We normally use prepositions in front of nouns or noun phases, pronouns or gerunds to express a relationship between one person, thins, event, etc. and another:
preposition + noun : I gave that book to Claire.
preposition + pronoun : I gave that book to him.
preposition + gerund: Claire devotes him time to reading.
Some relationships expressed by prepositions are:
Space : We passed across the street.
Time : The train arrived at 5.30 precisely.
Cause : Travel is cheap for us because of certain privileges.
Means : You unlock the door by turning the key to the right.
Prepositions always have an object. Even when preposition is separated from its object the connection is always there:
Who(m) where you talking to ? (TO whom...)
The chair I was sitting on was very shaky. (The chair ON which....)
Prepositions may take the form of:
- a single word: at, from, in, on, for, into etc.
- two or more words: according to, apart from, because of etc.
Types of prepositions
Classification according to the number of words:
One-word prepositions : about, for, throughout, till, to, with, versus, via, within, without, like, minus etc.
Two-word prepositions :
OF (as the second element): ahead of, because of, east/ west/ south/ north of, exclusive of, inclusive of, instead of, etc.
TO (as the second element): according to, as to, contrary to, due to, next to, owing to, previous(ly) to, prior to, pursuant to, relative to, subject to, subsequent(ly) to, etc.
WITH (as the second element): along with, together with
FOR (as the second element): as for, but for, except for, save for
Note the difference between as for and as to:
As for him, he’ll be informed about it on Tuesday.
He is very uncertain as to whether it’s right thing to do.
FROM (as the second element): apart from, aside from, away from
FROM (as the first element): from + preposition of place: from above, from among, from behind, from below, from beneath, from between, from beyond, from over etc.
UP (as the first element): up at, up till, up to.
Three of four-word prepositions:
BY : by means of, by reason of, by virtue of, by way of, etc.
AT : at the cost of, at the point of, at the risk of, etc.
WITH : with reference to, with regard to, with respect to, with the expectation of, etc.
FOR: for fear of, for lack of, for the benefit of, for the purpose of, for the sake of , etc.
ON: on account of, on behalf of, on the occasion of, on the part of, on (the) top of, etc.
AS : as a consequence of, as a result of, etc.
IN: in accordance with, in addition to, in case of, in comparison with, in connection with, etc.
Note the difference between in front of and in/at the front of:
A child ran out in front of the bus.
The child was sitting at/in the front of the bus.
I was sitting right in/at the front of the cinema but then someone sat in front of me so
I couldn’t see a thing!
ON THE : on the occasion of, in (the) event of, in (the) light of, etc.
IN (THE) : in (the) course of, in (the) event of, in (the) light of, etc.
AS : as far as, as compared with/to, as contrasted with, as opposed to, etc.
Classification of prepositions according to the meaning
These are the most common prepositions of time:
ON : The meeting was held on Wednesday, on July 16, on Sunday morning etc.
AT: We met him at two o’clock . (a point of time)
He works at night . It snows at Christmas. (a period considered as point)
Compare: at night (at= point of time) and
in the night (in= duration rather than a point)
Telling the time: at 2 o’clock, at 9.45
IN: in July, in 1998, in the 1960s, in the morning, in the spring, in the 16th century, in the afternoon (BUT on Monday afternoon), in the past, in the Second World War
SINCE: John has been ill since last seeing Mary/ since Mary’s marriage.
BY: We ought to be there by Monday .
By with the meaning of duration: The enemy attacked by night.
Do you prefer to travel by day or by night?
FROM...TO : The shop will be open from 6 to 8/ until 8/ till 8.
UNTIL and TILL: The meeting did not begin until/ till 2 pm.
The only difference between these two is that till is more used in spoken English rather than in writing.
FOR: I can see her for ten minutes.
I haven’t seen her for some time.
That’s all for the present.
They left for good.
DURING: We can meet during the week .
IN and WITHIN: He learnt Spanish in six months.
I can see her in half an hour for ten minutes.
It’s ten o’clock. We’ll come in an hour.
The pollution has increased in/ within the last 20 years.
