Getting the usage of prepositions is quite complicated for ESL students of English.
They mostly get bewildered by the different usages of prepositions. Such as the difference between “at” and “on” is a bit difficult.
What are prepositions?
I am at the top of the mountain. Or I am on the top of the mountain. This kind of sentence will confuse the students and even somethings teachers. We have gotten hundreds of prepositions in the English language, which are discussed below in detail. Over here, We study the kinds of prepositions discussed according to the word(s) the preposition contains.
What is a Proposition?
- The book is on the table.
- He is in the room.
in the above sentence the words “on” and “in” a preposition that demonstrates the position of nouns and pronouns. It is pretty difficult to identify the difference between prepositions even advanced learners of English find the usage of prepositions difficult and confusing.
We find hardly any rule as to when/where to use which preposition. The only way to learn prepositions is by looking them up in a dictionary, reading a lot of English extracts, and learning useful phrases by heart.
The following table contains rules for some of the most frequently used prepositions in English:
Kinds of Prepositions
A) Preposition of time.
B) Preposition of Place.
C) Other important Prepositions:
A) Prepositions for Time
|on||days of the week||on Monday|
|· in||months/seasons time of day year after a certain period of time (when?)||in August / in winter in the morning in 2006 in an hour|
|at||for the night for the weekend a certain point of time (when?)||at night at the weekend at half past nine|
|since||from a certain point of time (past till now)||since 1890|
|for||over a certain period of time (past till now)||for 2 years|
|ago||a certain time in the past||2 years ago|
|before||earlier than a certain point in time||before 2010|
|to||telling the time||ten to six (5:50)|
|past||telling the time||ten past six (6:10)|
|to/till/until||marking the beginning and end of a period of time||from Monday to/till Friday|
|till/until||in the sense of how long something is going to last||He is on holiday until Friday.|
|by||in the sense of at the latest up to a certain time||I will be back by 6 o’clock. By 11 o’clock, I had read five pages.|
B) Prepositions – Place (Position and Direction)
|1. in||room, building, street, town, country book, paper, etc. car, taxi picture, world||in the kitchen, in London in the book in the car, in a taxi in the picture, in the world|
|2. at||meaning next to, by an object for a table for events place where you are to do something typical (watch a film, study, work)||at the door, at the station at the table at a concert, at the party at the cinema, at school, at work|
|3. on||attached for a place with a river being on a surface for a certain side (left, right) for a floor in a house for public transport for television, radio||the picture on the wall London lies on the Thames. on the table on the left on the first floor on the bus, on a plane on TV, on the radio|
|4. by, next to, beside||left or right of somebody or something||Jane is standing by / next to/beside the car.|
|5. under||on the ground, lower than (or covered by) something else||The fish are below the surface|
|6. below||lower than something else but above ground||Put a jacket over your shirt over 16 years of age walk over the bridge climb over the wall|
|7. over||covered by something else meaning more than getting to the other side (also across) and overcoming an obstacle||Drive through the tunnel|
|8. above||higher than something else, but not directly over it||a path above the lake|
|9. Across||getting to the other side (also over) getting to the other side||walk across the bridge swim across the lake|
|10. through||something with limits on the top, bottom, and the sides||Go to the cinema go to London / Ireland go to bed|
|11. to||the movement to a person or building movement to a place or country for bed||Go 5 steps toward the house|
|12. into||enter a room / a building||go into the kitchen / the house|
|13. towards||movement in the direction of something (but not directly to it)||go 5 steps toward the house|
|14. onto||the movement to the top of something||jump onto the table|
|15. from||in the sense of where from||a flower from the garden|
C) Other important Prepositions
|from||who gave it||a present from Jane|
|2. of||Leaving a car / Taxi||a page of the book the picture of a palace|
|3. by||who made it||a book by Mark Twain|
|4. on||walking or riding on horseback entering a public transport vehicle||on foot, on horseback get on the bus|
|5. in||entering a car / Taxi||Get off the train|
|6. off||leaving a public transport vehicle||Get out of the taxi|
|7. out of||Get in the car||She learned Russian at 45|
|8. by||rise or fall of something traveling (other than walking or horse riding)||prices have risen by 10 percent by car, by bus|
|9. at||for age||We were talking about you|
|10. about||for topics, meaning what about||we were talking about you|
Prepositions of Time:
These are some other Prepositions of time that we use at various times such as:
- at for a PRECISE TIME
- in for MONTHS, YEARS, CENTURIES, and LONG PERIODS
- on for DAYS and DATES
|PRECISE TIME||MONTHS, YEARS, CENTURIES, and LONG PERIODS||DAYS and DATES|
|at 3 o’clock||in May||on Sunday|
|at 10.30 am||in summer||on Tuesdays|
|at noon||in the summer||on 6 March|
|at dinnertime||in 1990||on 25 Dec. 2010|
|at bedtime||in the 1990s||on Christmas Day|
|at sunrise||in the next century||on Independence Day|
|at sunset||in the Ice Age||on my birthday|
|at the moment||in the past/future||on New Year’s Eve|
There is one very simple rule about prepositions. And, unlike most rules, this rule has no exceptions.
Rules of Prepositions
A preposition is followed by a “noun”. It is never followed by a verb.
