Prepositions in English: How to Use

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A preposition is a very important part of a sentence in English. A preposition connects pronouns, nouns, and words.

Prepositions do not change their form no matter with what words and in what sentences we use them.

The preposition always retains its original form.

Groups of Prepositions by structure

To make it easier for us to learn prepositions, we divide prepositions into three groups:

  • Simple prepositions
  • Complex prepositions
  • Compound prepositions

Let’s see what these three groups of prepositions mean.

What are Simple prepositions?

Simple prepositions in English are called “simple” because they consist of one part. More often than not, this one part is just a few letters. Look at these prepositions:

  • at
  • on
  • from

These prepositions cannot be divided either by syllables or by meaning.

Simple prepositions can have different meanings. It depends on what words we use with such a preposition.

Rule and some examples of simple prepositions.
simple prepositions

What are Complex prepositions?


Complex prepositions are prepositions that consist of several parts often made of two words or two prepositions.

Look at the following prepositions carefully:

  • behind
  • outside
  • within
  • into
  • alongside

You can see the parts that each of these prepositions consists of:

  • be + hind
  • out + side
  • in + to

The parts that make up such prepositions often tell us what the preposition means.

Rule and examples of complex prepositions.
complex prepositions

What are Compound prepositions?


Prepositions can be compound. Such prepositions consist of a noun, adjective, participle, or adverb with simple prepositions such as in, of, at, etc. Together they form compound prepositions:

  • in front
  • because of
  • in between
  • instead of
  • for the sake of

Most often, the main word in such phrases of compound prepositions determines the meaning of the preposition (in front).

Rule and examples of compound prepositions.
compound prepositions

Prepositions in English that look exactly like participles


Also, among the prepositions, there are such prepositions that look exactly like participles:

  • during
  • concerning
  • depending

Such prepositions are formed from participles. Such prepositions have completely retained the form of the participle.

Examples showing that some prepositions look exactly like participles
prepositions and participles

Groups of Prepositions in English by meaning


There are many different prepositions in English. We can distinguish 5 main groups of prepositions among them by their meaning.

  1. Prepositions of place
  2. Prepositions of direction
  3. Prepositions of time
  4. Prepositions of reason and purpose
  5. Prepositions of agent or instrument

Let’s take a closer look at each of these groups.

A list of five groups of prepositions in English grammar.
Five groups of prepositions

Prepositions of place

Most often, prepositions of place answer the question “Where?” Because prepositions of place indicate, describe, communicate the place where someone or something is.

We use prepositions of place to indicate where in what place someone or something is. With the help of prepositions of place, we can describe exactly where an action takes place.


Let’s take a look at the most popular prepositions of place.

  • in
  • in front of
  • next to
  • on
  • opposite
  • over
  • below
  • between
  • by
  • beside
  • near
  • under
  • above
  • across from
  • around
  • at
  • behind
  • close to
  • past

Now let’s look at some prepositions of place in detail, along with examples:

By.

We use by to indicate that one object is close to another object.

Major told me to stay by the Gate.

In.

In helps us communicate that something is inside of a place or thing. It can be one item inside another item. It can be a person inside a building, room, vehicle.

Boys are playing hockey in the house …
Sorry, I left you in the car.


On.

We use this preposition to say that an object is on the surface of something.

Put your money on the table and we will begin.
I’ll sleep on the floor.

Rule and examples of using the preposition on.
Preposition On

Above.

We use this preposition to indicate that something is at a higher level than another object.

Above you can see some examples.
Above the building, there is a decorated portal to the tomb.
Above the gates, he found a single letter.

Below.

We use this preposition to indicate that one object is at a lower level than another object.

These options are further described below.
Click the button below to chat now.

In front of.

We use this preposition to indicate that one thing is ahead of another. We also use the preposition of place in front of when we want to indicate that one object is “face to face” to another object.

I still can’t swear in front of my dad.
I can’t tell you in front of her.

Behind.

We use behind to indicate that one object is at the back of another object.

I can feel it behind my eyes.
He was behind the piano this whole time.
He left behind a wife and three kids.

Under.

This preposition helps us to indicate that something is below (in a lower position) of something. It is not necessarily an object or person, it can be some kind of concept, for example, like “to be under recruitment”, etc.

One vacant professional post is under recruitment.
You’re all under security arrest!
It is under the same tree that he married my mom 20 years ago.

Over.

We use over when we want to indicate that one abject is above (higher) another abject. It often means that the object above is not standing on the object below. That is, we cannot use over to say that there is a cup on the table. Because the cup is on the very surface of the table. For such cases, we cannot use over. But if we imagine that the cup is not touching the table, but is hanging in the air, then we could use over.

