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How to Use Prepositions

Updated on February 10, 2013

By Joan Whetzel

The English language uses prepositions to demonstrate the connection between two components of a sentence. Prepositional phrases contain a preposition and a noun or pronoun (it, him, her, them) which act as the object of the prepositional phrase, just as they world act as the subject of a sentence. The difference between a sentence and a prepositional phrase is that a prepositional phrase has no verb. Prepositions illustrate spatial relationship, the relationship between the subject and something else, direction, and relationship with time.

Spatial Location

Spatial location prepositions show the relationship between a stationary object to everything around it. In the picture below, the hot air balloon floated just above the ground (the stationary object) just before the basket dragged to a halt on the grass below it. Spatial location prepositions include: above, below, at, in, on, over, under and underneath.

The hot air balloon hovered ABOVE the ground.
The hot air balloon hovered ABOVE the ground. | Source

Relation to Something Else

Prepositions show the relationship of the sentence’s subject to other objects or people in the sentence. In the picture below you could say that the tree was out in the yard, but that doesn’t give a clear indication of the exact location of the tree. Instead, the tree grew in the yard near the dirt road, between the fence and the house. Prepositions showing relationship to other things are: among, behind, between, beside, in front of, in the middle of, next to, and with.

The tree stood BETWEEN the gate and the house, NEXT TO the road.
The tree stood BETWEEN the gate and the house, NEXT TO the road. | Source

Showing Direction

In this category, prepositions are used to indicate the direction in which the subject of the sentence is moving from one location to another. In the picture below, you might say “the children are playing on the playground equipment,” but to be more explicit, you could add a preposition and restate it as: “the children are climbing toward the top of climbing tower. The list of prepositions here include: by, onto, into, over, past, to, toward, and under.

The children climb TOWARD the top of the playground equipment.
The children climb TOWARD the top of the playground equipment. | Source
The Movie starts at 10:50 AM and 1:30 PM.
The Movie starts at 10:50 AM and 1:30 PM. | Source

Locating Something in Time; When Something Happened

Locating things in time require another set of prepositions that compares those items to other objects and events in another time. Take the movie listing below. It shows the start times for the same movie. One showing starts at 10:50 am and the showing after that begins at 1:30 pm. This list of prepositions include: after, at, before, between, beyond, for, from, from…to (as in the movie runs from 10:50 am to 12:20 pm), in, on, since, until, and use.


University of Redlands: Prepositions

Townson University: Prepositions

Capitol Community College: Prepositions ---Locators in Time and Space

Your Dictionary: Rules for Prepositions

Resources of Communications: Using Prepositions Correctly

English Club: English Preposition List

Chomp Chomp: The Preposition by Robin L. Simmons, 2011


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    • joanwz profile imageAUTHOR

      Joan Whetzel 

      5 years ago

      Thank you.

    • Levertis Steele profile image

      Levertis Steele 

      5 years ago from Southern Clime

      Well done!

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      5 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


      This is a well-written and researched hub on the use of prepositions. When I went to elementary school in the 50s, I was taught never to end a sentence with a preposition. That rule seems to have been thrown out the window now, because I see so many sentences in both written and spoken English ending with prepostions. Voted up and sharing.


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