Prepositions are used in many different ways in English – perhaps that’s why a lot of people have problems with them.
- Prepositions indicate relationships between other words in a sentence.
- Many prepositions tell you where something is (location) or when something happened (time).
- Most prepositions have several definitions, so the meaning changes quite a bit in different contexts.
- Ending a sentence with a preposition is OK.
“Monsters!” “Where?” “Behind you!”
Prepositions tell us where or when something is in relation to something else. When monsters are approaching, it’s good to have these special words to tell us where those monsters are. Are they behind us or in front of us? Will they be arriving in three seconds or at midnight?
Prepositions often tell us where one noun is in relation to another (e.g., The coffee is on the table beside you). But they can also indicate more abstract ideas, such as purpose or contrast (e.g., We went for a walk despite the rain).
Prepositions are mostly small single words used before a noun (at home), a noun phrase (across the river) or a pronoun (for you). They may also consist of two or more words acting as a single preposition called compound preposition (according to, due to, instead of). The prepositions are used to form relationships between the nouns and other words in a sentence by linking them.
A preposition is followed by a noun, noun phrase, or pronoun, each of which becomes the object of the preposition. Only the noun can be the object; other parts of speech such as the verb, adjective, or adverb cannot be the object.
- We woke up before sunrise.
(The noun sunrise is the object of the preposition before.)
- We often stroll along the beach.
(The noun phrase the beach is the object of the preposition along.)
- She waved to him.
(The pronoun him is the object of the preposition to.)
Types of Prepositions
The different types of prepositions are used to provide us with different information with regards to time (prepositions of time), place (prepositions of place), and direction (prepositions of movement). Besides these three, there are others: prepositions of manner and prepositions of cause and reason.
Time: We’ve been working since yesterday.
Direction: Go to the end of the street and you’ll see it.
Location: We saw a movie at the cinema.
Space: The dog slept under the table.
Manner: She laughed like a hyena.
Reason: They divorced for many reasons.
The same preposition, however, can be used for the different divisions into time, place, and direction. Look at this example using at.
Time: I shall meet you at 2 o’clock.
Direction: The woman pointed at the man who stole her purse.
Location: We’ll wait for you at the entrance of the mall.
Prepositions of Time
Prepositions of time indicate the time and date or the period of time that something happens. Some of the prepositions used include in, on, at, by, during, around, from, since, throughout, and until.
Prepositions of time used to indicate a particular time.
- I usually finish my morning classes around noon.
- She arranged to meet her friends at lunchtime.
- The party should be over by five o’clock.
- The teacher said I would be fluent in two years.
- The boss is always late on Mondays.
Prepositions of time indicate the period of time that something happens.
- I had a terrifying nightmare during the night.
- She swears never to talk to me again from tomorrow.
- His girlfriend’s dog has been missing since last Sunday.
- He slept throughout the movie.
- I haven’t spoken to her for more than a week.
- My mom said I was breastfed until I was six.
Prepositions of time used to indicate a particular time in relation to another.
- I wonder what I should do after high school.
- I usually brush my teeth before having breakfast.
Prepositions of Location (Place)
Prepositions of location indicate where something is or where something happens (across, in, inside, on, outside, under).
- The old bridge across the river collapsed last week.
- His alarm clock went off twice and he is still in bed.
- There was something strange inside the dark cave.
- There was a book on the table.
- I was waiting outside the clinic for my turn.
Prepositions of location also tell us the position of something in relation to another with such words as behind, beside, between, in front, and near.
- Behind his house was an old abandoned car.
- I sat beside a strange woman in the cinema.
- There is a pause between the songs.
- Someone parked a car in front of our driveway.
- Please don’t sit near me; I have a virus.
Prepositions of Movement (Direction)
Prepositions of movement indicate that something is headed for or directed to somewhere and include into, on, onto, through, to, toward.
- We watched the train disappear into the tunnel.
- A fly landed on my food while I was eating.
- We got onto the wrong train by mistake.
- The bullet had gone through his vest, but he survived.
- The teacher has gone to the teacher’s room again.
- The children ran toward the dog.
These prepositions show direction of movement from somewhere, and some of the prepositions used here are away from, from, off, out.
- He warned them to keep away from his crazy dog.
- Two tigers have escaped from the circus.
- The strong wind blew the wig off Trump’s head.
- Everyone ran out the door when the fire started.
IMPORTANT: With the words home, downtown, uptown, inside, outside, downstairs, upstairs, we use no preposition.
- Grandma went upstairs.
- Grandpa went home.
- They both went outside.
Prepositions of Manner
Prepositions of manner are about the way something happens or how something is done. They often use the word by, in, like, on and with.
- We couldn’t afford to go there by taxi.
- The supplies were dropped by parachutes.
- He fell in his dash for the finishing line.
- Many say he laughs like a hyena.
- The tourists arrived on the island on a hovercraft.
- She reacted with anger to what he said.
Prepositions of Cause and Effect, or Reason
Prepositions of cause and effect or reason are used to express the cause of something or the reason that something happens, and the effect it has on another thing. Some examples of these prepositions which include compound prepositions most commonly used are: as, as a result (of), because (of), consequently, due to, for, from, hence, on account of, since, therefore, and through.
- As a result of the accident, he walks with a limp.
- He cannot play football because of his sprained ankle.
- The fight was due to stubbornness and stupidity.
- They divorced for a lot of reasons.
- Businesses don’t succeed from luck alone.
- She doesn’t go out much on account of her acute depression.
- They increased their sales through effective marketing.
Prepositions of Time: for and since
We use for when we measure time (seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years).
- He held his breath for seven minutes.
- She’s lived there for seven years.
- The British and Irish have been fighting for seven centuries.
We use since with a specific date or time.
- He’s worked here since 1970.
- She’s been sitting in the waiting room since two-thirty.
Prepositions: for (not related to time)
We use for to express doing something on someone’s behalf.
- I hurt my hand and cannot carry my books. Can you carry them for me?
- She has to work so I am buying tickets for
Prepositions with Nouns, Adjectives, and Verbs.
Prepositions are sometimes so commonly linked to other words that they are used as one word. This occurs in three categories: nouns, adjectives, and verbs.
- NOUNS and PREPOSITIONS:
approval of, awareness of, belief in, concern for, confusion about, desire for, fondness for, grasp of, hatred of, hope for, interest in, love of, need for, participation in, reason for, respect for, success in, understanding of.
- ADJECTIVES and PREPOSITIONS:
afraid of, angry at, aware of, capable of, careless about, familiar with, fond of
happy about, interested in, jealous of, made of, married to, proud of, similar to, sorry for, sure of, tired of, worried about.
- VERBS and PREPOSITIONS:
apologize for, ask about, ask for, belong to, bring up, care for, find out, give up, grow up, interested in, look for, look forward to, look up, make up, pay for, prepare for, study for, talk about, think about, trust in, work for, worry about.