Police say the killer escaped over a rear fence at the home.

Before.

We use Before when we want to indicate that one object is in front of (ahead of) another object. It can be a person, a thing, or even an idea or concept.

We’ll find you a place to stay before night falls.
I’ll stand before your family and say how I feel about you.
Leaders put before us difficult but achievable goals.

Beside.

Beside indicates that one object is on one side of another object.

I lay beside him as he slept.
She wanted me to be beside you.
I worked beside him, served beside him.
Now come and sit beside me.

Next to.

This preposition helps us to indicate that one object is close to another object. Next to also emphasizes that there are no other objects between the objects.

I want a grave next to hers.
Read what’s written next to the two lines.
Just get me next to that cave.
Just put your initials next to your changes.

Outside.

This preposition helps us to say that something is on the outside of a room or building.

So I waited outside.
Actually, he was outside walking down the street.
I was outside on the phone when it happened.

At.

We use this preposition to indicate that something or someone is inside a room or building. Also, we often use at to emphasize that an object has a specific purpose to be within that place.

I have two white shirts at home.
You know, I actually shop at this store.
Somebody told me he works at this mine.

Between.

We use this preposition to indicate that one object stands between (in the middle) other objects. Or an action occurs between other objects.

The difference between the two is simply one vowel.
Air Canada now flies one daily non-stop flight between Toronto and Hong Kong.

Among.

The preposition among helps us to say that an object is surrounded by other objects. But we also use the preposition among when we don’t mean that something is literally surrounded by something. We can use Among to highlight one among the many.

She can invariably be found among the audience.
He was popular among African Americans.

List of prepositions of place.
prepositions of place

You can also read the main article Prepositions of Place

Prepositions of direction

Prepositions of direction are prepositions that help us indicate in which direction someone or something is moving.

Using prepositions of direction, we can describe in which direction a person is walking, snow is falling, a ball is flying, a dog is running, or a car is driving.

We use these prepositions to indicate in which direction an action began and in which direction it ended.

Prepositions of direction are a very useful group of prepositions in English.

Here is a list of the most popular Prepositions of direction that we use every day:

  • down
  • from
  • through
  • to
  • towards
  • under
  • up
  • into
  • off
  • onto
  • out of
  • across
  • along
  • round
  • around
  • away from
  • back to
  • over
  • past

Let’s take a look at some of these prepositions in detail with examples:

Around.

The preposition around helps us to say that something is moving in a circular direction.

We’re going around the world.
I think the flu is going around.

Into.

This preposition means that something is moving inside a place.

The family moves into the hotel.
I saw you going into his office last night.

Out.

This preposition means that something is moving from the inside of a place or room to the outside.

I needed the money to move out.
Double your money, or I walk out the door.

Through.

We use this preposition to indicate that something is moving through some space or room from the point of entry to the point of exit.

You need to run through the town!

Description and examples of using the preposition through.
Preposition Through

To.

This preposition helps us indicate the direction of movement. We use this preposition to indicate the target towards which the object is moving.

This wire runs to the gate lock.
Tom stood up and walked to the window.
I got up, and I walked to the cashier.

Up.

We use the preposition Up to indicate that something is moving upward.

Jump up and clap hands with glee!

Down.

We use the preposition down to indicate that something is moving downward.

You should move down here with me.
Why don’t you fly down, see for yourself?

Across.

This preposition helps us to say that someone or something is moving from one side of the space to the other side. For example, if someone moves from one side of the room to the other side. Or if someone crosses the road from one side of the road to the other side of the road. We also use the preposition across when we talk about intangible objects such as ideas, concepts, etc.

We were halfway across town when that happened.
I came across some information that might help.
Eight meters across and weighing over two tons.
The hotel’s private beach is just across the promenade.

Along.

We use Along to indicate that the object is moving in the direction of the space in which the object is moving. For example, if we imagine a long road along which a car is traveling, then the car moves along the road.

Going along the river, everything is quiet.

List of prepositions of direction.
prepositions of direction

You can also read the main article Prepositions of Direction

Prepositions of time

We use prepositions of time to indicate when something happened, happens, or will happen. Prepositions of time are a very useful type of prepositions in the English language.

We use Prepositions of time to indicate the duration of an action or a period.

List of the most popular Prepositions of time:

  • for
  • from
  • in
  • on
  • after
  • at
  • before
  • by
  • until
  • within
  • during
  • past
  • since
  • through
  • till

Let’s look at some prepositions in detail with examples.

For.

We use this preposition to indicate how long an action lasts.

He served for two years and then began studying law.
He left his post for 5 minutes.
Stay for 20 minutes, have some coffee.

