A preposition is a word or group of words used before a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase to show direction, time, place, location, spatial relationships, or to introduce an object. Some examples of prepositions are words like “in,” “at,” “on,” “of,” and “to.”
Prepositions in English are highly idiomatic. Although there are some rules for usage, much preposition usage is dictated by fixed expressions. In these cases, it is best to memorize the phrase instead of the individual preposition.
A Few Rules
Prepositions of Direction
To refer to a direction, use the prepositions “to,” “in,” “into,” “on,” and “onto.”
Prepositions of Time
To refer to one point in time, use the prepositions “in,” “at,” and “on.”
Use”in” with parts of the day (not specific times), months, years, and seasons.
Use “at”with the time of day. Also use “at” with noon, night, and midnight.
Use “on” with days.
To refer to extended time, use the prepositions “since,” “for,” “by,” “during,” “from…to,” “from…until,” “with,” and “within.”
Prepositions of Place
To refer to a place, use the prepositions “in”(the point itself), “at”(the general vicinity), “on” (the surface), and “inside” (something contained).
To refer to an object higher than a point, use the prepositions “over” and “above.” To refer to an object lower than a point, use the prepositions “below,” “beneath,” “under,” and “underneath.”
To refer to an object close to a point, use the prepositions “by,” “near,” “next to,” “between,” “among,” and “opposite.”
Prepositions of Location
To refer to a location, use the prepositions “in”(an area or volume), “at”(a point), and “on”(a surface).
Prepositions of Spatial Relationships
To refer to a spatial relationship, use the prepositions “above,” “across,” “against,” “ahead of,” “along,” “among,” “around,” “behind,” “below,”
“beneath,” “beside,” “between,” “from,” “in front of,” “inside,” “near,” “off,” “out of,” “through,” “toward,” “under,” and “within.”
Prepositions Following Verbs and Adjectives
Some verbs and adjectives are followed by a certain preposition. Sometimes verbs and adjectives can be followed by different prepositions, giving the phrase different meanings. Memorizing these phrases instead of just the preposition alone is the most helpful.
Some Common Verb + Preposition Combinations
About: worry, complain, read
He worries about the future.
She complained about the homework.
I read about the flooding in the city.
At: arrive (a building or event), smile, look
He arrived at the airport 2 hours early.
The children smiled at her.
She looked at him.
From: differ, suffer
The results differ from my original idea.
She suffers from dementia.
For: account, allow, search
Be sure to account for any discrepancies.
I returned the transcripts to the interviewees to allow for revisions to be made.
They are searching for the missing dog.
In: occur, result, succeed
The same problem occurred in three out of four cases.
My recruitment strategies resulted in finding 10 participants.
She will succeed in completing her degree.
Of: approve, consist, smell
I approve of the idea.
The recipe consists of three basic ingredients.
The basement smells of mildew.
On: concentrate, depend, insist
He is concentrating on his work.
They depend on each other.
I must insist on following this rule.
To: belong, contribute, lead, refer
Bears belong to the family of mammals.
I hope to contribute to the previous research.
My results will lead to future research on the topic.
Please refer to my previous explanation.
With: (dis)agree, argue, deal
I (dis)agree with you.
She argued with him.
They will deal with the situation.
Although verb + preposition combinations appear similar to phrasal verbs, the verb and the particle (in this case, the preposition) in these combinations cannot be separated like phrasal verbs.
Some Common Adjective + Preposition Combinations
Ending a Sentence with a Preposition
At one time, schools taught students that a sentence should never end with a preposition. This rule is associated with Latin grammar, and while many aspects of Latin have made their way into English, there are times when following this particular grammar rule creates unclear or awkward sentence structures. Since the purpose of writing is to clearly communicate your ideas, it is acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition if the alternative would create confusion or is too overly formal.
Example:The car had not been paid for. (Ends with a preposition but is acceptable)
Unclear Revision: Paid for the car had not been. (Unclear sentence.)
Example: I would like to know where she comes from. (Ends with a preposition but is acceptable)
Overly Grammatical Revision: I would like to know from where she comes. (Grammatical but overly formal. Nobody actually speaks like this.)
However, in academic writing, you may decide that it is worth revising your sentences to avoid ending with a preposition in order to maintain a more formal scholarly voice.
Example:My research will focus on the community the students lived in.
Revision: My research will focus on the community in which the students lived.
Example: I like the people I am working with.
Revision: I like the people with whom I am working.
If the preposition is unnecessary, leave it out. This creates more clear and concise writing.
Example:Where are the plates at?
Revision: Where are the plates?
Example: She jumped off of the balance beam.
Revision: She jumped off the balance beam.