Notes on Prepositions

Prepositions are words (such as in and outabove and belowto and from) that show the relationship between other words and phrases in a sentence. Prepositions often show location ("under the table"), direction ("to the south"), or time ("past midnight").

Prepositions are members of a closed word class--which means that few new prepositions ever enter the language. In fact, there are only about 100 of them in English.

Length of Prepositions

In addition to the simple (one-word) prepositions, several word groups (such as "in addition to" and "such as") perform the same grammatical function. These word groups are called complex prepositions

Prepositional Phrases

Prepositional phrases add meaning to the nouns and verbs in sentences. They usually tell us where, when, or how. A prepositional phrase may do the work of an adjective and modify a noun: The student in the back row began to snore loudly. It may also function as an adverb and modify a verb: Buster fell asleep during class.

Prepositions aren't in the habit of standing alone. A word group with a preposition at the head followed by an object (or complement) is called a prepositional phrase. The object of a preposition is typically a noun or pronoun: Gus put the horse before the cart.

Ending a Sentence with a Preposition

You may have a heard a  "rule" about never ending a sentence with a preposition.

That's a "rule" (based on the etymology of "preposition" and a false analogy to Latin) that you just don't have to put up with. As long ago as 1926, Henry Fowler dismissed the rule about "preposition stranding" as "a cherished superstition" ignored by major writers from Shakespeare to Thackeray. In fact, he said, "the remarkable freedom enjoyed by English in putting its prepositions late and omitting its relatives is an important element in the flexibility of the language" (A Dictionary of Modern English Usage).

Prepositions Functioning as Another Part of Speech

Certain prepositions (after, as, before, since, until) serve as subordinating conjunctions when they're followed by a clause:

You better get out of town before sundown. (preposition)

Many people run out of ideas long before they run out of words. (conjunction)

Some prepositions (including about, across, around, before, down, in, on, out, and up) also moonlight as adverbs (sometimes called prepositional adverbs or adverbial particles):

Beth walked up the driveway. (preposition followed by the object)

Beth looked up. (prepositional adverb modifying the verb looked)

More Help with Prepositions

Identifying Prepositional Phrases

Adding Prepositional Phrases to the Basic Sentence

Expanding Sentences With Prepositional Phrases

Arranging Prepositional Phrases