During.

We use during to denote the time during which an event lasts or an action takes place.

These projects have been exhibited during the summit.
I worked in a post office during the summer vacation.

At.

We use the preposition At to indicate hours, parts of the day, holidays.

The boys will be hungry at 5:30.
Message received at 7:53 p.m.

In.

This preposition is necessary to indicate when an event will happen.

You might be married in 5 years.
You can come out in 10 minutes.
I haven’t fought in two years.

On.

This preposition is necessary to indicate a day of the week or some special date when an event happens.

It was ratified on 7 July 2006.
The highway was opened to traffic on 10 May.

Until (Till).

The preposition Until / Till denotes a point in time until which something happens and then stops.

Please be patient and wait until it finishes.
Nobody moves until I get some answers.
Exports decreased until 2010 before increasing again.

From … to.

These two prepositions together help us to indicate the beginning and end of the time during which an action takes place.

No conference services are requested from 5 to 9 May.
I am going to be working from 27 September to 5 December.

Since.

This preposition denotes the point in time from which we are counting the beginning of an event.

We were never the same since.
It’s been busted since we moved in.
The dog has not stopped barking since Danny left.

By.

This preposition denotes a point in time until which something happens.

Seventy-eight replies had been received by the time this report was written.
He promised he would be here by 5 pm.

Before.

We need the preposition Before to indicate that something starts earlier than a certain moment.

Attackers often scan or probe before attacking.
We went home before the accident.

Rule and some examples of before.
The preposition Before

After.

We need the preposition After to indicate that something starts later than a certain moment.

You won’t be saying that after the next release.
They sent me here right after you finished interviewing me.

Over.

We use over as a preposition of time to indicate that someone is doing something longer than some specified time. We often use the preposition over if such an action was interrupted and resumed several times during the specified time.

They had been building the walls for over two thousand years.

Up to.

We use up to to indicate that an action lasts until a specified moment.

The United States contributed $ 8.1 million up to the end of 1998.

prepositions of time

You can also read the main article Prepositions of Time

Prepositions of reason and purpose

We use prepositions from this group to indicate why, because of what, by what reason an event occurs. We use these prepositions to indicate a reason or purpose.

Let’s take a look at the most popular of these prepositions:

Of.

We use this preposition to indicate the connection between cause and result. We often use of if the reason is negative.

His words are the result of his disappointment.

For.

With this preposition, we can indicate the purpose or reason for which someone is taking action.

I bought the car for my son.

Because of.

We use this preposition to indicate the reason for an action that is taking place.

What they did was only possible because of you.
It’s because of my family background.
My dad lost our farm because of you.
My life will change because of my perfect feet.

Rule and examples of using because of.
Preposition Because of

Thanks of.

This preposition is similar to Because of. We use Thanks of to indicate the reason for an action. We often use Thanks of when we talk about something positive.

Nothing of public record thanks of privacy laws.

Due to.

This is a more formal version of the Thanks of. We often use Due to to indicate a negative reason.

Their number grows every year mostly due to teenagers.
It was a national holiday due to local elections.
I can’t answer that due to attorney-client privilege.

From.

With this preposition, we indicate the reason that makes us speak or think in a certain way.

From his letter I understood I had a problem.

You can also read the main article Prepositions of Reason and Purpose

Prepositions of agent or instrument

We use prepositions of agent and instrument to:

  • Designate the one who performs the action.
  • Designate the object that we use when performing some action.

We often use prepositions of this group in passive sentences.

Look at the most popular prepositions of this group:

  • by
  • with
  • without
  • on

The demonstrators were injured by rubber bullets.
The player can travel both by foot or by car.
Write with a pen, not with a pencil.
The question of slavery is better settled with a pen than with a sword.
I was breaking into a car and cut myself on a rusty bumper.

Rule and examples of prepositions of agent or instrument
prepositions of agent or instrument

One preposition can have different meanings

Simple prepositions in English can have different meanings. Because simple prepositions often consist of just a few letters. Therefore, the meaning of such prepositions is influenced by the words with which we use these prepositions.

Take a look at the very popular preposition on. We can use it when we are talking about different concepts. When we talk about vehicles, time, places:

That initiative was rejected on 5 December 1976 by a majority of the people.
The first launch occurred on 12 November 1971.
We’re trapped in a room on the first floor on the southeast corner.

Now look at another popular preposition by:

Nothing tonight has happened by accident.
My American roommate was shocked by me.
The head injury wasn’t caused by a knife.
A real man stands by his woman.

Some prepositions have only one meaning and are used only in certain situations with certain words. These are, for example, such prepositions as:

  • till
  • among
  • minus

Only one hospital among those contacted had available space.
I say wait till we have more answers.

