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Preposition

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Preposition

In English, words are grouped into word classes based on the function they perform in a sentence. There are nine main word classes in English; nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, pronouns, determiners, conjunctions, and interjections. This explanation is all about prepositions.

Preposition meaning

A preposition shows how two parts of a sentence are connected in relation to time, place, movement/direction, or relationship. In other words, they tell us where or when something is in relation to something else in the sentence. Prepositions often come before a noun, a noun phrase, or a pronoun, but they may be used in various other ways.

Examples of prepositions

The most common examples of prepositions include;

  • At

  • On

  • In

These show time ('I arrive on Monday') and place ('It's in the fridge'). However, these aren't the only prepositions, and there are plenty of others that can also be used to show time and place, as well as movement/direction. E.g. 'I travelled from New York to Washington'.

The same word can be used as a preposition in multiple ways. For example, the word 'at' can be used as a preposition of time (e.g. 'I'm meeting Mickey Mouse at the weekend'), or as a preposition of place (e.g. 'I'm meeting him at Disneyland').

Positioning of prepositions

The word 'preposition' has two parts: 'pre' and 'position'. This is a useful reminder; the position of the preposition is usually before ('pre') a noun phrase or pronoun. For example:

'The cat is stuck in the tree'

In this sentence, the preposition 'in' comes before the noun 'tree'. Prepositions can sometimes work alongside adjectives, adverbs, and clauses too.

'She is talented at playing the piano'

Here, the preposition 'at' connects the adjective 'talented' to the verb 'playing'. If we didn't have the preposition then the sentence wouldn't make sense. (Thank you, prepositions!).

Types of preposition

Prepositions can be split into three main groups; prepositions of time, prepositions of place, and prepositions of movement/direction. Each shows a relationship between one part of a sentence or phrase and the other.

Prepositions of time

Prepositions of time express a relationship of time. The table below shows the different ways in which prepositions of time can be used:

Preposition prepositions of time StudySmarterPrepositions of time - StudySmarter Originals

Prepositions of place

Prepositions of place express a relationship between location or space. They show how one person or thing is positioned in relation to another person or thing. Have a look at the table below, which will provide you with some examples of common prepositions of place:

preposition prepositions of place StudySmarterPrepositions of place - StudySmarter Original

Preposition, Image of dog in a box, StudySmarterWhere is the dog? Under the box! - Pixabay

Prepositions of movement/direction

Prepositions of movement/direction show movement from one place to another or the direction of movement. Whilst prepositions of place express the static position of something, prepositions of movement/direction show active movement. Here are some examples:

prepositions prepositions of movement / direction StudySmarterPrepositions of movement/direction - StudySmarter

Other types of prepositions

Prepositions don't just belong to one category. They can also be grouped based on how they look. This includes complex prepositions, such as single-word prepositions, two-word prepositions, and three-word prepositions.

Two-word and three-word prepositions are phrases that have a unique meaning separate from that of the individual words. The words usually stick together as a group to form a certain meaning and usually can't change order.

For example, the three-word preposition 'with regard to' cannot be changed to 'to regard with'. It is a fixed expression with a fixed meaning, much like a one-word preposition.

Of course, there can be four-word or even five-word prepositions such as 'from the point of view of'; however, single-word, two-word, and three-word prepositions are most common.

Single-word prepositions

Single-word prepositions are, as the name suggests, prepositions that consist of only one word. These prepositions are more flexible in meaning and can be used in different parts of the sentence.

Examples of single-word prepositions include:

  • during

  • from

  • on

  • towards

  • with

  • up

  • near

  • at

  • to

  • above

Two-word prepositions

Two-word prepositions contain two words that come together to form a preposition.

For example:

  • ahead of

  • because of

  • instead of

  • near to

  • due to

  • rather than

  • according to

  • prior to

Some of these two-word prepositions need both words to make sense. Take the preposition 'instead of'. The sentence 'I want pizza instead chicken nuggets' does not make sense; the word 'of' is required.

