What are Prepositions?
A preposition is a word that shows the relationship between the noun following the preposition and other words in the sentence. These relationships include: place or position, direction, time, manner, and agent. Prepositions may be one word or a prepositional phrase (such as “in front of”). They’re always followed by a noun which is the “object” of the preposition. A preposition and its object make up a prepositional phrase which typically functions as an adjective or adverb.
I’m still not sure if I know what they are. Can you give me some examples?
The most common prepositions are “in,” “on,” and “at.” These are the most common because they can be used for time, place, or manner. There are several others, such as “under,” “into,” “during,” “with,” etc. I’ll give more examples as I talk about the various kinds of prepositions.
Types of Prepositions
Prepositions of Place
Prepositions of place show where an object is located in relation to something else. Please bear with my Microsoft Paint skills—I can write, but I most certainly cannot draw!
Using this image, we can see how certain prepositions of place work. Using the circle as a reference point, we can see:
- The black text is in/inside the circle. (“In” means “surrounded by” the reference point)
- The dark blue line is leaning against the circle. (“Against” means “touching” the reference point for an extended length.)
- The green point is at the edge of the circle. (“At” means “touching” the reference point at a particular spot.)
- The dark red line is on the circle. (“On” means “placement on the surface,” generally the top, of the reference point.)
- The orange line is over the circle. (“Over” means “higher than” the point of reference.)
- The light blue text is below/under the circle. (“Below” means “under” the reference point.)
Prepositions of Direction
Prepositions of Direction illustrate paths of travel or motion.
Using the black square as the reference point, we can see
- The green line goes into the square. (“Into” means something starts on the outside of, then “enters” the reference point.)
- The yellow line goes through the square. (“Through” means something starts outside the reference point, enters it, and exits it from another side.)
- The blue line goes across the square. (“Across” means something starts at the reference point, and ends at the opposite side of it.)
- The red circle goes around the square. (“Around” means something starts outside the reference point, and travels near the reference point without entering it.)
Prepositions of Time
Prepositions of time help us differentiate if something is at a point in time or for a length of time. (P.S. There is no fun image for this!)
- Points in time:
- In: used for months, years, seasons, or parts of a day. (In 2009, In the summer, In the morning)
- At: used for a more specific point in time. (At 4:00, At midnight)
- On: used for specific dates and days of the week. (On Monday, On June 22, 2009)
- Extended periods of time:
- For: used for countable units of time or expressions. (For nine months, For a while, For a few hours, For six days)
- During: used for a block of time and with the definite article (the) or demonstrative pronouns (these, that, those, this). (During this time, During the race)
- Since: used to refer to a point in the past, which extends to another point in time. (Since I’ve been able to read, I have always loved fantasy.)
Prepositions of Manner
Prepositions of manner tell how something is done.
- With: used for accompaniment. (I went with my husband)
- For: used for “purpose” or reasoning. (I made a blog for writing)
- Of: used for association or measure (see “by”). (I want a piece of the pie)
- By: used to show measurement. (I get paid by the hour)
- Like: used to show similarity. (She looks like Britney Spears)
- As: used to show capacity. (I work as a tutor)
So wait, one word can be more than one type of preposition?
Yes, some prepositional words function as various things. You can see from the material above that “in,” “at,” and “on” function as a few things. Because of this, there are some commonly misued prepositions, mostly dealing with those three.
Commonly Misued Prepositions
- In/On (location): “In” means beneath the surface of an object, “On” means touching the surface. (The pen was in the desk drawer. The pen was on the desk.)
- In/At (location): “At” is a specific location, “in” is within something like a building, city, or country. (She works in the Writing Center. I’ll meet you at the front gate)
- On/At (addresses): “On” is used with street names, “At” is for specific addresses. (I live on 112th st. She lives at 10723 34th St.)
- Among/Between (location): “Among” is used when there are MORE than two people/things. “Between” is used when there are two. (The candy bar was split between the two of them. The candy bar was split among the three of them.)
So Kelly, what about prepositional phrases?
I know I mentioned prepositional phrases earlier, and they are an important part of knowing prepositions. However, the number of prepositional phrases out there is very, VERY large, and I simply do not have enough room to put them all. Once you get the hang of these, prepositional phrases should start becoming a little clearer and easier to understand.
Prepositions can be difficult to learn. There are lots of words and word combinations that are prepositions or prepositional phrases. Try not to get discouraged and keep at it! Good luck! 😀