- By “noun” we include:
- noun (dog, money, love)
- proper noun (name) (Bangkok, Mary)
- pronoun (you, him, us)
- noun group (my first job)
- gerund (swimming)
A preposition can not be followed by a verb. If we want to follow a preposition by a verb, we must use the “-ing” form which is really a gerund or verb in noun form.
|Subject + verb||Prepositions||“nouns”|
|The food is||on||the table.|
|Tara is looking||for||you.|
|The letter is||under||your blue book.|
|Pascal is used||to||English people.|
|She isn’t used||to||working.|
In the below sentences, why is “to” followed by a verb? That should be impossible, according to the above rule:
- I would like to go now.
- She used to smoke.
In these sentences, “to” is not a preposition. It is part of the infinitive (“to go”, “to smoke”).
Prepositions with Nouns, Adjectives, and Verbs.
|NOUNS and PREPOSITIONS||Nouns + preposition||Nouns + preposition|
|ADJECTIVES and PREPOSITIONS||examples|
|VERBS and PREPOSITIONS||Examples|
look forward to
Prepositions are sometimes so firmly wedded to other words that they have practically become one word.
This occurs in three categories: nouns, adjectives, and verbs.
The combination of verb and preposition is called a phrasal verb. The word that is joined to the verb is called a particle. Do refer to the brief section we have created on phrasal verbs for an explanation.
A) ON TIME–IN TIME
On-time means “on schedule”; in time usually means before an appointed time (often with time left over to do something).
- Were you late for your appointment?
- No, I was there on time. (I was there at the appointed time.)
- No, I reached the office in time to have a cup of coffee before my appointment.
B) FROM . . . TO–FROM . . . UNTIL
These expressions have almost the same meanings and are usually interchangeable in the expression of time. However, only from … to is used in referring to place or position.
- He works from 8:00 to 5:00. He works from 8:00 until 5:00.
- We drove from Boston to New York in four hours.
Around and about (sometimes preceded by and are used to indicate approximate time.)
- I’ll pick you up around 7 o’clock.
- It is now about 5 o’clock.
Comparison of some Prepositions:
In general, it means beneath the surface; on means touching the surface.
- There is a grease spot on my coat and a hole in my sweater.
- We had to drive a large nail in the ceiling in order to hang the picture on this wall.
In an address, on is used with the name of the street; at, with the house number and the name of the street.
- He lives on Green Street.
- He lives at 1236 Green Street.
In referring to a location, ordinarily indicates a specified location; in, a location within a house, building, city, and so forth.
- I’ll meet you at the library.
- I’ll meet you at the information desk in the lobby of the hotel.
- She is in the kitchen preparing dinner.
- It is also used in referring to a location within a country.
- They own a house in Sweden.
- He is in Peru, South America, now.
- It is ordinarily used in referring to cities.
- He lives in Quetta, Pakistan.
- They will arrive in Sydney next month.
- At is sometimes used in referring to the arrival of a train, and so forth.
- The train will arrive in Brisbane at 8:10 p.m.
The ordinarily refers to motion or action, although it is often used interchangeably with situations of this kind.
- I saw him go into (in) the director’s office a few minutes ago.
- They went into (in) the building an hour ago.
Kinds of Prepositions
Prepositions are of five kinds:
- Simple prepositions
- Compound prepositions
- Double prepositions
- Participle prepositions
- Phrase prepositions
1. Simple Prepositions
Simple prepositions are several:
for example: in, on, at, about, over, under, off, of, for, to, by, till, up, down, after, with, etc.
- She sat on the chair.
- He fell off the ladder.
- There is some milk in the bottle.
- She is about to go.
- They gathered around the table.
- The man was jumping under the tree.
2. Compound prepositions (prefixes or suffixes)
Compound prepositions are words like
without, within, inside, outside, into, beneath, below, behind, between, etc.
- He fell into the water.
- She walked between walls.
- He sat beside them.
- There is nothing inside the room.
- The teacher stood behind the desk.
- The boy ran along the road.
- The book is below the chair.
3. Double prepositions
Double prepositions are the words like outside of, out of, from behind, from beneath, etc.
- I waited outside of the station.
- She was looking at me from behind the tree.
- Suddenly he emerged from behind the tree.
- we saw him from beneath the tree.
- suddenly, He walked out of the room.
4. Participle prepositions
Participle prepositions are the words like concerning, notwithstanding, pending, considering, etc.
- There was little chance of success, so they decided to go ahead.
- You did the job well, considering your age and inexperience.
- Pending the task, we could get relax.
- We have to do all the plans concerning him as part of it
5. Phrase prepositions
Phrase prepositions are phrases like: because of, by means of, with regard to, on behalf of, instead of, on account of, in opposition to, for the sake of, etc.
- I am standing here on behalf of my friends and colleagues.
- The match was canceled because of the rain.
- we did all the work perfectly with regard to him.
- She could perform the duty well instead of them.
- On the account of a dispute, the police arrested him.
- Our country is the foreword for the sake of educated people.
- He succeeded by means of perseverance.
Prepositions and Adverbs
There are some words that can be used both as prepositions and as adverbs. If a word is used as a preposition it will have a noun or pronoun as its object. Adverbs, on the other hand, do not have objects. They are used to modify a verb, adjective, another adverb, Prepositional phrase, or a whole sentence.
- She sat in the armchair. (In – preposition; armchair – object)
- Please come in. (In – adverb; no object)
- He stood before me. (Before – preposition; object – me)
- I have seen him before. (Before – adverb; no object)
- She put the book on the table. (On – preposition; object – the table)
- Let’s move on. (On – adverb; no object)
- He will return after a month. (After – preposition; object – a month)
- He came soon after. (After – adverb; no object)
Check out these grammars too.