Grammar: Preposition

Posted January 11, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Grammar Explanations, Self-Editing, Writing

Surprisingly enough, prepositions are actually classified as a noun. Talk about screwing with your mind!

They may be classified as nouns, but they are used to create phrases of all sorts by modifying adjectives, nouns, and verbs. They tell the reader where something is located, define the time, and express relationships. Yes, it can include couple relationships, lol.

Grammar Explanations is…

…an evolving list of the structural rules and principles that determines where words are placed in phrases or sentences as well as how the language is spoken. Sometimes I run across an example that helps explain better or another “also known as”. Heck, there’s always a better way to explain it, so if it makes quicker and/or better sense, I would appreciate suggestions and comments from anyone… Are there areas of grammar with which you struggle?

If you’d like to track it, bookmark this page. And consider sharing this Grammar Explanation with friends by tweeting it.

Preposition
Credit to: Towson.edu; Wilson, 65-66
Definition: A word that connects [coordinate words / clauses / sentences inside the same clause] with a noun or phrase that will express how it relates to other elements in a sentence. Prepositions include words of location and time.
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Basic Rules
Prepositions Start the Phrase Rule: Prepositions generally come before the word they govern (see the List of Common Prepositional Phrases on this page.
Ending a Sentence with a Preposition Rule: The technical rule for the longest time has been that one must never end a sentence with a preposition: it’s simply something up with which I shall not put.

And grammarians have begun to realize that the whole not-ending-a-sentence-with-a-preposition is not a real-world usage. It’s only used these days in formal documents — corporate, government, or lawyers — that you must pay attention to this “rule”. Of course, you could always rewrite the sentence — and many times you end up with a better sentence.

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NOT Ending with a Preposition Ending with a Preposition
My daughter has nothing of which to be ashamed.
OR
My daughter has no reason to feel ashamed.
My daughter has nothing to be ashamed of.
As a performer at parties, he was much in demand. As a performer at parties, he was much sought after.
What are you talking about?
…in terms that might take people aback. …in terms that people might be taken aback by.
The children may have trouble adjusting to moving twice in a year. Two moves in a year is a lot to expect the children to adjust to.

Legend:

  1. Green indicates the preposition or prepositional phrase
Preposition + Object Pronoun Rule: Any pronoun that follows a preposition is an object pronoun.
Be Consistent Rule: Always be consistent using prepositions in a series:

  1. Use the preposition at the start of the series and with every item in the list, OR
    • ONLY at the start
  2. Use the same preposition throughout the series, if you are using it with each item in the series

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YES NO
I asked her whether she planned to travel with him to India, to China, and to Korea.


I asked her whether she planned to travel with him to India, China, and Korea.
I asked her whether she planned to travel with him to India, China, and to Korea.
We planned to go by bus, by plane, and then by train.


We planned to go by bus, plane, and then train.
We planned to go by bus, on a plane, and then train.
He put one in his wallet, one in his eyeglass case, and another one in his pocket.


He put one each in his wallet, eyeglass case, and pocket.
He put one in his wallet, his eyeglass case, and another one in his pocket.

Legend:

  1. Green indicates the preposition
List of the Most Common Prepositions
about
above
across
after
against
along
among
around
as
at
atop of 1
before
behind
below
beneath
beside
besides
between
beyond
but
by
concerning
despite
down
during
except
excepting
for
from
in
inside
into
like
near
of
off
on
onto
out
outside
over
past
regarding
since
through
throughout
to
toward
under
underneath
until
up
upon
with
within
without

1 Never include of.

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List of the Most Common Prepositional Phrases
Advanced English Grammar has an amazing list with a whole lot more.
according to
along with
apart from
as much as
as regards
at the latest
at the (same) time
at times
at work
because of
behind the scenes

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between ___ and ___
NOT between ___ to ___


by all means
by means of
for a change
from experience
in addition to
in front of
in spite of
instead of
in stock
in a sense
in control of
in progress
in return
instead of
in the light of
in twos/threes/fours
off of 2
out of stock
regardless of
up to
with regard to
with respect to

2 The of is redundant.

Types of Prepositions
Agent Definition: Used for a thing which is the cause of another thing in the sentence. The action is always passive.

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List of Agent Prepositions
by
with
Examples:
The play was directed by Cohen.
The room was painted by the muralist.
The brickwork was completed by John.
The stockpot was filled with tomato sauce, onions, celery, and Mama’s secret combination of herbs.
Direction Definition: Describes the direction.

