The Grammar Guide

Prepositions

Prepositions connect phrases, nouns, and pronouns with other words in a sentence. They’re words that show location, placement, or orientation. A convenient way to remember what prepositions are is to remember the word “position” within "preposition": they can tell you an object’s position.

Common prepositions include:

  • in
  • within
  • under
  • over
  • to
  • of
  • after
  • during
  • behind
  • from
  • with

Here’s a sentence with a common preposition:

“The cookies are inside the cookie jar.”

In this sentence, “inside” is our preposition because it tells us where the cookies are.

Here are a few more examples, with the prepositions in bold:

  • I’m buried beneath a pile of homework.
  • Somewhere over the rainbow.
  • Get behind me!

Types of Prepositions

Since prepositions refer to location, placement, and orientation, there are several types.

Using Tools

If you’re describing use of an implement, machine, or device, you’ll need a preposition. For example:

  • I traveled here by airplane.
  • I wrote this article with a keyboard.

Directions

These prepositions indicate an object’s direction, or the way it’s facing.

  • The shape lumbered towards me.
  • The fly buzzed away from me.

Time

Prepositions of time indicate how objects relate to one another in terms of when they happen.

  • On Sunday, I usually watch football.
  • I’ll call you when the game’s over.
  • In 1965, The Who released their first album.

Agents

These prepositions correspond to a person or agent performing an action.

  • Some of my favorite books were written by Stephen King.
  • I played fetch with my dog all day. Good dog!

Place

Prepositions of place define an object’s position.

  • The cat is on the table again.
  • I’ll meet you at Applebee’s.

Seems clear enough, doesn’t it? Well the English language is never that straightforward! You should also know about particles.

Particles

In some sentences, words that normally act as prepositions appear instead of parts of verbs. These words are known as particles. You’ve probably heard many of these phrasal verbs:

  • act up
  • tone down
  • give back

In these phrasal verbs, “up”, “down”, and “back” would normally be treated as prepositions. Here, however, since they’re essentially part of the verb, they’re particles instead. Here they are in full sentences:

  • Penny has a tendency to act up at night.
  • Tone down the excitement, okay?
  • I need you to give back that book, please.

A good way to differentiate them is to shift the word in question to the beginning of the sentence. If this new sentence makes sense, you’ve got a preposition. If not, you’ve got a particle. Let’s try one of our sentences above.

  • Up act Penny has a tendency at night.

That makes no sense. Therefore, “up” is indeed a particle. Now let’s try this sentence:

  • We climbed up the slope.

Now let’s try our trick.

  • Up the slope we climbed.

That makes sense, so “up” in this sentence is a preposition, not a particle.

Your Personal Writing Coach

A grammar guru, style editor, and writing mentor in one package.

Try for free today