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words at, in, of, on and to are examples of
prepositions. A word such as a noun, pronoun or gerund following a preposition
is said to be the object of the preposition. As pointed out previously, a
personal pronoun following a preposition must be in the objective case.
phrase beginning with a preposition can be referred to as a prepositional
phrase. The prepositional phrases in the following examples are
--> He owns the house on the corner.
--> We are waiting for her.
--> She has read many
books about flying.
In the first example, the noun corner
is the object of the preposition on. In the second example, the personal
pronoun her is the object of the preposition for. It can be seen
that the personal pronoun her is in the objective case. In the third
example, the gerund flying is the object of the preposition
A preposition serves to connect its object
with the rest of a sentence. In doing so, a preposition indicates the
relationship of the idea expressed in the prepositional phrase to the ideas
expressed In the rest of the sentence.
For instance in the sentence He
owns the house on the corner, the preposition on indicates that the
words the corner express the location of the house referred to in the
rest of the sentence. Similarly, in the sentence We are waiting for her,
the preposition for indicates that the word her expresses the
reason for the action of waiting referred to in the rest of the
Although there are fewer than one hundred English prepositions,
although prepositions do not take endings, and although the structure of most
prepositional phrases is simple, the use of English prepositions is very
complex. The reasons for this are that most prepositions have more than one
meaning, many prepositions can also be used as adverbs, prepositions are used in
hundreds of idioms, many adjectives, nouns, and verbs must usually be followed
by certain prepositions, and there are hundreds of phrasal verbs formed from
combinations of verbs with adverbs and prepositions.
It should also be
noted that the use of prepositions varies somewhat among the different dialects
of English. For instance, as illustrated in the following example, there are
some differences between British and North American English in the use of
British Usage: --> There is a fence about the
American Usage: --> There is a fence
around the garden.
The discussion below emphasizes the North
American usage of English prepositions.
1. The meanings of prepositions
The table below gives
the most usual meanings of English prepositions. Each meaning is illustrated by
1. On the
subject of: This is a story about elephants.
Approximately: He is about ten years old.
1. Higher than; over: The
plane flew above the clouds.
2. Earlier on a page:
There is a heading above each diagram.
1. From one side to the other:
We walked across the field.
2. On the other side
of: There is a store across the street.
1. Later in time: after
ten o'clock; after lunch
2. Later in a series: Q
comes after P in the alphabet.
3. In pursuit of:
The dog ran after the cat.
1. In opposition to: Theft is
against the law.
2. Touching; supported by: I
leaned my bicycle against the wall.
1. Following the length of: We
walked along the road.
1. Within a group: The money was shared among three
Note: In formal English, among is usually used only
when referring to more than two persons or things. In contrast,
between is used when referring to two persons or things.
1. Circling something: We
walked around the block.
2. Surrounding: There is
a fence around the garden.
3. In different parts
of: I looked around the house for the keys.
the other direction: We turned around and went back home.
5. Approximately: He is around six feet tall.
1. A specific location: at
23 Chestnut Street; at the park
2. A point in
time: at 5 o'clock; at Christmas
condition: at peace; at war; at rest
4. An activity: at work; at school; at play
5. Towards: Look at someone; wave at
Note: When referring to a specific location or to a point
in time, at is usually used. When referring to a certain street or a
certain day, on is usually used. When referring to a location as an area,
or when referring to a unit of time longer than a day, in is usually
e.g. at Christmas; on Christmas day; in the
1. Earlier in time: before two o'clock; before
2. Earlier in a series: S comes before T
in the alphabet.
1. At the
back of: The little girl hid behind her mother.
Late: I am behind in my work.
origin: Who was behind that idea?
1. Lower than; under:
below freezing; below sea level
2. Later on a
page: Footnotes are provided below the text.
1. Lower than; below:
beneath the earth
1. Next to; at the side of: I sit beside her in class.
1. Also; as well as: We
study other languages besides English.
Note the differing
meanings of beside and besides. Beside is usually used with
reference to a physical location.
1. An intermediate location:
Toronto lies between Montreal and Vancouver.
intermediate time: between Christmas and New Year's Day
3. Intermediate in a series: B comes between A and C in the
4. An intermediate amount: between five
and ten people
5. Within a group of two: The money was
shared between two people.
1. Farther than: The
mountains lie beyond the horizon.
2. Further than;
exceeding: That was beyond my expectations.
1. Except: I have read all
but the last chapter.
Note: But is used more often
as a conjunction than as a preposition.
1. Near: a house by the
2. Past: He waved as he drove by the
3. Not later than: Try to finish the work
by next week.
4. In units of: cheaper by
the dozen; sold by weight
5. Through the means of:
travel by plane; written by him
Note: By is
often used in combination with verbs in the Passive Voice.
1. Connected with; about:
He studies everything concerning trees.
1. In spite of: We walked
downtown despite the rain.
1. To a lower position: The ball
rolled down the hill.
2. Further along: He lives
down the street.
Throughout a period: She works during the day.
