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Prepositions In English Language

Updated on June 13, 2014

The Preposition

What is a preposition and what is the function of a preposition in a sentence? These are questions whose answers will be thoroughly explained in this article.

A preposition is one of the many parts of speech that we have in the English Language. There are quite a number of definitions for a preposition.

A preposition can be defined as a word that shows the relationship between a noun or a pronoun and some other word(s) in a sentence. Examples of prepositions are: in, on, before, into, over, behind, underneath, beneath, under, behind, below, before, at, etc

  • I gave the book to John.

In the example above, the word “to” is a preposition. It is a preposition because it is showing you the relationship between the noun “John” and the word “book”.

  • I bought some gifts for her.

In this example too, you can clearly see that the highlighted word “for” is a preposition simply because it is showing the relationship between the pronoun “her” and the word “gifts”.

A preposition can also be defined as a word or group of words that comes before a noun or pronoun in order to show place, time, direction etc.

Example:

  • I went into the room.

From the example, one can easily see that “into” is a preposition because it comes before the noun “room” and is showing place.

Others define preposition as any word or group of words that governs a noun or a pronoun.

The main function of a preposition in a sentence is to show you the relationship between a noun or a pronoun and some other word or words in the sentence or statement.

List of English Language prepositions

Below is a complete list of the most common prepositions in English:

  • along – I walked along the dirt road
  • to – I gave the money to him
  • on – I put the book on the table
  • despite – despite the fact that he was guilty, he showed no remorse
  • between – it can be found between the two houses
  • among – I found it among the flowers
  • toward(s) – I walked toward(s) the haunted house
  • onto – it fell onto the glass and broke it
  • down – the room is down the stairs
  • at – I looked at him angrily
  • underneath – underneath the book I saw the receipt
  • before – he stood before the house
  • outside – it is outside the house
  • until – I waited for him until it was late
  • except – we open every day except Sundays
  • over – I jumped over the wall
  • past – just walk past the building and you will see it
  • from – I travelled from London to Manchester
  • below – it is below my knees
  • beneath – beneath the hatred there lies some love
  • for – I bought this gift for you
  • through – I walked through the wet grass to get to you
  • within – nobody knows what is within her heart
  • near – don’t stand near me
  • till – till you do it, I won’t let you in
  • beside – please stand beside me
  • in – you have no idea what is in my mind
  • since – since you left, things have gone awfully bad
  • up – I looked up the hill
  • behind – he stood behind her because he wanted to steal her purse
  • *out – get out the car *
  • off – take those nasty pictures off the wall
  • beyond – beyond the stream there is nice foliage
  • around – I don’t want to see you around her anymore
  • under – wait under that mango tree for me

NOTE: Not all grammarians agree that “out” is a preposition. For example, in British English, “Out” is not considered a preposition. In American English however “out” is a preposition. Examples of “out” used as prepositions are as follow:

  • Please get out the room
  • I got out the car and raced towards her
  • He looked out the window and wished he was home

Compound Prepositions

What is a compound preposition? A compound preposition is a preposition that is made up of two or more words. An example of a compound preposition is the preposition “according to”.

Below is a list of the most commonly used compound prepositions in English:

  • According to – according to reports, the house was set ablaze by the landlord
  • Aside from – aside from that, I think it is good
  • In regard(s) to – in regard(s) to what we talked about
  • as of – as of last week I was still working for him
  • in respect to – in respect to that
  • in spite of – in spite of all my efforts I could not convince her
  • instead of – he took my keys instead of his
  • as well as – he took mine as well as theirs
  • because of – I did this because of you
  • by means of – I got to the village by means of a canoe
  • in front of – it is in front of the car
  • with regard(s) to – with regard(s) to what we were talking about, I think we should let him go
  • on account of – you cannot suffer on account of me

Preposition and the object of a preposition

We cannot take a look at the topic “Prepositions” without taking a look at what the object of a preposition is.

The object of a preposition is the noun or pronoun that comes after the preposition. Any noun or pronoun that comes after a preposition is referred to as the object of the preposition. Examples are:

  • I left it in the room
  • He interceded for Hannah
  • Please give it to John
  • The fox jumped over the wall

The highlighted words in the examples above are all objects of their respective prepositions simply because they are nouns coming after their respective prepositions. A pronoun coming after a preposition is also an object of a preposition. Example: Give it to me. In this sentence ‘me’ is the object of the preposition ‘to’.

The prepositional phrase

We also cannot treat “Prepositions” without taking a look at what prepositional phrases are. What is a prepositional phrase? By definition a prepositional phrase is a phrase that consists of a preposition plus the object of a preposition. Any phrase that begins with a preposition is a prepositional phrase.

When you put the preposition plus the object of preposition together, then you have a prepositional phrase. Examples of prepositional phrases are:

  • in bed
  • on the wall
  • at war
  • in love
  • for her
  • to you
  • inside the heart
  • over my head
  • according to her

Characteristics of prepositions

Preposition are normally followed by nouns and pronouns

Examples:

  • We are at war. (Noun)
  • I bought it for her. (Pronoun)

Prepositions can also come immediately before articles and gerunds

Examples:

  • It can be found in front of the museum. (article + noun)
  • He instantly burst into singing. (gerund)

A preposition can also function as an adverb depending on how it is used in a sentence. This is the reason why it is very easy to confuse a preposition with an adverb of time and place. For example the word “outside” and “behind” can be prepositions and adverbs at the same time based on how you use them in your sentence.

Examples:

  • I saw him standing outside the house. (Preposition)
  • Please put the dog outside. (Adverb)
  • It is behind you. (Preposition)
  • They left me behind. (Adverb)

NOTE: A noun or pronoun must follow the preposition otherwise that word seizes being a preposition and becomes an adverb.

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