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Grammar Guide : Parts of Speech Prepositions

Updated: Jul 4, 2023




Prepositions are words or 'groups' of words used in front of nouns and pronouns to tell us about the relationship between things.


He put his cards on the table


'On' is a preposition. In, at, from, near, of, around, behind and over are more examples of prepositions.


It is often argued the fundamental and most important prepositions in English are In, On and At, especially as they can indicate a relationship to time and place.


The word preposition literally means something that is placed before and they are normally placed before nouns or pronouns. The role they play is to demonstrate where one thing is in relation to another. Some expressions can be used as prepositions and are often called complex prepositions.





Fundamental Prepositions


Prepositions of Time

Prepositions of time show the relationship between two ideas in reference to time. As a general understanding, they work in one of the following ways:

to indicate an unspecified amount of time (e.g in)

to indicate a specific time (e.g. at)

to indicate a specific date (e.g. on)

to indicate a span of time (e.g. from... to...)

to indicate something takes place prior to something else (e.g. before)

to indicate something happening while something else is also happening (e.g. during)


The three fundamental prepositions of time in English are: in, at and on


In

​years

They were married in 1977

months

My birthday is in May

decades

I was a teenager in the 90s

centuries

This happened in the 20th century

seasons

I was able to study in the summer

periods of the day: morning/afternoon/evening

We have breakfast in the morning


At

times

I will finish work at 6:00 o'clock

holiday periods

I will see my family at Christmas

at night

I do my best work at night

at the weekend

They like to go hiking at the weekend

at lunchtime/dinnertime/breakfast time

Daddy normally comes home at dinnertime


On

Days

We will see you on Monday

Days + period

There is a staff meeting on Monday morning

Dates

The holidays start on the 20th of July

An article on the use of in, at and on as prepositions of place and time can be found here.


No prepositions

Some expressions are used with NO prepositions:


next week/month/year etc

last night/week/month/year

this morning/week/month/year

every day/night/week/month/year

today/tomorrow/yesterday


Prepositions of Place

There are three fundamental prepositions of place in English: at, in & on:


AT - We use at when something as a specific point or location:


at the airport

at the top

at university

at the bottom

at the hospital

at the front/back

at school

at the table

at the window

at the cinema

at the traffic lights

at the piano

at the train station

at the match

at the pub

at the door


IN - We use in when something is contained inside something else, with barriers or frontiers. This can be a physical or abstract enclosure:



in a field

in the classroom

in a cup

in Zaragoza

in the sea

in a/the river

in England

in the car

in bed

in a magazine



ON - We use on to refer to something on a line or surface:

on the wall

on the table

on the page

on a chair

on the plate

on a sofa

on my face

on the river

on a bike

on the screen

An article on the use of in, at and on as prepositions of place and time can be found here.






Prepositions of Movement

Prepositions of movement (or sometimes called prepositions of direction) show movement from one place to another. They always describe movement and are normally used with verbs of motion.


The most common preposition of movement is to.






Further Prepositions


Prepositions of Cause, Reason or Purpose

These prepositions are used to provide us the answer to the question why. They give us the reason in a sentence.


To

Usually used to show the purpose of a noun, connecting the noun to a verb.


We use the kettle to boil the water


They ran to catch the bus


My sister would always ask our mum to lend her money


For

Also used to show the purpose of a noun. It usually joins the noun to another noun or an adjective. If it joins the noun to a verb, the gerund form is usually used.


I need good grades for the placement I want


Thank you for doing the washing up


Sit at the table for your dinner



Prepositions of Agency/Manner

Prepositions of manner are all about how something happened. They include on, by, like, with etc.


The most common examples of this type of preposition are by and with.


They are used to connect an activity and the actor, the doing and the doer. Building a connection between the noun and the verb.


Sometimes they may be called Prepositions of Method or Instrument.


By

Most commonly used to show the means or method used to do something:


We went to Glasgow by train


I got home by taxi


It can be used to indicate who is doing an action

Often seen in passive sentences.


The Harry Potter books were written by J.K. Rowling


My favourite shirt was given to me by my mother.


We can also use it to indicate how something is done:


By giving him money, you only encourage him to ask for more.


Did you think you could get the job by lying about your qualifications?


We can also use by to express what caused something to happen not just how something happened


She explained everything to me by email

She gothome by catching the bus


An alternative to by in this form is to use via. This is a little formal and not as common:


He broke up with her via Whatsapp


By is used in different structures, such as: by + noun or by + -ing + noun


With

Usually used to represent the doing of an action. Often called a preposition of instrument.


He ate the soup with a spoon


We cleaned the car with a hose



Can also be used to indicate a person or organisation accompanies the subject doing the action. With is used as follows: with + noun


I was advised to attend the meeting with my lawyer


I used to wash the car with my brother


With can also be used as a preposition of method to show how an action was done:


She showed me how angry she was with a menacing stare


I handled the precious object with care




For

Used for purpose


I made a cake for her birthday


Of

to associate a measure


I would like a pint of beer



Like

to show a similarity


He looks like his father


He eats like a pig!