Sometime within a period: An accident occurred during the
including: I have visited everyone except him.
1. Duration of time: We walked
for two hours.
2. Distance: I walked for
3. Purpose: I bought this jacket
4. In the direction of: She left
for New York.
5. In favor of: We are for
6. Considering: The boy is clever
for his age.
of origin: We left from Boston; he comes from
2. Start of a period of time: from now on;
from yesterday until today
3. Start of a range:
From 20 to 30 people were present.
4. Cause: He
suffers from nervousness.
5. Source: I first heard
the story from you.
Place thought of as an area: in London; in Europe
2. Within a location: in the room; in the
3. Large units of time: That happened in
March, in 1992.
4. Within a certain time: I will
return in an hour.
5. By means of: write in
pencil; speak in English
6. Condition: in doubt;
in a hurry; in secret
7. A member of: He is
in the orchestra; in the navy
the boy in the blue shirt
9. With reference to:
lacking in ideas; rich in oil
1. Within: They are
inside the house.
To the inside of: We stepped into the room.
Change of condition: The boy changed into a man.
1. Resembling: That looks
2. Appearing possible: It looks
3. Be in a suitable mood for: I feel
like going swimming.
1. Less: Three minus two equals one.
1. Close to: near the
school; near the ocean
1. Location: east of here; the middle of the road
2. Possession: a friend of mine; the sound of
3. Part of a group: one of us; a member
of the team
4. Measurement: a cup of milk;
two meters of snow
Not on; away from: Please keep off the grass.
At some distance from: There are islands off the coast.
1. Touching the surface of:
on the table; on the wall
2. A certain day:
That happened on Sunday, on the 6th of June.
certain street: on South Street
4. About: a
book on engineering
5. A state or condition:
on strike; on fire; on holiday
6. By means
of: live on a pension; shown on television
1. To a position on: The child
climbed onto the table.
1. Facing: The library is opposite the fire
1. To the outside
of: She went out of the room.
2. From among:
We won two games out of three.
3. Motive: We spoke
to them out of politeness.
4. Material: The bridge
is made out of steel.
5. Beyond: out of
control; out of danger
1. On the outer side of: outside the house
2. Beyond the limits of: outside my experience
1. Above; higher than: There are
cupboards over the sink.
2. Covering: We spread an
extra blanket over the bed.
3. Across: I jumped
over a puddle.
4. More than: It cost over
ten dollars; it took over an hour
5. During: I saw
him several times over the past week.
6. By means
of: We made plans over the telephone.
1. Up to and beyond: I walked
past the house.
2. After (in time): It was
past 2 o'clock; half past two
1. For each: 60 kilometers per hour; price per
1. With the addition
of: Six plus four equals ten.
1. From a specific time in the
past: I had been waiting since two o'clock.
From a past time until now: I have been waiting here since
Note: Because of its meaning, the preposition since
is usually used in combination with a perfect tense. It should be noted that the
preposition for can also be used with a perfect tense. However, when used
with reference to time, for is usually followed by a phrase referring to
a period of time; whereas since is usually followed by a phrase
referring to a specific time.
--> I have known him for six
--> I have known him since January.
first example, for is followed by six months, which refers to a
period of time. In the second example, since is followed by
January, which refers to a specific time.
1. Across; from end to end
of: the main road through town
2. For the whole of
a period: I slept through the night.
3. By means
of: Skill improves through practice.
1. In every part of:
throughout the world
2. For the whole of a period:
throughout the winter
Till can be used instead of until.
However, at the beginning of a sentence, until is usually used.
1. In the direction of: Turn
to the right.
2. Destination: I am going to
3. Until: from Monday to Friday; five
minutes to ten
4. Compared with: They prefer
hockey to soccer.
5. With indirect object: Please
give it to me.
6. As part of infinitive: I like
to ski; he wants to help.
7. In order to:
We went to the store to buy soap.
1. In the direction of: We walked
toward the center of town.
2. Near; just before
(time): It rained towards evening.
1. Beneath: under the
desk; under the trees
2. Less than: Under
100 people were present.
3. In circumstances of:
under repair; under way; under discussion
1. Below, under:
underneath the carpet
1. Up to a certain time: She will stay until Friday;
until 5 p.m.
and upon have similar meanings. Upon may be used in certain
expressions, as in once upon a time, and following certain verbs,
as in to rely upon someone.
1. To a higher place: We went up the stairs.
2. In a higher place: She lives up the hill.
1. As far as: up to
now; I have read up to page 100.
2. Depending on:
The decision is up to you.
3. As good as; ready
for: His work is up to standard.
1. Against (sports, legal):
The next game is England versus Australia.
1. By way of: He went to Los
Angeles via San Francisco.
1. Accompanying: He came with her; I have my keys
2. Having; containing: Here is a book
with a map of the island.
3. By means of; using: I
repaired the shoes with glue.
with pleasure; with ease; with difficulty
5. Because of: We were paralyzed with fear.
1. Inside of: within
twenty minutes; within one kilometer
1. Not having: Do not leave
without your coat; without money
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