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What is a Preposition?

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Prepositions and Relationships

English has approximately 150 prepositions that express many different relationships. Some examples of common prepositions include of, to, on, in, about, from, due to, or in spite of.

Prepositions in English are function words that connect to nouns, pronouns, or parts of sentences and express. They express a relationship to another word, an idea, or clause). For example, when you say the house across the street, the preposition “across” connects “house” to “street” and shows the relationship between them (in this case, the relationship is the position).

Video Activity

Watch What are prepositions? (and how to learn them) on YouTube and take good study notes.

Note. You can read this page first or watch the video before reading. It’s up to you.

Examples of Prepositions and Their Relationships

Prepositions express three main relationships: position or place, time, and movement or direction.

Prepositions of Position or Place

The prepositions below show relationships of position or space.

  • My bicycle is in the garage, and my car is on the street.
  • The students are at school right now.
  • The students are inside the classroom.

Prepositions of Time

The prepositions below show relationships of time.

  • John goes to work at 6 a.m., but he leaves before 3 p.m.
  • Our plane leaves at 9 p.m. on Monday. We will stay until next week.

Prepositions of Movement or Direction

The prepositions below show relationships of movement or direction.

  • Let’s go to the movies.
  • Jacques is from France.
  • The man ran into the house.

Prepositions and Grammatical Constructions

Sometimes a verb, adjective, or noun needs a preposition to make a grammatical sentence.

In these cases, the relationship is not always clear. In the examples below, the different prepositions go with adjectives or verbs to make grammatical sentences:

  • I am interested in sports.
  • I am tired of my job.
  • We can’t agree on a time for the party.
  • I dream of going to Japan one day.
  • I’m thinking about you.

You need those prepositions only to make grammatical sentences. That sometimes makes prepositions difficult to learn.

For example, these sentences have the same meaning, but you need the preposition of in the first and no preposition in the second.

  • Everyone is fond of Susan. (to be fond + of + someone/something)
  • Everyone likes Susan. (to like + someone/something)

Double and Complex Prepositions

English has one-word prepositions, double prepositions, and complex prepositions. Double prepositions use more than one preposition together such as along with, out of, and without. Complex prepositions combine prepositions and non-prepostions such as next to, on top of, close to, and due to.

These prepositions have different names, but they all work the same way.

Learning Prepositions

It is often best to learn prepositions as they appear in sentences. It is not very efficient to memorize long lists of prepositions and expressions with their prepositions. Of course, it takes a lot of practice. When you hear or read a preposition in an expression many times, the correct preposition will “sound natural” to you.

For a complete lesson on learning prepositions, see 5 tips to learn prepositions effectively.

Practice

Complete a short exercise to test your understanding of the information on this page and the video activity.

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