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List of Direction Prepositions
along
downwards
in
into
inwards
on
out
outwards
overhead
through
to
towards
upwards
Examples:
We went to the Poconos for our honeymoon.
He had to wend his way through the mall to find Mary.
The semi was coming right towards me!
She went into the library to drop off her overdue books.
Instrument Definition: Different prepositions are used by different devices, instruments or machines.

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List of Instrument Prepositions
by on with
Examples:
Harry works by lamplight.
She stops by the clock every day and checks it against her watch.
Put the check on the counter.
Pound the nail in with the hammer, dummy. Don’t use a screwdriver.
It stopped on a dime.
Location Definition: Tells where something is located. (Wilson, 65)

a.k.a., place, position

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List of Location Prepositions
above
across
along
at
below
between
down
from
into
nearer
on
onto
out
out of
over
through
under
underneath
up
Examples:
The hot-air balloon floated above the clouds.
below the clouds.
within the clouds.
between the clouds.
past the clouds.
around the clouds.
Rule: At tells an exact position.
I go to school at UC-Berkeley.
Meet me at the corner of 5th and Main.
She works as a fry cook at Manny’s Café.
He’s at his desk.
Rule: In tells us if the noun is inside something.
I found it in the dresser.
It’s in the car.
It’s in the book.
Rule: On tells if something is attached or touching something.
It’s on the dresser.
It’s on the car.
It’s on the book.
Purpose Definition: For indicates the purpose of the action expressed in the sentence.

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List of Purpose Prepositions
for
Examples:
I going down to the kitchen for that last piece of cake.
It’s a gift for Joe’s birthday.
I adore my zester. It’s so useful for grating the zest of lemons, limes, and oranges.
That chocolate is for an emergency!
He’s applying for an EMT position.
Reason Definition: Indicates the reason for the action expressed in the sentence, answering the question: Why? For what reason? It uses because of, on account of, for , from, and through.

A.k.a., cause

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List of Reason Prepositions
because of for
from
on account of through
Examples:
I have my reasons for doing this.
Sean has been successful because of his work ethic.
We biked from dawn to dusk on our bike tour.
Jeannie didn’t go to work today on account of needing another babysitter.
I’m going through the trial papers to find a reason for a retrial.
Time Definition: Specifies a time period such as a date on the calendar, one of the days of the week, or the actual time something takes place (Ginger Software; Wilson, 65).

Tells your readers when things are taking place.

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List of Location Prepositions
after
at
before
by
during
past
Examples:
The balloon landed at 3:30.
by 3:30.
past 3:30.
before the thunderstorm.
after the thunderstorm.
during the thunderstorm.
Rule: At is used to discuss clock times, holidays and festivals, and other very specific time frames including exceptions.
We came in at eight.
Rule: In discusses months, seasons, years, centuries, general times of day, and longer periods of time.
In the past, we had to work all night and all day.
Rule: On discusses certain days of the week or portions of days of the week, specific dates, and special days.
We went to Mary’s party on the Fourth of July.
Prepositional Phrase Definition: Group of words containing a preposition + prepositional complement (noun/pronoun/gerund/clause which is the object of the preposition + any modifiers of the object).

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Hint: Locate the prepositional phrase in a sentence to determine the object of the preposition, so you don’t mistake the direct object of the verb.

The prepositional phrase can function as an:

It never contains the subject of a sentence.

Examples
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the prepositional phrase
  2. Orange indicates the prepositional complement

We drove to the park.

We biked over to Mark’s.

He had me over a barrel.

It was behind the barn.

We went from 0 to 60mph in 10 seconds.

After the rainy season, one of the windows in the attic leaked at the corners of its molding.

Two of the characters lied to each other throughout the play.

My mother thought about under the bed.

She is worrying about in the morning.

The maid gawked at behind the refrigerator.

(Wilson, 66)

Positioning a Prepositional Phrase Rule: Place the prepositional phrase as close to what it is describing as possible to make it easier to understand.

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YES NO
Whose obituary did I see in the newspaper this morning? Whom did I see this morning who died in the newspaper?

Oops, they died in the newspaper?

Legend:

  1. Green indicates the prepositional phrase
Introductory Prepositional Phrase Rule: When a prepositional phrase begins a sentence (see that?), it becomes an introductory phrase, which is usually set off with a comma. The current fashion is to reduce the usage of commas, so unless an introductory prepositional phrase is long, you can do without the comma. If you’re unsure, use a comma.