As

Used to show a role


He works as a teacher


Wasn't he playing as a goalkeeper last time we played them?


In

to show how something was done:


Can you write that message in Spanish?


She was in a hurry


We can use the structure In a ... way/manner to describe the quality of actions


She spoke to me in a calm and reasonable way


They performed their task in a professional manner


On

to show method


I came to work on the tram


We completed the project on the computer



Prepositions of Source

These are prepositions that indicate the source, motive or origin of something:



From

This connects two nouns or a verb and a noun


David is from Manchester


The Vikings came from the harsh Scandinavian lands to settle in England


Where did you get that shirt from?


From the result of this game we have learnt there are serious problems with the defence



Prepositions of Measure/Standard/Value

In this sense, prepositions are used to specify a value, standard or measurement.


By

The most common preposition of measure, sometimes used in comparisons:


We won the game by two goals


The whale is the heaviest mammal by some considerable amount


The material is measured by the metre


At

The second most common preposition of measure, used often when very precise measures are being discussed:


The class 43 locomotive could run at125mph


The bank charges interest at 7%


Of

Usually used when the concept cannot be measured in numbers, but the measurement can still be described. Very common with uncountable nouns, like liquids and abstract concepts:


Can you get me a pint of beer?


Despite the impossible odds, the team triumphed. The bravery of the players was unquestionable


Prepositions of Possession

These prepositions connect a thing with the person or animal that it belongs to, they can also be used to indicate a connection between two things. The most common prepositions of possession are of, with and to.


This is the Bank of England


She is the girl in the red dress with the matching handbag


This book is the property of Liza


The car belongs to my husband


He is the one with the leather jacket


Of

This preposition of possession is often used with cities/countries, people and possessive pronouns.


Of+noun/possessive pronoun


London is the capital of England


He is a friend of mine



With

This preposition of possession is used with animals/objects/characteristics/materials:


With+adjective/noun


The dog with the white patch is mine


The boy with the leather jacket is the leader of the gang


I am the girl with golden hair


To

Used to show ownership, often used in the structure belong(s) to


To+object pronouns


These tools belong to the workmen


This house belonged to my family for generations



Proficient Prepositions



Compound/Complex Prepositions

These are prepositions that consist of two or more prepositional words combined together.




Two word compound prepositions

The first word is usually an adjective, adverb or conjunction. The second word a simple preposition.


Some examples of two word compound prepositions:


according to

due to

along with

except for

apart from

instead of

because of

prior to

contrary to

regardless of

According to all sources, the street's the place to go

As of this afternoon, we are no longer responsible for the contract

Contrary to popular belief, the player is still very popular with the fans

They were determined to argue with me instead of finding agreement



Three word compound prepositions

A three word compound preposition is normally made of a central noun or article with a simple preposition before and after.


Some examples of three word compound prepositions

​in aid of

in line with

on behalf of

in relation to

in front of

with reference to

in accordance with

with respect to

in addition to

by means of

I went to the graduation ceremony on behalf of my son

In accordance with tradition the crowd sang the national anthem

There is a wonderful bar in front of the stadium

I have to complete the speaking test in addition to the writing exercises






Writing Tip:

It is generally recognised that compound/complex prepositions can make writing unnecessarily complicated. It is worth thinking about whether a more direct or simple preposition can cover what you wish to communicate more effectively. The following table not only gives a series of recommendations for such replacements, but also serves as a useful guide for the meaning of such complex or compound "expressions"



​Compound/Complex phrase

Simpler form

at that point in time

then

at this point in time

now

by means of

by

by reason of

because of

by virtue of

by, under

during the course of

during/through/over

for the reason that

because

from the point of view of

from, for

in accordance with

by, under

inasmuch as

since

in a manner similar to

like

in excess of

more than, over

in favour of

for

in order to

to

in relation to

about, concerning

in terms of

in

in the event that

if

in the nature of

like

in the (immediate) vicinity of

near

in (close) proximity with

near

on the basis of

by, from

prior to

before

similar to

like

subsequent to

after

with a view to

to

with reference to

about, concerning

with regard to

about, concerning

with respect to

on, about, for, in concerning, with, to



Participle Prepositions

This is the title we give to verbs that act as a preposition. They usually take the -ing or -ed form. Some of the most common examples are : excluding, given, considering, notwithstanding


Given: as a preposition when you wish to say something is being considered as a valid point


Given his age, it is impressive that he is still playing at the highest level.


Considering: as a preposition this means taking something into pre consideration


Considering his age, it is impressive that he is still playing at the highest level.


Following: as a preposition means after or as a result of a particular thing or action


Following intense negotiations, an agreement was reached on the fee for the player.


Regarding: as a prepositions means "relating to" or "about" something or someone


Regarding your request, I will ask the board what their position is later today.









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