What are Prepositions?

What are Prepositions?

What Prepositions Are

Prepositions are important in language because they help explain or identify the relationships between words, phrases, clauses, and ideas in a sentence.

What Do Prepositions Do?

Prepositions tell when something happened or where something is in relation to other things. Here are some examples of prepositions at work:

He received a postcard from his cousin.

The park is near the school.

The plane flew over the city.

The cat sat on the windowsill.

The hikers came upon a bear in the woods.

We walked down the street to the store.

How Many Prepositions Are There?

Usually preceding a noun or pronoun, there are numerous prepositions that can be used to indicate relationships. You may have learned the “preposition song” in elementary school (sung to the tune of “Yankee Doodle”), though that covers only some of the roughly 150 prepositions used in English.

Can One Preposition Have Different Functions?

Prepositions are words that express direction (e.g., to, in, onto), time (e.g., at, in, from…to), location (e.g., on, in, at), spatial relationships (e.g., across, toward, within), or place (e.g., above, below, under, between). The same preposition may be used to show a number of different relationships. Take, for example, the preposition in. It can be used to denote:

  • general time (day, month, year, season) – “He runs in the mornings.”
  • direction – “Look in the box.”
  • place – “Meet me in the conference room.”
  • location – “The cabin is in the mountains.”

How to Use Prepositions

Prepositions give important information and details to tell the relationship between nouns in a sentence. However, there are some rules about when, where, and which ones can be used.

Rule 1

Prepositions always start prepositional phrases. By their nature, prepositions indicate the relationship between a noun or pronoun and other pieces of the sentence. This means they must be followed by that noun or pronoun. For example, “The pen is on the table.” The preposition on begins the phrase that tells us where the pen is—on the table.

Rule 2

If your grandma ever had to remind you, “Don’t end a sentence with a preposition,” she’d be (mostly) right. Again, because of the role of a preposition, it should generally be followed by a noun or pronoun. The exceptions are when you are talking or writing in casual or informal settings or when using an idiom that ends in a preposition. For example, you might ask someone new to your school, “Where are you from?” This is acceptable end preposition usage as you’d sound funny and “stiff” if you were to rearrange the question to “From where do you come?”

However, if the preposition at the end can be omitted and the sentence still makes sense and does not lose its meaning, go ahead and leave the preposition off.

Where are we meeting at?” Nope. “Where are we meeting?

That’s where I hung my wet jacket up.” Not so much. “That’s where I hung my wet jacket.

The Golden Rule

There is one “golden rule” of prepositions, for which there is no exception. That rule is that a preposition can never be followed by a verb. Even if we wanted to try, the verb would need to change to a gerund (a verb ending in -ing and acting as a noun) which would, by default, make it no longer a verb.

Common Confusion

Sometimes people forget about what prepositions do and misidentify them in sentences.

Preposition or Adverb?

Prepositions and their objects should be close together in a sentence (usually with the preposition coming before the object). But sometimes words that can be used as prepositions are actually acting as adverbs. For example, “The little boy fell down.” While down can be a preposition (“We live down the street from you.”), in this sentence it’s actually being used as an adverb to describe where the little boy fell.

The “Right” Preposition

It’s also common to confuse different prepositions and try to use them interchangeably. This doesn’t always work. Here are two examples:

The preposition in should be used to indicate location or place (“It’s in the drawer.”), and into should be used to show motion (“We walked into the dark theater.”).

The word of is a preposition and should not be confused with or used as a replacement for the helping verb have, even though they sound similar when spoken.

The preposition:

He has a picture of his wife in his wallet.

The helping verb:

Sheri should have tied her shoes so she wouldn’t trip.

As you can see, prepositions are valuable words that can help an audience understand the relationships between a noun or pronoun and another part of a sentence. Just remember that prepositions can also function as other parts of speech. So, just because you see a prepositional word, an up, for example, doesn’t mean it’s acting as a preposition. You can wake up before your alarm clock, but that up isn’t acting as a preposition.

You should probably still follow Grandma’s advice and try not to end your sentences with a preposition, just for good measure.

What are Prepositions?

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