Prepositions – Examples & How to Use Them

11.09.22 Parts of speech Time to read: 10min

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Prepositions-01

Prepositions are like the GPS of language, guiding us through the twist and turns of time, space, and direction. They’re the secret sauce that spices up our sentences, showing us where things are, when they’re happening, and how they’re moving. With these little navigators, we plot the course of our conversations, making sure every word lands just right. They function as the key components of language rules.

Prepositions in a nutshell

Prepositions are key to linking elements in a sentence, indicating relationships between time, place, direction, space, and more, with common examples like “in,” “at,” and “on.” While often placed before nouns or pronouns, prepositions can also appear at the end of the sentence, especially in spoken English or to avoid awkward constructions. Furthermore, some of them have more than one meaning and depend on the given context.

Definition: Prepositions

A preposition, which can be a single word or a phrase, precedes a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase to indicate direction, time, place, location, spatial relationships, or to introduce an object. Common prepositions include “in,” “at,” “on,” “of,” and “to.” The use of prepositions in English often follows idiomatic patterns, with usage rules being less rigid and more guided by established expressions. Therefore, learning these expressions as whole phrases is more effective than focusing solely on the prepositions themselves.

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Types of prepositions

Prepositions represent relationships that can pertain to time, location, space, direction, and more. Understanding the different types of prepositions and their correct usage is essential for crafting precise and nuanced sentences.

Prepositions of time

Prepositions of time help to specify when something happens or the duration of an event. They play a crucial role in framing the temporal context of actions, events, or states.
To refer to one point in time, use “in,” “at,” and “on.”

  • Use “in” with parts of the day (not specific times), months, years, and seasons.
  • Use “at” with the time of the day or with noon, night, and midnight.
  • Use “on” with days.
  • To refer to extended time, use the prepositions “since,” “for,” “by,” “during,” “from … to,” “with,” and “within.”

“At” is used for precise time.

Example

Meet me at 5 PM.

“On” is used for days and dates.

Example

We’re leaving on Saturday.

“In” is used for months, years, centuries, and long periods.

Example

The accident happened in 2020.

“By” indicates a deadline or the latest time something should happen.

Example

I need this report ready by Monday.

“Before” is used to indicate that something happens earlier than a specific time.

Example

I want to finish my homework before dinner.

“After” indicates that something happens later than a specific time.

Example

I want to go out after lunch.

“During” refers to something that happens within a certain period.

Example

Occasionally, I sleep during the day.

“Until” indicates continuation up to a specific time.

Example

I’ve been working until midnight.

“Since” indicates the starting point of actions, events, or states.

Example

I’ve been here since 8 AM.

“For” describes the duration of an action.

Example

I’ve lived in Germany for three years.

Prepositions of location

Prepositions of location describe where something is in relation to another object. These prepositions are key to giving directions, describing settings, and indicating positions. Here are some examples:

  • Use “in” for an area, region, or volume
  • Use “at” to refer to a specific point or location (address, location, points on a map)
  • Use “on” when referring to a surface, e.g., floors, walls, abstract surfaces (screens, papers)

“At” indicates a specific point or location.

Example

I’ve met Louisa at the entrance.

“On” refers to surfaces.

Example

The book is on the coffee table.

“In” is used for enclosed spaces or areas.

Example

The child is in the garden.

“Beside” is used for something right next to.

Example

Park your car beside the gate.

“Between” is used for in the middle of two points.

Example

The city lies between two mountains.

“Behind” refers to something at the back of.

Example

The sun slowly disappears behind the mountains.

“In front of” is the opposite of “behind.”

Example

Didn’t you see me? I’ve been standing in front of the house!

“Near” describes something close to, but not exactly at a specific point.

Example

I live near the hospital.

“Among” means surrounded by or in the midst of.

Example

He found his girlfriend among the crowd.

Prepositions of direction

Prepositions of direction guide us on the path something or someone is moving towards. They’re the compass of language, pointing out which way to go. Here’s the lowdown on these directional indicators:

“To” indicates movement towards a specific destination.

Example

We’re going to the mall today.

“Towards” indicates the direction of something, but more about the movement than the final destination.

Example

She ran towards the sunset.

“Into” is used for entering or changing position within an enclosed space.

Example

The cat jumped into the box.

“Onto” is used for moving to the top surface of something.

Example

They climbed onto the roof.

“From” refers to the starting point of a journey or movement.

Example

She walked from home to school.

“Through” refers to passing from one side to the other, inside something.

Example

The road goes through a forest.

“Across” is used for getting to the other side of something.

Example

Tom swam across the lake.

“Off” refers to something moving awayor down from something.

Example

Take your feet off the table!

“Out of” is used to exit an enclosed or specific area.

Example

She stepped out of the car.

“Past” is used for moving by something.

Example

We walked past the post office.

Prepositions of place

Prepositions of place are the trusty guides that help us describe locations and positions. They paint a picture of where things are, grounding our conversations in a shared sense of space.

  • Use “in” when referring to being within the confines or boundaries of a defined space
  • Use “at” when referring to the general area or vicinity of a location
  • Use “on” when referring to being on the surface of something
  • Use “inside” when referring to something that is completely contained within another object

“At” is used for specific points or locations.

Example

She’s waiting at the bus stop.

“In” indicates being inside or within an area or space.

Example

He’s swimming in the pool.

“On” is used to describe something laying on surfaces.

Example

Cats are not supposed to go on the kitchen counter.

“Under” is used for something directly below or beneath.

Example

The dog is sleeping under the tree.

“Above” refers to something higher than something else, but not directly over it.

Example

The painting hung above the fireplace.

“Below” describes something in a lower position, under something else.

Example

The cat hid below the deck.