BEFORE and AFTER: We can see you before Monday/ after Monday.
2.1 The point itself: IN, INSIDE, ON, ON THE TOP OF, AT
IN and INSIDE: (the area of something enclosed) in London, in England, in the room, an island in the Atlantic, in the sky, in the photograph, in the corner of the room, working in the fields, a holiday in the country, in the mountains
(with the name of place connected with an activity) He’s in the prison for stealing. She’s in the church praying. He is in hospital, he broke his leg yesterday . (He is a patient there)
(BUT: He is at the hospital. –this means that thE person is not patient there, he may be visiting someone)
ON: (indicating the surface of something)
on the table, on the wall, on the horse, on page 54, on my mind
AT : at school, at church,
She lives at 33 Park Avenue. BUT: She lives on Park Avenue.
After the verb arrive, at usually refers to a place smaller than a city: at the station, at the cinema, at the office, at the library, at the airport, at the bottom of the page, at his house, at the door, at the bus stop
After the verb arrive, in refers to a place larger than a city or town : in California, in London, in Europe, in England, in the United States of America
2.2 Higher or lower than a point: OVER, ABOVE, UNDER, UNDERRNEATH, BENEATH, BELOW
OVER : (directly above): The bird flew over the sea.
The children jumped over the wall.
He pulled the blanket over his head.
ABOVE: The difference between above and over is not always notable:
Let’s hang the painting above/ over the bed.
UNDER : The dog was under the table.
There is nothing new under the sun.
UNDERNEATH: (close under, especially of something hidden):
BENEATH: (directly under with some space between):
beneath the balcony, beneath a tree
BELOW : Shall I sign on, above or below the line?
The temperature is ten degrees below zero.
below sea level, the floor below us
2.3 Neighbouring the point: NEAR, CLOSE TO, NEXT TO etc.
NEAR: He lives near the station.
CLOSE TO: (very near) He lives close to the station.
NEXT TO : (with nothing else between them): The post is next to the University.
ALONGSIDE : (close tom parallel with, side by side):
We brought their boat alongside.
Some other learning aids are to be used alongside with the books.
BESIDE : (on one side of a person or thing; at or close to the side of; next to):
She is sitting beside the driver. He lives in a town beside the sea.
Ten of us passed besides Mary . (besides is preposition -it is followed by noun)
This is his best suit; he has two others besides. (besides is an adverb)
BETWEEN : His house is located between the post office and the university.
AMONG : Their house is hidden among the trees.
2.4 Direction (movement in regard to a point): TO-FROM, INTO-OUT, UP-DOWN, etc.
TO-FROM : They went to the theatre from the station.
TOWARDS (British English) TOWARD (American English):
We were walking towards town when we met her.
AWAY FROM: The ship moved slowly away from the shore.
INTO : He jumped into the water.
OUT OF: The car went out of control.
UP-DOWN: He climbed up (or down) the side of the cliff .
AROUND (AmE) ROUND (BrE): She had a towel wrapped around her waist.
THROUGH : He threw it through the window.
PAST (or by): The children rushed past us.
AS FAR AS (or up to): They walked only as far as the station.
3. CAUSE or REASON
BECAUSE OF, FOR: He was sent to prison for stealing.
They cried for joy.
She could not speak for laughing.
The plant died for lack of water.
FOR THE SAKE OF : He did it for the sake of his family.
for his brother’s sake
for the sake of peace
ON ACCOUNT OF : Don’t lie on the account of her/on her account!
AS RESULT/ CONSEQUENCE OF: He limped as a result of a car accident .
BY/IN VIRTUE OF: Kinetic energy is the energy a body possess by the virtue of its position.
OF: to die of grief/hunger, to do something of necessity/of one’s own choice
FROM: collapse from fatigue, suffer from starvation or some disease (for ex. heart attack)
do something from necessity
IN SPITE OF, DESPITE: He failed in the spite of all his efforts.
NOTWITHSTANDING: Notwithstanding the difficulties, we can pass this through.
REGARDLESS OF: They bought that car regardless of cost.
