Prepositions are tiny little words that give everyone a big headache.
For such little words they are pretty powerful, they show the relationships between nouns, pronouns and other words in a sentence. Most of the time they come before a noun, and can affect the time, place, and movement.
The good news is that they never change their form, regardless of the case, gender etc. of the word they are referring to.
They can be classified as simple or compound prepositions.
Simple prepositions are single word prepositions: across, after, at, before, between, by, during, from, in, into, of, on, to, under, with and without are all single word prepositions.
- The book is on the table.
- The book is under the cloth.
Compound prepositions contain more than one word. Ahead of and because of, are still prepositions even though they contain two words, and there meaning can be a bit more difficult to work out.
- They followed the car ahead of them. (Gives information about place.)
- They were following it because of the heavy fog. (Gives information about reason.)
In front of, in case of, on behalf of , are also compound prepositions. They just happen to contain three words.
- The book is on top of the bookcase.
- The book is in front of the clock.
Their meaning can be less clear cut:-
- Some icons are sophisticated enough to be used in place of images.
- In spite of the many technological advances available, many schools are still using pen and paper.
PREPOSITIONS OF MOVEMENT
Prepositions are used to show movement to or from a place.
to, through, across
We use to to show movement with the aim of a specific destination.
I moved to Germany in 1998.
He’s gone to the shops.
We use through to show movement from one side of an enclosed space to the other.
The train went through the tunnel.
We use across to show movement from one side of a surface or line to another.
She swam across the river.
MORE PREPOSITIONS OF MOVEMENT
|across||the road. (from one side to the other)|
|along||the road. (The length of the road.)|
|away from||the policeman.|
|back to||the shop.|
|onto (on to)||the platform.|
|out of||the theatre.|
|over||the bridge. (from one side of an open space to the other)|
|towards||the bus stop.|
I threw the paper in the bin.
Let’s have dinner at my place.
When used after some verbs, the preposition at also shows the target of an action:
The bowler was sent off for throwing the ball at the umpire, instead of to the batsman.
!Note – a lot of sites say that around and round are the same, but there can be a difference, especially in BrE. If someone says “they were running around”, it implies the movement is erratic.
For example: Children tend to run around at school.
In BrE when we use “round” we imply a more definite purpose and a more circular movement.
For example: The athlete ran round the track.
PREPOSITIONS OF PLACE
Prepositions can be used to show where something is located.
THE PREPOSITIONS AT, ON, AND IN
We use at to show a specific place, location or position.
Someone is at the door.
They met each other at a friend’s house.
I used to live at 51 Portland Street.
The owls are waiting at the bus stop.
We use on to show position on a horizontal or vertical surface.
The cat sat on the mat.
The picture is hanging on the wall.
The satellite dish is on the roof.
The owl is standing on the box.
We also use on to show position on streets, roads, etc.
I used to live on Portland Street.
We use in to show that something is enclosed or surrounded.
The dog is in the garden.
She is in the taxi.
They live in a flat.
The owl is sleeping in the box.
We also use in to show position within a general area (towns, counties, states, countries, and continents).
I used to live in Nottingham, but now I live in Germany.
MORE PREPOSITIONS OF PLACE
Prepositions of Place
|She slammed the door after her.|
They ran after the thief.
|I enjoy being among my friends.|
I found my handbag among my luggage.
|The secretary was sitting at her desk.|
The man was staring at the picture.
|The car park is behind the building.|
He never won a race. He was always behind the others.
|The prisoner sat between the two policemen.|
I held the pen between my thumb and fingers.
|The pen was in the drawer.|
He lives in South Africa.
IN FRONT OF
|The teacher stands in front of the class.|
The car was parked in front of the garage.
NEXT TO / BESIDE / BY
|In my English lesson I always sit next to / beside / by my friend.|
The bank is next to / beside/ by the hotel.
|The painting was hanging on the wall.|
The boy was sitting on the chair.
|The sign hanging above the door read ‘No smoking’.|
I put the tablecoth over the table.
UNDER / BELOW / BENEATH
|The temperature outside was below 0°.|
They kissed under the mistletoe.
The ground shook beneath her.
We say in a car / taxi, but on a boat, train, bus etc. Why? Because.
If it helps: When you get in a car or a taxi, you climb in and sit straight down, but you have to get onto public transport and then walk to your seat / carriage etc.
PREPOSITIONS OF TIME
Prepositions can also be used to show when something happened.
THE PREPOSITIONS AT, ON, AND IN
We use at for specific times.
I start work at 7.00 a.m.
I don’t work at night.
We use on for specific days and dates .
My birthday is on Monday.
We’re having a party on 7th September.
We also use on for some special days.
On Christmas day.
We use in for nonspecific times during a day, a month, a season, or a year.
In summer it’s too hot to work.
I started this web site in 1999.
She woke up in the night.
MORE PREPOSITIONS OF TIME
Prepositions of Time
POINT IN TIME
|(indicates a deadline = at the latest)|
the end of July
TILL / UNTIL / UP TO
|(indicates an end point)|
March 10 o’clock tomorrow next week
|(indicates a beginning point in time)|
LENGTH OF TIME
the middle of …….