What are Prepositions? Definition & Examples

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Do you live in, on, or at a house? Are you heading toward or far from the tree? These words that show the relationship between ideas are called prepositions.

Keep reading as I go over a preposition’s simple definition, types, and how to identify one. You’ll also learn its correct usage in sentences.

What is a Preposition?

I may be dating myself here, but I learned all about prepositions from Schoolhouse Rock when I was a kid. I can still hear those catch tunes today. English prepositions are words that show logical relationships between nouns, pronouns, noun phrases, verbs, and other words in a sentence. These words always come before nouns or pronouns.

This part of speech is sometimes called “big little words” because they are short but have significant roles. In fact, we use individual prepositions more frequently than individual words.

The most common prepositions in sentences are simple prepositions, like in, on, at, with, on, to, from, and upon. Prepositions can be grouped into:

  • Prepositions of time.
  • Prepositions of place.
  • Prepositions of location.
  • Preposition of spatial relationships.

How Do You Identify a Preposition?

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There are many ways to identify a preposition in a sentence.

Prepositions Following English Verbs and Adjectives

You’ll usually find prepositions after a verb or adjective to give them new meanings. These common verb and preposition mixes are called a phrasal verb. There are several types of phrasal verbs, such as transitive phrasal verbs and intransitive phrasal verbs.

The most common prepositions with verbs are about, at, from, for, in, of, on, to, and with. Here are some examples of advanced verb preposition combinations in sentences.

  • I approve of the proposal.
  • She arrived at 12 AM.
  • She suffered from appendicitis.

You’ll also see prepositions after adjectives. Some common adjectives and prepositions combinations include accustomed to, aware of, beneficial to, different from, and employed at. For example:

  • This hydrating foundation is different from the matte one.
  • She’s good at playing the piano.

Prepositional Phrases

You’ll also see prepositions before nouns and pronouns. These preposition patterns are called prepositional phrases, and the type of preposition used is a transitive preposition. For example:

  • I like being with you.
  • I like listening to music at home.
  • I placed it on the table.

These phrases function as adverbs because they add meaning to the verbs in sentences. Notice how the examples modify the verbs being, listening, and placed.

Prepositional phrases do not change the structure of the sentence. A simple sentence stays as a simple sentence despite an embedded prepositional phrase.

Groups of Prepositions

Single prepositions are more common in sentences. But some also come in pairs or groups called complex prepositions. For example:

  • We stayed inside because of the bad weather.

Ending a Sentence with a Preposition

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One of the most common preposition mistakes people commit is ending their sentences with prepositions. It’s also one of the most common preposition questions that English learners have.

Preposition stranding is the term where a preposition is left with no object. This incorrect preposition usage is only acceptable in informal writing to avoid unnatural sentences. Here are some examples:

  • What are you thinking of?
  • Whom did you go to?

The only exception is when we use intransitive prepositions. These are prepositions that can stand on their own as complete prepositional phrases. For example:

  • Let’s stay inside.

A List of Common Prepositions

There are several types of prepositions you should learn because this part of speech can indicate various types of relationships.

Prepositions of Time

Prepositions of time indicate period of time. They show temporal relationships or relationships of time with other words in the sentence. The most common prepositions of time are:

  • In.
  • On.
  • At.

Remember to use at for a specific time of day or event. For instance, the temporal phrase at 7AMi is correct. In is for a general period of time, while on is for specific days. Memorizing these prepositions of time will help you avoid awkward sentence structures.

Prepositions of time also express extended time. Some preposition examples include:

  • For.
  • By.
  • From-to.
  • From-until.
  • During.
  • Since.
  • within/in.

Prepositions of Location/Prepositions of Spatial Relationships/Prepositions of Place

Prepositions show a noun’s literal location in space. Many of these words are also used as adverb particles, a different class of adverbs. Here’s a list of prepositions of location.

  • Across.
  • Under.
  • Next to.
  • Under.
  • Beneath.
  • Below.
  • Above.
  • Among.
  • Away from.
  • Between.
  • Off.

Below the table is an example of a spatial phrase.

Is on a preposition of place?

On is a preposition of place and time. Use it when the object is on top of something.

Is at a preposition of place?

At is a preposition of place and time. Use it for a specific address or general location.

Prepositions of Direction

Prepositions of directions are part of the answer to the question, where? Here are some examples.

  • On.
  • Outside.
  • Over.
  • Around.
  • Through.
  • Towards.
  • Under.
  • Up.

Prepositions and Abstract Meanings

Aside from giving concrete meanings, prepositions also show relationships between abstract concepts. For example:

  • I am for the enactment of this law.

The precise meaning of for is intended to be given to. But in the sentence above, there is a difference in meaning.

Unnecessary Prepositions

Sometimes, we use unnecessary prepositions that make your academic and formal writing more complicated. Here’s an example to avoid.

  • We’ll miss out on the concert.

This type of sentence could be shortened to We’ll miss the concert without producing an unclear sentence.

How to Use a Preposition in a Sentence

Here are more examples of prepositions in sentences

  • The rat ran up the table leg.
  • I am on the place.
  • She is in the car.
  • The store is located at 65 Rockwell Street.
  • I went into the cave and found nothing.
  • The mouse sat on the table.
  • I’ll meet you before sunset.
  • Sheena lives across the street.
  • I want to go to the movies.

Summary of Prepositions

Thank goodness for prepositions. Without them, it’s impossible to show a relationship between ideas in a sentence.​ They establish relationships in space, time, or between two nouns.

This guide has shown you the preposition basics. You already know its definition, types, and rules for correct usage. I also provided a preposition list for you to remember. Don’t forget to practice your prepositions!