A word (one of the parts of speech and a member of a closed word class) that shows the relationship between a noun or pronoun and other words in a sentence. See the lists of simple prepositions and deverbal prepositions below.
The combination of a preposition and a noun phrase is called a prepositional phrase. A word group (such as in front of or on top of) that functions like a simple, one-word preposition is called a complex preposition.
Prepositions commonly convey the following relationships: agency (by); comparison (like, as . . . as); direction (to, toward, through); place (at, by, on); possession (of); purpose (for); source (from, out of); and time (at, before, on). See Examples and Observations, below.
- Notes on Prepositions
- What Are Prepositional Phrases?
- Ending Sentences With Prepositions
- How to Arrange Prepositional Phrases
- Object of a Preposition
- Prepositional Adverb
- Prepositional Phrase
- Prepositional Verb
- Preposition Stranding
- Exercise in Identifying Prepositional Phrases
- Identifying Prepositions in Common English Idioms
- Practice in Identifying Prepositional Phrases
- Preposition Practice: In, Into, On, and At
- Sentence Building With Prepositional Phrases
Etymology:From the Greek, "put in front"
Examples and Observations
- "We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty."
(Edward R. Murrow)
- "Yes, I lied to you. Of course it makes you look fat. I've never been to Brussels. It is pronounced 'egregious.' By the way, no, I've never met Pizzaro, but I love his pies. And all of this pales to utter insignificance in light of the fact that my ship is once again gone."
(Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, 2007)
- "To this day, I remain impressed by the ability of Britons of all ages and social backgrounds to get genuinely excited by the prospect of a hot beverage."
(Bill Bryson, Notes From a Small Island. Doubleday, 1995)
- "[Miss] Piggy is certainly hard, but that's just part of the job. I don't even think about it. She's also hard because I have to reach down into the feminine part of myself and bring that up. It's not just the surface with her. There are a lot of neuroses in her. So I have to come from a different place with Piggy."
(Frank Oz, creator of the Muppet character Miss Piggy)
- "[H]e was there on some chance of feeling the brush of the wing of the stray spirit of youth."
(Henry James, The Ambassadors, 1903)
- "Feeling about oil is now running high, but it lacks the acute pain of nostalgia that characterizes the school controversy. Oil is the pain of the future. A company called Clean Maine Fuels wants to build a refinery on Sears Island, at the head of Penobscot Bay, bringing barges and 200,00-ton tankers slithering through the fog-draped, ledge-encrusted, tide-ripped waters of one of the most beautiful bodies of water in Maine or anywhere."
(E.B. White, "The Winter of the Great Snows," March 27, 1971. Essays of E.B. White. Harper, 1977)
Prepositions: Form and Function
"It is important to be aware that some words that have the form of a preposition do not have the same function.
The girl read in the libraryThe form of the preposition in is identical in each case, but the function is different. In the first sentence, in describes where the girl is reading--it is therefore a preposition of place. In the second sentence, however, in is directly related to the verb kicked--in this case, it is called a particle."
The rioters kicked in the door.
(Sara Thorne, Mastering Advanced English Language. Palgrave Macmillan, 2008)
Uses of the Prepositions of, to, and by
In English, three prepositions, namely of, to and by, play roles closely integrated with case and the grammatical structure of clauses. Thus:
- of is associated with a variety of possessive or (loosely speaking) 'genitive' constructions, as in the book of the teacher, the arrival of the ferry and the mortification of the flesh
- to is a marker of indirect objects or 'dative case,' as in We donated our earnings to the Dog and Cat Home
- by marks the noun phrase is a passive clause corresponding to the subject of the related active clause, as in We were ruined by the currency speculators or Our ruination by the currency speculators.
"Learners seem to make mistakes with prepositions for various reasons.
"Some of these reasons have to do with English itself: For example, a learner may say by random instead of at random, because by and at are sometimes similar in meaning, and/or because random and chance can be similar in meaning (e.g. a random result ~ a chance result), or because the phrases by chance and at random are similar enough in meaning to induce unintentional cross-association (~ 'cross-swapping') of words. . . .
"More often perhaps, mistakes stem from differences between English and the mother tongue. For instance, Japanese has postpositions not prepositions (and not many of them) while Korean has no such words at all."
(Seth Lindstromberg, English Prepositions Explained, 2nd ed. John Benjamins, 2010)
"The Preposition at the end of a sentence; a common fault with [Ben Jonson], and which I have but lately observ'd in my own writings."
"Those who lay down the universal principle that final prepositions are 'inelegant' are unconsciously trying to deprive the English language of a valuable idiomatic resource, which has been used freely by all our greatest writers."
(Henry Fowler, Modern English Usage, 1921)
"Contrary to popular belief, it is not a mortal sin to end a sentence with a preposition, as long as the sentence sounds natural and its meaning is clear. . . . It is absolutely antiquated to forbid ending a sentence with a preposition."
(Michael Strumpf and Auriel Douglas, The Grammar Bible. Henry Holt and Company, 2004)
"I lately lost a preposition:
It hid, I thought, beneath my chair.
And angrily I cried: "Perdition!
Up from out of in under there!"
"Correctness is my vade mecum,
And straggling phrases I abhor;
And yet I wondered: "What should he come
Up from out of in under for?"
(Morris Bishop, "The Naughty Preposition")
Transitive prepositions that take the same form as -ing participles or -ed participles are called deverbal prepositions. . . .
according (to)(Bas Aarts, Oxford Modern English Grammar. Oxford University Press, 2011)
A New Preposition: Because
"Let's start with the dull stuff, because pragmatism.
"The word because, in standard English usage, is a subordinating conjunction, which means that it connects two parts of a sentence in which one (the subordinate) explains the other. . . .
"I mention all that . . . because language. Because evolution. Because there is another way to use because. Linguists are calling it the prepositional-because. Or the because-noun.
"You probably know it better, however, as explanation by way of Internet--explanation that maximizes efficiency and irony in equal measure. I'm late because YouTube. You're reading this because procrastination. As the language writer Stan Carey delightfully sums it up: 'Because has become a preposition, because grammar.'"
(Megan Garber, "English Has a New Preposition, Because Internet." The Atlantic, November 19, 2013)
The Lighter Side of Prepositions
Texan: Where are you from?
Yale student: I come from a place where we don't end our sentences with prepositions.
Texan: Okay. Where are you from, jackass?
Brent LeRoy: I'm not up on that new stuff.
Wanda Dollard: You're not up on it? Or you're not into it?
Brent LeRoy: I might be into it, if I was up on it. But I'm not up on it, so I'm not into it. What I'm into, I'm up on.
Lacey Burrows: I'm mostly into what I'm up on, but even though I'm not up on the new stuff, I'm sort of into it.
Brent LeRoy: I'm down with that.
Wanda Dollard: Prepositions are fun, aren't they?
Brent LeRoy: What's a preposition?
(Brent Butt, Nancy Robertson, and Gabrielle Miller in Corner Gas, 2005)
Also Known As: simple preposition