentence with a preposition is not only acceptable, but it’s incredibly common. Let’s take a look at the following sentences:
Who are you going to the concert with?
With whom are you going to the concert?
Which one sounds more idiomatic? Chances are, you’ll pick the first one.
However, in professional and academic settings that require impeccable grammar, it’s best to play it safe and avoid ending sentences with a preposition.
The evaluations are not something we can do without.
We cannot do without the evaluations.
Both sentences above convey the same message, but the second one avoids a dangling preposition and is more clear and concise.
So, the rule of thumb is this: In casual text and speech, it’s okay to end a sentence with a preposition. In formal settings, it is advised to avoid this practice.
It’s worth noting that another common mistake is adding an unnecessary preposition at the end of the sentence.
Where is she going to?
Where is she going?
I know where it is at.
I know where it is.
What’s the Difference Between a Preposition and a Prepositional Phrase?
The difference between a preposition and a prepositional phrase is their structure. A preposition is one word that shows the relationship between the noun or noun phrases and other words in a sentence. A prepositional phrase contains multiple words: the preposition, the noun or noun phrase (called the object of the preposition), and any words that modify that object.
She sat on the old rocking chair.
In the sentence above, on is a preposition, and on the old rocking chair is the prepositional phrase.
Can you find the prepositional phrases in the following sentences? (Hint: A prepositional phrase must always start with a preposition)
I placed it in the yellow bag.
He went to the museum.
A few students from my school are participating in the event.
If you answered in the yellow bag, to the museum, from my school and in the event, congrats! You’re a prepositional phrase pro.
It’s important to keep in mind that a preposition can contain more than one word (which can belong to different parts of speech on their own). These are known as compound prepositions and include instead of, because of, in addition to, and more.
Prepositions: Quick Summary
A preposition is a word that establishes a relationship between a noun or noun phrase and other words within a sentence. For example, in the sentence, the sheets on the bed, the word on indicates where the sheets are in relation to the bed: on it, instead of under it, or next to it.
There are different types of prepositions, including prepositions of time, place, and direction, to name a few.
Prepositions can be difficult for some to understand because they can fall under more than one category and also function as a different type of part of speech.
A few examples of prepositions include: above, and, at, behind, beneath, below, inside, on, outside, over, through, to, and without.
Tips To Help You Use Prepositions Correctly
Yes, we covered a lot about prepositions. Don't let the volume of information intimidate you. Rest assured that with practice and familiarization, anyone can learn to use prepositions properly.
Below, we’ll provide a few tips presented by Andrea A. Lunsford in the book The Everyday Writer (Fourth Edition).
1. Try to remember the typical uses of each preposition.
The gift is in the box.
Here, the preposition in conveys that the gift is enclosed or surrounded by something else (the box).
The pillow is on the bed.
In the sentence above, on indicates that the pillow is in direct contact with a horizontal surface.
2. Familiarize yourself with other instances that show the similarities and differences of the preposition.
We got caught in the rain.
In this instance, the preposition in doesn’t convey that the subject was enclosed in the rain, but it can help you understand that the rain surrounded them. In is often used for other weather-related scenarios, like in a storm or in the sun.
Put a sweater on.
On is also used when referring to wearing something: he had a cap on, or she put on gloves.
3. Instead of trying to learn about each preposition individually, learn them as a system.
For example, you can remember that in, on, and at can be used as prepositions of time and place.
We’ll leave you with one last easy tip: Use LanguageTool as your writing assistant! With its advanced technologies, this multilingual grammar, spelling, and punctuation checker can ensure the correct use of prepositions. So, even if you don’t have prepositions down pat, you can write with no worries knowing that LanguageTool can correct their misuse. Try it out for yourself!
Lunsford, Andrea A. The Everyday Writer, 2010.