When a prepositional phrase begins a sentence, it should be separated from the independent clause with a comma. It’s actually required if there are four or more words in the prepositional phrase.

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Examples
Apart from that, how do you really feel?

As much as I hate you, I can’t find it in my heart to kill you.

Just between you and me, I hate football but love hockey.

Prepositional Complement
Definition: Word, phrase, or clause that directly follows the preposition and completes the meaning of the prepositional phrase, i.e., a preposition introduces the clause.

There are four types of prepositional complements:

  1. Noun Phrase
  2. Noun Clause
  3. Verb Phrase
  4. Prepositional Phrase

A.k.a., object of preposition, complement of preposition

Prepositional Phrase as PC Definition: It’s a prepositional phrase introduced by a preposition. And about the most awkward phrase ever.

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Legend:

  1. Green indicates the preposition
  2. Blue indicates the prepositional phrase

My mother thought about under the bed.

She is worrying about in the morning.

The maid gawked at behind the refrigerator.

Noun Phrase as PC Definition: It’s a noun phrase introduced by a preposition.

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Legend:

  1. Green indicates the preposition
  2. Blue indicates the noun phrase

She looked under the boulder.

George brought in the books.

The dog ran off into the woods.

Noun Clause as PC Definition: A dependent clause, that functions as a noun within a sentence, is joined to the independent clause after being introduced by a preposition and a subordinating conjunction.

preposition + subordinating conjunction + dependent [noun] clause

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Legend:

  1. Green indicates the preposition
  2. Blue indicates the noun clause
  3. White-on-Blue indicates the conjunction

Isabelle is the owner of that Manx cat.

Jamie’s performance in the theater is not enough for what his ego needs.

Kenny will win out over whoever else races in the marathon.

Verb Phrase as PC Definition: It’s a verb phrase introduced by a preposition.

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Legend:

  1. Green indicates the preposition
  2. Blue indicates the verb phrase
  3. White-on-Blue indicates the gerund

He hung up before heading out to jog.

She remembered where her brushes were after going outside.

Mike found the evidence within hours of voting for the amendments.

Noun Phrase as PC Definition: Noun phrases most frequently function as prepositional complements.

Rule: A preposition introduces the noun phrase.

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Legend:

  1. Green indicates the preposition
  2. Blue indicates the noun phrase

The keys are on the hall table.

I hate it when people get up during the movie.

I saw him going into the motel.

Prepositional Pairs
Rule: There are some prepositions which confuse people as to which is the better word to use. See the “Word Confusions” for Among versus Between, In vs In To vs Into, and On vs On To vs Onto.
Exceptions
Prepositions versus Particles
Rule: Individual words in a verb group can appear to be a preposition. Naturally, it was planted there just to confuse you. The trick is to move the word you believe is a preposition + the object of the preposition to the front of the sentence. If it makes sense, you’re right. It is a preposition. If it doesn’t make sense, then it’s a particle, which can be a verb.
Preposition Particles
A preposition begins the phrase A particle ends the phrase
He came by the office in a big hurry. He came by his fortune honestly.
He turned up that street. She turned up her nose
We lived down the street. We finally lived down that incident.
Examples
Sentence Swap the Prepositional Phrase to the Front
Four armed men held up the bank.
As Particle Phrase: Four armed men held up the bank.
As Prepositional Phrase: Four armed men held up the bank.


Swap the prepositional phrase around, and

Up the bank four armed men held”

doesn’t work, which means it’s a particle phrase.

Jack and Jill ran up the hill. As Particle Phrase: Jack and Jill ran up the hill.
As Prepositional Phrase: Jack and Jill ran up the hill.


Swap the prepositional phrase around, and

Up the hill Jack and Jill ran.”

doesn’t work, which means it’s a particle phrase.

Although, you could rearrange the sentence and turn it into a prepositional phrase:

Up the hill ran Jack and Jill.”

We ran up the bill. As Particle Phrase: We ran up the bill.
As Prepositional Phrase: We ran up the bill.


Swap the prepositional phrase around, and

Up the bill we ran.”

doesn’t work, which means it’s a particle phrase.

I did the dishes before going out. As Particle Phrase: I did the dishes before going out.
As Prepositional Phrase: I did the dishes before going out.


Swap the prepositional phrase around, and

Before going out, I did the dishes.”

does work, so it is a prepositional phrase.

Legend:

  1. Blue indicates the possible particle/preposition
  2. Green indicates the phrase

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