“Against” is used for touching something for support.

Example

The ladder is leaning against the wall.

“Off” refers to something moving awayor down from something.

Example

Take your feet off the table!

“Around” is used to describe that something is surrounded by or in a circular path.

Example

We took a walk around the park.

Prepositions of spatial relationships

These kinds of words zoom in on how objects or entities are in relation to one another, giving us the layout of the land in terms of positions and arrangements. They are like the architects of language, designing the blueprint of our sentences to show where things stand.

“Above” indicates something higher than something else, without touching it.

Example

The clock hanging above the doorway shows the correct time.

“Beyond”  means farther on than, at the other side of something.

Example

Beyond the mountains lies a vast, unexplored wilderness.

“Underneath” is used to describe something directly under or lower than something else.

Example

The cat found a cozy spot underneath the warm radiator.

“Around” is used for something in a circular motion or surrounding it.

Example

A fence runs around the perimeter of the property for security.

“Through” means from one end or side to the other within something.

Example

The road goes through the forest.

“Below” describes something in a lower position, under something else.

Example

The cat hid below the deck.

“Within” is used inside or not further than an area or period.

Example

Within the walls of the old castle, secret passages were hidden.

“Around” is used to describe that something is surrounded by or in a circular path.

Example

We took a walk around the park.

Prepositions with verbs and adjectives

Prepositions often follow verbs and adjectives to create phrases that convey more specific meanings or relationships. These combinations can significantly change the nuance or direction of what’s being expressed, making them essential for adding depth and clarity to communication.

Prepositions following verbs

Prepositions following verbs, often forming phrasal verbs or verb-preposition combinations, are common in English and can significantly change the meaning of the verb they accompany. The choice of preposition is crucial for conveying the correct meaning, and there are no universal rules governing these combinations, making them challenging for learners.

Examples Preposition
Look, smile At
Listen, react, speak To
Wait, care, apologize For
Disagree, agree With
Work, rely, depend On

Prepositions following adjectives

Prepositions that follow adjectives are crucial for constructing phrases that accurately convey relationships between the adjective and the object of the preposition. These combinations are essential for fluent English expression, as they often form set phrases with specific meanings.

Examples Preposition
Afraid, fond, jealous Of
Angry, anxious, concerned About
Bad, good At
Sorry, famous For
Careful, happy With

Common mistakes

Prepositions can be tricky sometimes, especially since small differences can significantly change the meaning of a sentence. Here are some common ones:

In vs. on

“In” is generally used for something enclosed or surrounded, and when talking about months, years, decades.

“On” is used for surfaces, and when talking about days and dates.

Examples

  • She was born in 1991.
  • The book is on the table.

At vs. in

“At” is used for specific locations or points in time, and for activities done at a place.

“In” is used for enclosed spaces or places, and for months, years, and longer periods.

Examples

  • I’ve met her at the entrance.
  • We’ve met in September.

For vs. since

“For” is used to specify a duration of time.

“Since” is used to specify the starting point of a period.

Examples

  • She has lived in Greece for five years.
  • She has lived there since 2019.

Among vs. between

“Among” is used when referring to distinct or mass subjects.

“Between” is sued when referring to distinct, individual items, even if there are more than two.

Examples

  • She chose a gift from among the many options available.
  • The negotiations between the countries were successful.
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Ending a sentence with a preposition

This topic oftentimes comes up in discussions about grammar and style in English. Traditionally, some have considered it a rule to never end a sentence with a preposition. However, in modern English usage, ending a sentence with a preposition is widely accepted, especially in informal or spoken context. This may help you with more natural and less forced sentences.

Questions

When asking questions, it is common to end a sentence with prepositions, especially in spoken English.

Examples 

  • What are you thinking about?
  • Who did you go with?
  • What are you waiting for?

Passive sentences

In passive constructions, the object of a preposition often moves to the beginning of the sentence, leaving the preposition at the end.

Example

  • The mystery has been solved by the detective she was impressed by.

Relative clauses

Relative clauses sometimes require ending sentences with prepositions when the clause’s object is a pronoun.

Example

  • He’s the scientist that the award was given to.

Infinitive phrases

These can lead to sentences that end in prepositions, particularly when the phrase acts as an adverb.

Example

  • The woman found someone interesting to talk to.

Unnecessary prepositions

As we already know, the correct usage plays a crucial role in formal writing. However, their misuse, including the addition of superfluous or redundant prepositions, can clutter sentences and obscure meanings. By identifying and removing these unnecessary prepositions, we can make our writing clearer, more precise and prevent repetition and redundancy.

Example

Original Where are you at?
Improved Where are you?

In this case, “at” is redundant because the question already implies a location.

Example

Original Finish up your homework.
Improved Finish your homework.

“Up” is unnecessary because “finish” already conveys completion.

Example

Original Let's meet on next Monday.
Improved Let's meet next Monday.

In this specific case, “on” is redundant and can be left out for readability and to avoid wordiness.

FAQs

You can identify a preposition by asking questions about the elements in a sentence. For instance, in a sentence, ‘We talked to Michael,’ you can find the preposition by asking, ‘Who did we talk to?’ Doing this will help you identify the preposition and when to use it.

The most common ones are; to, under, since, for, about, above, across, as, along, against, behind, and at.

Using too many prepositions in your writing or speech can lead to several issues, affecting clarity and eventually result in flabby writing.

Common preposition mistakes include:

  • Confusing “on” and “in” (e.g., “interested on” instead of “interested in”)
  • Using unnecessary prepositions (“Where is it?” instead of “Where is it at?”)
  • Confusing “for” and “since” when expressing time (“for” is for duration, “since” for specific time start)
  • Mistaking “between” and “among”