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Prepositions  in English

English prepositions
and prepositional adverbs   


What is a preposition ?

A preposition is a short word, for example at, in or by, that is most commonly used to show the relation between two nouns, two pronouns, or a noun and a pronoun.

There are less than forty common prepositions in English.

Page index:  Prepositions of position and direction Prepositions of time Prepositions of manner 

Many prepositions have related adverbs. This page looks at prepositions and at the adverbs that are related to prepositions, known as prepositional adverbs
  • Prepositions generally preceed the noun they are referring to, but this is not always the case. They can – indeed sometimes they must – come at the end of a sentence, notably in some relative clauses with omission of who, or in some questions.
  • Prepositional adverbs stand alone; there is no second noun or pronoun.
    Examples:
    Prepositions
    :  The Queen is athome.  Dinner is on the table.  Go to bed.
    Prepositional adverbs:   They're standing outside.  We're going together.
  • For prepositions with verbs, see prepositional verbs

Prepositions of position and of direction

The table below lists the common English prepositions of position and of direction, and the related adverbs for each case. You will see than many English prepositions can signify either direction or position; but this is not the case for all prepositions.
  Prepositions of position and direction normally only introduce nouns or pronouns; a few, such as into, can occasionally introduce verb phrases.
In this table, less common forms and rarely used equivalents are shown in brackets ( -- ).

Denoting position     Denoting direction
Adverbs Prepositions Prepositions Adverbs
across across
at at, to 1
* in, inside, (within) in, inside, within into in, inwards
outside outside (out), out of  2 out, outwards
(on) on on, onto (on)
(far from) from
overhead over, above 3 over (above) (overhead)
underneath under, (underneath) under, (underneath)
throughout throughout through 
below below below
up upwards
down downwards
nearby near (nearer)
(alongside) alongside along along
in between between (between)
opposite opposite

Examples:

Prepositions of position:
  •  Our friends live just across the street..
  •  I live in London.   There are people inside the house.
  •  He lives within a mile of the airport  Our house is opposite the post office.  
  • There are problems throughout the  programme.
Prepositions of movement:
  • Please put all those bits into the box      
  • He walked through the town.
  • The child threw his plate onto the floor.
Adverbs of position:
  • We're staying in tonight.   There's someone inside !  
  • Our friends live nearby.
Adverbs of movement:
  • I can't manage to put this nail in.  
  • Look, now it's moving inwards and downwards.
Preposition before a verb phrase:
  • He tricked me into paying far too much

There are several other types of adverb, many of them derived from adjectives.
For more on this, see Adverbs .

Footnotes:

1.  As prepositions of direction, "at" and "to" are not synonyms. "At" is not common as a preposition of direction, and is only used with the meaning of "towards" or "in the direction of", and then only in some contexts. Compare these two sentences.
     I threw the ball to John.    I threw a cup at John .
You can say "I'm going to London next week",
but it is impossible to say: "I'm going at London next week."

2.  In classic English, "out of" is the normal prepositon of direction.
   Example: "I went out of the house."
But increasingly, particularly in spoken English, the "of" is being dropped, so you are likely to hear: "I went out the house".

3.  There is a small difference between "over" and "above" as prepositions of position. Above means over, but not touching.
So you could say "There are clouds above London",
but it would be strange to say "There is fog above London".

Prepositions of time

English has nine common prepositions of time : only one of these, since, can also be used as an adverb. In other cases, another word or phrase, sometimes quite similar, must be used.

Prepositions Adverbs
Before beforehand, before that, earlier, previously
After afterwards, then, later, subsequently
by
in
at whereat, (thereat), whereupon
since since
for
during meanwhile
until

Examples:
  • I'm playing football before lunch ; but earlier I have an English lesson
  • He goes to Paris after London;  after that he's going to Geneva.
  • The package must arrive by the end of the week  / .... by Friday.
  • I'm leaving in five minutes.  /  I like going to England in the summer.
  • We're having lunch today at 12.30.  /  Everyone applauded at the end of the concert.
  • Online ticket sales began at 8 a.m, whereupon the whole programme crashed.
  • I've lived in London since the start of 1995  /  .... since I was a child. 1
  • I'm going to New York for a week in the summer
  • He worked in Dubai for three years.  / ... for many years. 2
  • During the holidays, he won the National Lottery.3
  • He's getting a new apartment tomorrow; meanwhile he's staying in a hotel.
  • My brother's staying in London until Friday.

Notes:
1.  Since is used with moments in time, or with units of time, but not with numeric quantities
       We cannot say:  since three weeks.  Since can also be used as an adverb, with no following noun, and sometimes strengthened with ever, as in :
    He moved to Oxford in 1990, and he's been there ever since .
 For is used with numerals (or undefined quantities) – See Since and for
3. During is used with periods of time; it is not used before numerals.
4. Prepositions of time cannot introduce verb phrases.  Before, after, since and until are used as conjunctions, not as prepositions, in front of verb phrases.  
Before coming to London, he....  is the same as  Before he came to London, he...

Other Prepositions - manner and other relations


English has seven common prepositions of manner, relation or  agent:  against, among, by, for, with, without, except

Examples
  • Manchester United are playing against Real Madrid next week.
  • He was just one among many candidates.
  • The Harry Potter books were written by J.K.Rowling.
  • I've just bought a present for my mother.
  • I'm going to England next week with my girlfriend.
  • You can't play football without a ball
  • I told everyone except my brother.
Prepositions introducing a verb phrase:
  • He broke his glasses by standing on them
  • You can't play football without using a ball.
Note:
See how by and without, in the last two examples above, are effectively prepositions and not conjunctions.  
While we can say Before coming to London... or  Before he came to London....
we cannot say  He broke his glasses by he stood on them.  
By can not be used as a conjunction.

And a few more prepositions:

Apart from these common prepositions, English has several more words or phrases that can be used as prepositions.
  A few examples:
      Apart from,  following, amid,  via,  per,



Ending a sentence with a preposition; is it OK ?

Simple answer: yes !  Lots of famous writers have done so.
However sometimes it may be better style to put the preposition in its normal place, before the noun, if this is possible.
Yet sometimes this is not possible or practical. Look at these examples
This is the talented young musician I was talking to you about.
What are you waiting for ?
In these situations - a relative clause with omission of the relative pronoun, and a question requiring a preposition - it is perfectly good, in indeed the best solution possible in modern English, to leave the preposition at the end of the sentence.

Prepositions exercise : test how well you can use English propositions . This exercise is part of  the worksheet accompanying the advanced-level English article on Ellis Island. You may like to read the article first.
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Definitions:

Prepositions are functional words that express a relation between two elements in a phrase.  Prepositions express a relation of position or direction, of time, of manner, of agent or other relation. Prepositions are followed by a noun, a pronoun, or a noun phrase.

Adverbs are independent words that qualify a verb, expressing manner, direction, degree, place or time. They are not followed by a noun.

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