What is a preposition?

Build relationships in your sentences with prepositions.

Carla Greenwood

February 26, 2024

What is a preposition?

Build relationships in your sentences with prepositions.

Carla Greenwood

Feb 26, 2024

What is a preposition?

Build relationships in your sentences with prepositions.

Carla Greenwood

Feb 26, 2024

Key takeaways

  • Prepositions show relationships between words – Prepositions are words that show how nouns, pronouns or noun phrases relate to other words in a sentence. 
  • There are many types of prepositions – These include time prepositions, place prepositions, and direction prepositions.
  • Understanding prepositions takes practice – There are many pitfalls students can fall into when using prepositions. The best thing to do is read and write often to know how and when to use them.

A preposition is a word that tells us where something is situated in relation to something else (hint: the word ‘position’ is in the word ‘preposition’). 

Prepositions show direction, location or time and are usually followed by an object, noun phrase or a pronoun. This may sound confusing at first glance, but they are simply words that show how things relate to each other, either in place, purpose or time. 

For example, the word ‘on’ is a preposition in the sentence “The cat sat on the mat” because it describes the cat’s position. 

Prepositions help improve the fluidity and flexibility of your writing whilst avoiding the issue of readers not understanding the connections between sentence elements. 

Prepositions are essential to English grammar because they help us communicate more clearly. In this article, we discuss the meaning, use and types of prepositions to help you show relationships between people, places or things in your writing.

The role of prepositions in sentences

Prepositions are essential in sentence structure because they act as building blocks. Below, we discuss the main uses of prepositions and why they are beneficial in writing:

Depicting relationships in sentences

Prepositions show relationships between different words in a sentence. They often tell the reader important connections such as where something is or when a situation happened. 

With the use of prepositions, sentences can be clearer and easier to decipher. Common prepositions include:

  • At
  • From
  • Of
  • With
  • Around

For example: “She walked around the arena.”

Providing context and additional information

Prepositions can connect phrases with adjectives to further contextualize an action, object or emotion. For example, “The girl in the yellow dress.” 

Prepositional phrases, like ‘in addition’ can connect separate clauses within and between sentences. For example, “In addition to her homework, Melissa had to clean her room.” 

Types of prepositions

Depending on their use in a sentence, prepositions are generally split into five categories. These types are: 

  • Time prepositions. Prepositions of time are used to show when something is happening. For example, “The shop will be closed from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.” or “The whole company was asked to work from home during the snowstorm.” 
  • Place prepositions. Place prepositions show the location or position of something. For example, “The cat was hiding under the bed.” or “She was waiting in front of the post office.” 
  • Direction prepositions. Prepositions of direction indicate the movement of something or the direction in which something travels. For example, “She drove through the tunnel.” or “When Sandy goes for a run, her dog runs alongside her.”
  • Manner prepositions. Prepositions of manners express the way that something happens or how something is done. For example, “Jamie wrote his exam in French.” or “The mother held her baby with care.”
  • Agent prepositions. A preposition of agency indicates the source or agent responsible for an action or an event. For example, “I always go to work by car.” or “She sent him the documents via email.”

Common prepositions

There are over 150 prepositions in the English language, which can make learning them a bit overwhelming! To help you out, we have listed some of the most common prepositions below:

Time prepositions

Place prepositions

Direction prepositions

Manner prepositions

Agent prepositions





























Remember that certain prepositions, such as ‘in’ can act as different types of prepositions depending on their use in a sentence. For example, The boy is in the bedroom” (place) and “The boy arrived just in time” (time).

Rules of using prepositions

Just like with all aspects of English grammar, certain rules need to be followed when using prepositions to prevent grammatical errors. 

The basic rules are:

Prepositions must have an object — A preposition should always go with a related noun or pronoun, also known as an object. Without an object, a preposition is simply an adverb. 

For example: 

  • Preposition: “We will catch up after the gym.” (The preposition ‘after’ has an object which is the gym).
  • Adverb: “They called soon after.” (In this sentence, ‘after’ doesn’t relate to any particular object, so it’s an adverb).