Prepositions together with verbs form a large number of different combinations. Such combinations can change the original meaning of the preposition.

  • to look after
  • to look at
  • to look for
  • to look over
  • to look to

I haven’t had a chance to look over your stuff yet.
I had to look after Ryan.
Maybe you could look at it this way.
He asked me to look after you.
I mean, look at this dollhouse.
He looks over and sees Cassidy has left.
You had the chance to run, to look to your own neck.
Nobody will look for this boy.
I’m looking for someone myself.

Examples of using the preposition by.
Preposition By

Place of prepositions in an English sentence

Prepositions can take different places in an English sentence. It depends on what the preposition means and with what words the preposition is used.

Prepositions that denote the relationship between words, we put between such words.

Write with a pen, please.

If there is a definition in such a sentence, then we put the preposition before the definition.

Unemployment is below the national average.

But in special questions we break this rule, placing prepositions at the end:

What are you guys working on?
Okay, what hospital you guys at?
You’re clear about everything we agreed on?
Tommy, what you playing at?
This is what you came up with?

Rule and examples of using prepositions in special questions.
prepositions in special questions

If we want a special question to sound more formal, we can put a preposition before the question word.

To what would you attribute this great success?
To who do I have the honor of speaking?

We can put a preposition at the end of a sentence in exclamation clauses:

Better to shoot him now and get it over with!
Give me something to work with!
Get a job we can talk about!

We can put a preposition at the end of the sentence in passive sentences:

General, your order will be taken care of.

Example of a preposition in a passive sentence.
Prepositions and the passive voice

We can put a preposition at the end of a sentence if the sentence has some constructions with an infinitive or a gerund:

I didn’t know who else to go to.
I have no friends to talk with.
You’ve got something else to think about.
There are certain things you need to know about.

Most often, we put prepositions before:

Numerals.

I read about 10 books recently …

Gerund.

You can’t blame us for looking at that.

Nouns.

Maybe you left it on the table.

Pronouns.

I heard your wife talking to him.

Attributes (which consist of an adjective).

We know the guns are in a red shipping container.

If the preposition is in a combination of a verb + a preposition, then such a combination is placed at the end of the main sentence or subordinate clause.

For example, in questions that start with the words what, who (whom), which, where.

What city are you from?

If the subordinate clause begins with the words what, who (whom), which, where we also put a preposition at the end of such a subordinate clause:

Can you tell me what this is about?

We put a preposition at the end of a sentence if the sentence consists of a verb + preposition in the passive voice:

He is not to be spoken of.

Prepositions in phrasal verbs

Verbs and prepositions form different combinations creating phrasal verbs we use in English all the time. Verbs in such combinations can have a meaning that differs from the original meaning of the verbs.

For example:

Look after someone. In this example, the verb look + the preposition after means to care, help, patronize.

Your father said you should let me look after you.
Somebody must look after my wife and son!
I’m too busy looking after my brother.
He looks after me while my father’s away.

Look down on someone. In this sentence, the verb look + the preposition down means a negative, contemptuous attitude of one person towards another.

Boys tend to look down on their younger sisters.
Because I don’t want to look down on you.
She looks down on me for not having a sense of humor.

look after

Stable expressions and combinations with prepositions in English Grammar

In English, prepositions are part of different Stable expressions and phrases.

Look, for example, at the well-known phrase:

Listen to music.

In this combination, the preposition to is required. Although the logic behind this is difficult to understand. Because we don’t use to when we say, for example:

Watch movies.

But when we use the verb to listen in such combinations, we need to use the preposition to.

Listen to music.

Note: Many English learners make this mistake saying Listen music instead of Listen to music. Be careful!

The rule for using the preposition to in the phrase listen to music.
listen to music

Advice on how to learn the prepositions In, On, and At

In, On, and At are commonly used prepositions that we cannot do without.

We’re driving in a fog.

Learning these prepositions is often difficult for English learners. Because in English, these prepositions may not correspond to similar prepositions in other languages.

There is one piece of advice that helps you learn these prepositions. This advice is not 100% accurate, but it helps in many cases to find the correct preposition among the prepositions In, On, and At.

The preposition In is used with the largest concepts and objects. We use the preposition in along with country names. Or with concepts as big as months or years.

She may be in France in a few months.

We use the preposition On with smaller concepts such as days, street names, etc.

I’m coming to visit on Friday.

We use At when we want to concretize a day or a street.

The Christmas party at Friday is confirmed?

I want to remind you again that this rule is not true in all cases, but it will help you better understand the difference between these three prepositions.

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