Two-word prepositions are often longer words followed by a simple preposition such as 'of', 'to', 'than' etc.

Three-word prepositions

The three-word combination works together to form a preposition with a specific meaning, separate from that of each individual word. For example, the words 'in', 'spite', and 'of' each have a different meaning; however, when they are all put together they form the preposition 'in spite of', which has its own meaning.

Examples of three-word prepositions include:

  • in front of

  • by means of

  • in spite of

  • in addition to

  • in exchange for

  • in case of

  • on top of

  • as well as

Three-word prepositions often follow the structure Preposition + Noun/Adjective + Preposition. For example, the preposition 'in addition to' contains the prepositions 'in' and 'to', and the noun 'addition'.

Prepositional phrases

A prepositional phrase is a group of words that is built around a preposition. Prepositional phrases contain a preposition, along with the object (a noun or pronoun) and any modifiers.

Take a look at these examples:

The cat hid under a red car

In this example, the prepositional phrase 'under the car' contains the preposition 'under' along with the noun phrase 'a red car'. The car is the object of the sentence that receives the verb 'hid'. The words 'a' and 'red' are modifiers that add extra information about the noun. This prepositional phrase gives information about the position of the cat.

I saw a man with a curly moustache

Here, the prepositional phrase is 'with a curly moustache'. The preposition 'with' is followed by a noun phrase that contains the noun 'moustache' and the modifiers 'a' and 'curly'. This phrase functions in the same way as an adjective, it gives information about the noun ('man'). These kinds of prepositional phrases can therefore also be called 'adjective phrases'.

In the morning, we went home

Here the prepositional phrase 'in the morning' is used to set the scene. It modifies (gives more information about) the verb phrase 'we went home' and can therefore also be called an 'adverbial phrase'.

Preposition - key takeaways

  • A preposition is often a small word showing how two parts of a sentence are connected in relation to time, place, movement/direction, or relationship.
  • Prepositions often come before a noun, a noun phrase, or a pronoun; however, they may be used in a variety of ways.
  • Prepositions can be split into three main groups: prepositions of time, prepositions of place, and prepositions of movement/direction.
  • Prepositions can also be grouped based on how they look; this includes single-word prepositions, two-word prepositions, and three-word prepositions.
  • A prepositional phrase is a group of words that is built around a preposition. They often contain a preposition, along with the object (a noun or pronoun) and any modifiers.

Frequently Asked Questions about Preposition

A preposition is often a small word showing how two parts of a sentence are connected in relation to time, place, or movement / direction.

Examples of prepositions include 'at', 'on', and 'in'. These words can be prepositions showing time ('I arrive on Monday'), prepositions showing place ('I went into the town'), or prepositions showing movement / direction ('I traveled from New York to Washington).

Prepositions often come before a noun or a noun phrase. However, they may be used in a variety of ways. In the sentence 'The cat is stuck in the tree', the preposition 'in' comes before the noun 'tree'. In the sentence 'She is talented at playing the piano', the preposition 'at' comes alongside the adjective 'talented'.

Prepositions are usually short words that show the relationship between other words within a sentence. The most common preposition words are in, at, and on.

The main types of prepositions are; prepositions of time, prepositions of place, and prepositions of direction/movement.

Final Preposition Quiz

Question

‘A preposition is often a small word showing how two parts of a sentence are connected in relation to age or height’. True or false?

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Answer

False! A preposition is often a small word showing how two parts of a sentence are connected in relation to time, place, or movement/direction.

Show question

Question

Examples of prepositions include which of the following words?:

  • In

  • Ugly

  • And

  • Tree

  • At

  • On

Show answer

Answer

The prepositions are ‘in’, ‘at’, and ‘on’.

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Question

Prepositions usually come before a ____ or a ______. Fill in the blanks.


