A preposition is a word or phrase that comes before a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase to indicate direction, time, place, location, spatial relationships, or to introduce an object.
Words like “in,” “at,” “on,” “of,” and “to” are examples of prepositions.
In English, prepositions are highly idiomatic.
Although there are some usage rules, many prepositions are dictated by fixed expressions.
In these cases, memorize the phrase rather than the individual preposition.
A Few Rules
Preposition of Direction
Use the prepositions “to,” “in,” “into,” “on,” and “onto” to refer to a direction.
- He drove to the garage.
- Don’t ring the doorbell. Come right in(to) the studyroom.
- Drive on(to) the grass and park the bike there.
Prepositions of Time
Use the prepositions “in,” “at,” and “on” to refer to a specific point in time.
Use “in” to refer to specific times of the day, months, years, and seasons.
- She reads in the evening.
- The weather is cold in November.
- H was born in 1998.
- We rake leaves in the fall.
When referring to the time of day, use “at.” Use “at” with noon, night, and midnight as well.
- I go to school at 7:00.
- She eats lunch at noon.
- He often goes for a walk at night.
- They go to play at midday.
When referring to days, use “on.”
- I work on Sundays.
- She does laundry on Thursdays.
To refer to a period of time that has passed, use the prepositions “since,” “for,” “by,” “during,” “from…to,” “from…until,” “with,” and “within.”
- I have lived in Texas since 2010. (I moved there in 2010 and still live there.)
- He will be in Miami for 3 weeks. (He will spend 3 weeks in Miami.)
- He will finish his homework by 7:00. (He will finish his homework sometime between now and 7:00.)
- She works part time during the winter. (For the period of time throughout the winter.)
- I will collect data from March to June. (Starting in March and ending in June.)
- They are in school from January until May. (Starting in January and ending in May.)
- She will graduate within 2 years. (Not longer than 2 years.)
Prepositions of Place
Use the prepositions “in” (the point itself), “at” (the general vicinity), “on” (the surface), and “inside” to refer to a location (something contained).
- They will meet in the lunchroom.
- He was waiting at the corner.
- She left his phone on the bed.
- Place the pencil inside the drawer.
Use the prepositions “over” and “above” to refer to objects that are higher than a point. Use the prepositions “below,” “beneath,” “under,” and “underneath” to refer to objects lower than a point.
- Basements are excavated below ground.
- There is hard wood beneath the carpet.
- The nuts were hidden by the squirrel under a pile of leaves.
- The bird flew over the house.
- The cat is hiding underneath the box.
- The plates were above the cups on the shelf.
Use the prepositions “by,” “near,” “next to,” “between,” “among,” and “opposite” to refer to an object near a point.
- The movie theatre is by the grocery store.
- The eiver is near her house.
- Park your car next to the garage.
- There is a rabbit between the two trees.
- There is a red flower among the weeds.
- The church is opposite the house.
Preposition of Location
Use the prepositions “in” (an area or volume), “at” (a point), and “on” to refer to a location (a surface).
- They live in the mountains. (an area)
- He will find him at the church. (a point)
- There is a lot of dirt on the door. (a surface)
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” to refer to a spatial relationship.
- The library is across the street from the school.
- We will stop at many roadblocks along the way.
- The kids are hiding behind the bus.
- His pant is off.
- Walk toward the church and then turn left.
- Place a check mark within the box.
Prepositions Following Verbs and Adjectives
Some verbs and adjectives are preceded by a preposition. When verbs and adjectives are followed by different prepositions, the phrase takes on different meanings. Look up the verb or adjective in an online dictionary, such as Merriam Webster, or use a corpus, such as The Corpus of Contemporary American English, to find out which prepositions come after it. Memorizing these phrases rather than just the preposition is the most beneficial.
Some Common Verb + Preposition Combinations
About: worry, complain, read
- She worries about the future.
- He complained about the exam.
- I read about the riots in the village.
At: arrive (a building or event), smile, look
- She arrived at the farm 2 hours early.
- The children smiled at him.
- He looked at her.
From: differ, suffer
- The results differ from my original idea.
- He suffers from dementia.
For: account, allow, search
- Be sure to account for any discrepancies.
- I returned the copies to the interviewees to allow for amendments to be made.
- They are searching for the missing cat.
In: occur, result, succeed
- The same problem occurred in five out of seven cases.
- My recruitment strategies resulted in finding 14 participants.
- He will succeed in completing her diploma.
Of: approve, consist, smell
- I approve of the idea.
- The recipe consists of five basic ingredients.
- The basement smells of decay.
On: concentrate, depend, insist
- She is concentrating on her work.
- They depend on each other.
- We must insist on following this rule.
To: belong, contribute, lead, refer
- Deers belong to the family of mammals.
- We hope to contribute to the previous research.
- Our results will lead to future research on the topic.
- Please refer to our previous explanation.
With: (dis)agree, argue, deal
- I (dis)agree with you.
- He argued with her.
- They will deal with the situation.
Though verb + preposition combinations appear similar to phrasal verbs, the verb and the particle (in this case, the preposition) in these pairings cannot be separated in the same way that phrasal verbs can. More information can be found on our verb choice page.
Adjectival Prepositional Phrase Examples
Some Common Adjective + Preposition Combinations
Ending a Sentence With a Preposition
Historically, schools taught students that no sentence should end in a preposition. This rule is associated with Latin grammar, and while many aspects of Latin have been incorporated into English, there are times when adhering to this particular grammar rule results in unclear or awkward sentence structures. Because the purpose of writing is to convey your ideas clearly, it is acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition if the alternative would cause confusion or is excessively formal.
Example: The radio had not been paid for. (Ends with a preposition but is acceptable)
Unclear Revision: Paid for the radio had not been. (Unclear sentence.)
Example: I would like to know where he comes from. (Ends with a preposition but is acceptable)
Overly Grammatical Revision: I would like to know from where he comes. (Grammatical but overly formal. Nobody actually speaks like this.)
However, when writing academically, you may decide that it is worthwhile to revise your sentences to avoid ending with a preposition in order to maintain a more formal scholarly tone.
Example: Our research will focus on the community the army lived in.
Revision: Our research will focus on the community in which the army lived.
Example: I like the friends I am playing with.
Revision: I like the friends with whom I am playing.
Prepositional Phrases and Wordiness
As with pronouns, an excessive number of prepositional phrases can bloat a sentence:
Example: The student chose the mixed-method design to explain that the purpose of the peer reviwed article was to explore the leadership qualities of the school heads in the schools as a means to gauge students satisfaction in the first year of learning.
This type of sentence can be shortened and condensed to eliminate unnecessary prepositional phrases and to make the writer’s intent more clear:
Revision: The student chose the mixed-method design to explore the school heads leadership qualities and their impact on first-year students’ satisfaction.
If the preposition is unnecessary, omit it.
This results in more clear and concise writing.
Example: Where are the cups at?
Revision: Where are the cups?
Example: He jumped off of the balance beam.
Revision: He jumped off the balance beam.