How to Use Prepositions Properly


What are Prepositions Needed for?

Prepositions are parts of a sentence needed to connect nouns, noun phrases, or pronouns to other parts of a sentence. The most common English prepositions are the following: at, in, into, on, of, to, with, by, for.

At: Used to show a location or point in space, time, or on a scale.
e.g. At 11am, I was already at school.

In: Used to show an object’s incorporation with some other object, place, and so on.
e.g. I have lived in this city for the last 15 years.

Into: Shows a direction of an object or action, resulting in its inclusion with another object, place, and so on.
e.g. Who brought this into the class?

On: Indicates an object’s location in space above another object, touching, being on top. Also, it can be used to indicate one’s work with devices, such as phones or computers.
e.g. Is there any life on Mars?
e.g. Sorry, I can’t talk to you right now — Marcy’s on the phone.

Of: Used to indicate a part of something, an amount, or to show a connection between objects.
e.g. Which of these t-shirts are yours?
e.g. Is the Prince of Wales a royal title?

To: Shows movement towards something, or an action applied to something.                                                           e.g. I need to go to the bathroom.

With: Used to show cooperation, a mutual or simultaneous activity, participation.
e.g. Are you with me?

By: Used to indicate a close distance, a source of action, or cause.
e.g. Walton just walked by, but I forgot to say hi to him.
e.g. The book “What Nature Pretended to Be” is by author Nicholas Klacsanzky.
e.g. By some feat of genius, Michael put his broken umbrella back together again.

For: Displays the means of how something is used, or a person/object for whose sake something is done.
e.g. For God’s sake, Harry, can you stop complaining at least for a moment?

Basic Rules of Using Prepositions

- A sentence can be finished with a preposition. However, a preposition at the end is not needed when the meaning of a sentence is clear without it.

(Correct) I have no idea what this is needed for.
(Incorrect) Where did he go to?

- On can be used to indicate a time or date when a certain event happened.
e.g. I was born on May 1, International Labor Day.

- Prepositions are usually followed by nouns.

- Sometimes you can begin a sentence with a preposition, or a prepositional phrase.
e.g. At the moment, I am rather busy.

- A subject of a sentence, as well as verbs, can never be a part of a prepositional phrase.

Advice for Non-Native Speakers

- Prepositions are rather often used not according to the rules described above. So, if you are not sure what preposition to use, you can check a dictionary to see examples of that word being used in sentences.

- Reading and especially listening to the speech of English speakers will help you discover new ways of using prepositions. Do not hesitate to make notes!

- If you are an ESL speaker, do not expect that English prepositions will fit the rules of your native language. English prepositions sometimes do not fit in with English grammar itself.


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