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Answer

Prepositions usually come before a noun phrase/noun or a pronoun.

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Question

What are the three main types of prepositions? (That show the relationship between two phrases).


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Answer

Prepositions of time, prepositions of place, and prepositions of direction/movement.

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Question

The same word (e.g. ‘at) can be used as a preposition of time, place, AND direction/ movement. True or false?


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Answer

True! The same word can be used as a preposition in multiple ways. For example, the word ‘at’ can be used as a preposition of time (e.g. ‘I’m meeting Mickey at the weekend’), or as a preposition of place (e.g. ‘I’m meeting him at Disneyland’).  

Show question

Question

Which of the following sentences contain a preposition of time?

  1. ‘I haven’t had a shower since last year’

  2. ‘Get your shoes off my bed’

  3. ‘It’s my birthday on Saturday’

  4. ‘She climbed out of the window’

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Answer

Sentences A and C contain prepositions of time. Sentence A contains the preposition ‘since’ and sentence C contains the preposition ‘on’. These give information about time.

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Question

What are prepositions of place?


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Answer

Prepositions of place express a relationship of location or space. They show how one person or thing is positioned in relation to another person or thing.

Show question

Question

Which of the following sentences contain a preposition of place?

  1. ‘I saw him yesterday’

  2. ‘She will be in front of the entrance’

  3. ‘It’s my birthday on Saturday’

  4. ‘The dog is on the buffet!’

Show answer

Answer

Sentences B and D contain prepositions of place. Sentence B contains the preposition ‘in front of’ and sentence D contains the preposition ‘on’. These show the position of the noun.

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Question

Which of the following sentences contain a preposition of direction/movement?

  1. ‘It’s Christmas in December’

  2. ‘It’s a lovely day’ 

  3. ‘I hid behind my sister’

  4. ‘Don’t reach across the table!’

Show answer

Answer

Sentences C and D contain prepositions of direction/movement. Sentence C contains the preposition ‘behind’ and sentence D contains the preposition ‘across’. These show a form of movement from one place to another or the direction of this movement.

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Question

How else can prepositions be categorised?


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Answer

Prepositions can also be grouped based on how they look; this includes single-word prepositions, two-word prepositions, and three-word prepositions.

Show question

Question

What are single-word prepositions?


Show answer

Answer

Single-word prepositions are prepositions that consist of only one word. These prepositions are more flexible in meaning and can be used in different parts of the sentence.

Show question

Question

Which of the following are two-word prepositions? 

  • In exchange for

  • Instead of

  • Near to

  • Near

  • In case of

  • Prior to

Show answer

Answer

The two-word prepositions are ‘instead of’, ‘near to’, and ‘prior to’ as these all contain two words.

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Question

Three-word prepositions  often follow the structure _____ + _________ + _________. Fill in the blanks.


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Answer

Three-word prepositions often follow the structure ‘Preposition + Noun/Adjective + Preposition’. For example, the preposition ‘in addition to’ contains the prepositions ‘in’ and ‘to’, and the noun ‘addition’.

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Question

What is a prepositional phrase?


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Answer

A prepositional phrase is a group of words that is built around a preposition e.g. in the sentence ‘on the table’, the preposition ‘on’ is the main information.

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Question

Prepositional phrases often contain a ________, along with the ______ (a noun or pronoun), and any _______. 


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Answer

Prepositional phrases often contain a preposition, along with the object (a noun or pronoun), and any modifiers.

Show question

Question

Find the preposition:

'She replied to the email regarding the party.

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Answer

Regarding

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Question

Find the preposition:

'I'm phoning on behalf of my mother'

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Answer

On behalf of

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Question

What type of preposition is this:

'The restaurant is next to the bank'

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Answer

Preposition of place

Show question

Question

What type of preposition is this:

'I'll see you at 12'

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Answer

Preposition of time

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Question

What type of preposition is this:

'Turn to the left'

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Answer

Preposition of direction

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