Prepositions must be placed before — The word ‘pre’ literally means ‘before.’ So, a preposition should come before the object it’s related to.

For example: 

  • “He put the books in the box.” (The preposition ‘in’ comes before the object ‘box’ in the sentence).

A pronoun that follows a preposition must be an object form — If a pronoun follows a preposition, it should act as an object (i.e., them, her or me) rather than in subjective form (i.e., they, I or she). 

For example:

  • “The secret was between him and her.” (The preposition ‘between’ is followed by the objective pronouns ‘him’ and ‘her’).
  • “The gift was from them.” (The pronoun ‘them’ acts as an object that follows the preposition ‘from’).

A preposition is never followed by a verb — Phrasal verbs (a verb followed by a preposition) are fairly common in the English language, but verbs should never come after a preposition.

Below are some examples of phrasal verbs:

  • “Peter should listen to our advice.”
  • “Can you look after my little sister?”

Don’t confuse the preposition ‘to’ with the infinitive ‘to’ — The word ‘to’ can be used as a preposition and an infinitive participle (verbs that are preceded by ‘to’). So, it’s important not to mix them up.

For example:

  • Preposition: I’m used to singing.
  • Infinitive participle: She loves to sing.

Common mistakes when using prepositions

One of the most common mistakes students make is using incorrect prepositions or using different ones interchangeably. Make sure your sentences are clear by using the correct preposition. 

For example, the preposition ‘in’ can’t be replaced by another preposition, such as ‘on’, because this will change the whole meaning of the sentence. 

  • Correct: I’m in the shop.
  • Incorrect: I’m on the shop.

Another common mistake is to overuse or underuse prepositions. Using too many prepositions can make a sentence sound clunky and awkward. Whereas omitting a necessary preposition can affect the meaning of a sentence. 

Regular practice will help you determine the right usage of prepositions.

What is a prepositional phrase?

A prepositional phrase is defined as a group of words that consist of a preposition, the object of a preposition and the words that modify it. They provide the information needed to modify a noun, verb, adjective or adverb by providing descriptions, such as their location or existence in time. 

For example:

  • “She caught the bus on time.”
  • “I like to go shopping at the store behind my house.”
  • “The girl in the middle is the best dancer.”
  • “He thought he was above the law.”

Some other commonly used prepositional phrases include:

  • For a while
  • On the move
  • By force
  • At the same time
  • Without a hitch
  • In case
  • Out of order
  • For the time being
  • In private

The idea of using prepositions correctly can be daunting at first, especially when you consider that there are over 150 prepositions in the English language. 

However, regular reading and writing exercises can help you to understand the concept of prepositions and know when to use them.

Explore prepositions with DoodleEnglish

DoodleEnglish is an app that’s filled with thousands of fun, interactive exercises covering grammar, punctuation, spelling and more!

Designed by teachers, it creates each child a unique work programme tailored to their needs, boosting their confidence and skills in English. Try it for free today!

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FAQs about prepositions

Prepositions are used to identify relationships between words in a sentence. Some common examples of prepositions are at, on, of and to. For instance, “She cycled to school” or “He left his phone on the bed.”

There is a long-standing misconception that you should never end a sentence with a preposition. However, this isn’t strictly true. It’s perfectly acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition in casual writing but it is still generally frowned upon in formal writing. For example, “Where are you from?” or “What are you preparing for?”

One of the most common mistakes is to use the wrong preposition in a sentence. For example, writing “I’m going to school by foot” (incorrect) rather than “I’m going to school on foot” (correct).

Another common mistake when using prepositions is to add them where they are not needed. Practice makes perfect when it comes to using prepositions successfully. 

A preposition is a word that’s used before a noun, pronoun or noun phrase that shows direction, place, time or another type of relationship within a sentence. If a word has an object, then it’s acting as a preposition. If there is no object, i.e., a person or thing, then it’s an adverb. Prepositions are generally short words such as at, in, on, or by. 

Screenshot 2023-10-13 at 16.29.14

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