As one of the eight parts of speech, prepositions show the relationships that words have with each other in a sentence. 

For example, when someone asks, “Where’s the restroom?” you can say, “First door to your right,” so they can easily find it. When you ask, “When did you arrive?” and a friend says, “Just a few minutes before you,” you can easily understand the timeframe. 

Types of Prepositions

The relationships that words have with each other in a sentence come in different types: 

Direction

Prepositions that show directional relationships include the following: to, in, and from

Examples: 

  • He sent the letter to London by snail mail. 
  • They traveled from Wisconsin in a covered wagon. 
  • A strong wind blew from the east. 

Time

Prepositions that reveal the relationship of words in terms of time include: before, since, after, and for

Examples: 

  • I saw Sheila before I spoke with Joy. 
  • The airplane arrived five minutes after five. 
  • She’s been working there for three years.  

Location

Prepositions that show the location of something include the following: at, in, and on

Examples: 

  • Her party will be at the beach. 
  • He lives in Chicago. 
  • I left my shoes on the doorstep.

Spatial 

Prepositions that tell the spatial relationships of items relative to each other include the following: over, under, behind, above, below, in front of, inside, outside, beside, and through.  

Examples: 

  • They camped right beside the lake. 
  • The cat is hiding under the couch. 
  • He hit the ball over the fence. 

Other Abstract Relationships

Unfortunately, prepositions are not always easy to box into fixed categories. Some abstract relationships also use prepositions, such as with, for, and of

Examples: 

  • We prepared dinner for twelve people. 
  • I had lunch with my best friend. 
  • I finally finished writing the last chapter of my book.  

Can You End A Sentence With a Preposition? 

You probably remember a high school teacher telling you to never end your sentences with a preposition. But we’re here to tell you that’s not true! If you stick to that belief, you may end up with grammatically correct sentences that sound unnatural. For example: 

  • He hid under the table, because there was nothing else to hide under. 
  • He hid under the table, because there was nothing else under which to hide. 

Both of the above sentences are grammatically correct, but the first sentence sounds more natural in conversation. The second sentence sounds unnatural and is usually only used in formal writing. 

  • Where did she come from? 
  • From where did she come? 

Again, both sentences are grammatically correct. But the first sentence sounds more natural. The second does not even sound like anything you would hear in regular conversation. 

Unnecessary Prepositions 

While it is okay to place a preposition at the end of a sentence, sometimes the preposition may no longer be necessary. This is especially common for the preposition “at,” which many people mistakenly attach to the end of a “where” question. 

Incorrect: Where are you at
Correct: Where are you? 

Note that this usage is common in some English dialects. But in writing, it’s considered grammatically incorrect, so remove the “at” at the end. 

Another reason to check your writing for unnecessary prepositions is that it will help you to tighten your writing. If your sentence has too many prepositional phrases, you might be able to rephrase them. 

For example: 

  • For many girls, the idea of getting into one relationship after another is the cause of a lot of worries. 

You might want to rewrite this into:

  • Many girls are worried about going through a series of relationships. 

How Many Prepositions Are There?

The English language contains about 150 prepositions. Of that list, several prepositions—of, to, and in—are among the 10 most frequently used words in English.

Learning to Use Prepositions 

The best way to learn how to use prepositions is to see them often. Find the best books you can and read them intensively.

Classic books are a good choice, because they’ve usually undergone more rigorous screening, and often, the language is so much richer than in modern books. 

Also take the time to learn the other parts of speech so that you can easily communicate as clearly as possible. 

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