Prepositions are words like in, during, or between. They are normally followed by a noun or pronoun, with which they form a prepositional phrase:

prepositions 1

Here are some more examples:

during recess
between you and me
from Russia
with love

The job of the preposition is to relate the noun or the pronoun (the object of the preposition) to the rest of the sentence. Take, for instance, the following sentence:

I work at the post-office.

The prepositional phrase tells us a bit more about where I work.

Using prepositional phrases

So far we’ve figured out that prepositional phrases provide extra information. In fact, a prepositional phrase will never be part of the core of the sentence. When you’re analyzing a sentence, you can take away the prepositional phrases to make it easier to find the subject and verb:

prepositions 2

This sentence also shows how prepositional phrases function in a sentence. They act either as an adverb or an adjective.

  • The phrase in the morning clarifies when I like to eat. In other words, it tells us something about the verb (like) by providing a time frame. When you modify the verb, you’re using an adverb, and that is also the role of the prepositional phrase in the morning.
  • The phrase with cream cheese tells us a bit more about the kind of bagel this is. Since bagel is a noun, the prepositional phrase is acting like an adjective.

If you can tell whether a prepositional phrase is adjectival or adverbial, you can give yourself a pat on the back. For most of us (mere mortals) simply spotting a prepositional phrase is good enough.

Ending with a preposition

Contrary to popular wisdom, you are allowed to end a sentence with a preposition. The noun or pronoun (the object of the preposition) can usually be found earlier in the sentence:

You are the only person I am showing this to.  

Which of those girls are you going on a date with?

Check out the treasure we stumbled upon.

Most of the time, though, you can reword the sentence to avoid ending on a preposition.

Common errors

Don’t automatically assume that you’re dealing with a preposition. Take the following sentence:

I must have left behind my monocle.

The word behind can be a preposition or an adverb, and in this case it’s an adverb. It’s modifying the verb (must have left) rather than relating a noun or pronoun to the rest of the sentence.

Common prepositions

Most prepositions have to do with time or place. There is no need to memorize every preposition (in fact, there are many more prepositions than those listed), but it will help you to read through the following list once or twice.

Spatial Abstract Temporal
above about after
across (from) according to around
against as (for) at
ahead of besides by
along/alongside concerning during
among considering past
apart from contrary to since
around despite till
at except (for) to
below in order to until
beneath in relation to
beside in spite of
between like
beyond notwithstanding
by of
down off
in front of on account of
in place of regarding
inside regardless of
into such as
near throughout
next to unlike
on upon
onto with
out (of)