IRRESTPECTIVE OF : He is still good-looking, irrespective of age.
WITH : With all her faults, he still loves her.
IN CASE OF, IN (THE) EVENT OF: In case of fire (or In the event of fire), ring the alarm bell /call the fire-brigade.
FOR : to go for a swim/ ride/ walk, to run for his life
He works for living.
a room for sleeping
FOR THE PURPOSE OF: She did not go to Paris for/ with the mere purpose of buying a new dress.
WITH: to live with one’s parents; I’ll be with you in a minute.
TOGETHER WITH, ALONG WITH: He sent her some roses together with a nice letter.
When he went to Paris, he took his sister along with him.
BUT: alongside is used without with: The teacher suggested his students to use videos, recordings, and other learning aids alongside the books.
AS WELL AS: John, as well as his sister Mary, is a good student.
LIKE, AS: This metal looks like gold.
He treats all men as his equals.
He was dressed as a woman.
cold as ice, white as snow, yellow as gold, busy as a bee, sly as a fox
(formal style: as white as snow etc.)
WITH: cut with a sharp knife, write with a pen, take something with both hands, walk with a
crutch, see something with one’s own eyes
BY MEANS OF : (with the help of): He succeeded by means of his good connections.
WITH : standing with his hands in his pockets, do something with an effort, with a light
heart, with one’s whole heart, do something with joy/ with pleasure, win with ease,
fight with courage, fight with a roar, with a shout of triumph, receive somebody with
IN: pay in cash/ in kind, write in English
in indicating material: painted in oils, cast in bronze, yellowish in colour
12. POSSESSION or ORIGIN
OF: the works of Shakespeare, a woman of royal, the long hair of hers, that funny hairof yours, a friend of mine, the city of London, the Isle of Wight, a man of great courage, a matter of special importance
WITH/ WITHOUT: a girl with the golden hair, a girl with the red dress on
With enough money, he would be able to continue his study.
Without money, he would not be able to continue his study.
EXCEPT FOR: every day except Saturday
All papers are good except Mary’s.
Your paper is good except for grammar.
BUT (FOR ): (without)
But for your help, I’d be helpless .
APART FROM : (without considering; except for)
The performance was very good, apart from a few slight faults.
WITH REGARD TO: With regard to your recent application, I am afraid we are unable to offer you the job.
WITH RESPECT TO : With respect to your other proposals, I am not able to tell you our decision.
WITH/ IN REFERENCE TO: With reference to your letter of 14 August, 2006, I am glad to inform you that you are the part of our team now.
REGARDING: The problem regarding the refugees is just being discussed.
AS TO : The books were correctly placed as to size and colour.
AS FOR : Nick can stay, but as for you, you can get out of my sight!
As for him, he’ll have to sleep on the floor.
LIKE, (SUCH) AS: poets like/ such as Keats and Shelley
such poets as Keats and Shelley
Some problems for the learner in the use of prepositions
English uses more prepositions than most other European languages, partly because “case” is no longer expressed by noun endings. This may cause problems of choice because:
- many English prepositions have nearly the same meaning:
e.g. beside, by, near, next to or above, on top of, over.
- a single preposition in the student’s mother tongue may do the work of several English prepositions. So, for example, there may be one prepositions to cover the meanings of by, from and of or at, in, on and to, particularly after “movement verbs”
- some prepositions perform different functions. For example we could see that they express a lot of different relationships: in time, space, conditions, results etc.
- Verbs tenses
- Present Tenses
- Present Simple Tense
- Present Continous Tense
- Present Perfect Tense
- Present Perfect Continuous Tense
- Past Tenses
- Past Simple Tense
- Past Continuous (Progressive) Tense
- Past Perfect Tense
- Future Tenses
- The Simple Future Tense
- Future Continuous Tense
- Future Perfect Tense
- Future Perfect Continous Tense
- Stative and dynamic verbs
- Transitive and intransitive verbs
- Reflexive verbs
- Full verbs and auxiliary verbs
- Modal verbs
- Indirect speech