English Prepositions: Everything You Need to Know
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The English language is rich with prepositions, with several hundred to choose from. While this gives the language lots of vocabulary choices, it also makes it a challenge to learn.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through the top 50 prepositions you’ll need to know in English with tips for how to use them correctly.
First of all, what is a preposition in English?
A preposition is a word that shows the relationship between objects, ideas, and phrases in a sentence.
One of the most common formulas for prepositions is subject + verb + preposition + object. For example, the sentence ‘the dog is under the table’ breaks down this way:
the dog (subject) + is (verb) + under (preposition) + the table (object)
See how the preposition connects all the parts of the sentence? Working together with the verb, it explains the relationship between the subject (the dog) and the object (the table). Depending on the context, sometimes the object has an article between the verb and object and sometimes it doesn’t.
Before we dive in, let’s talk about how prepositions work in English and why they can be a little tricky:
- Prepositions can have multiple meanings. For instance, ‘at’ can describe both a place and a time.
- More than one preposition choice can be correct. For example, it’s acceptable to say ‘I’m thinking of you’ or ‘I’m thinking about you’. Both uses are correct.
- Some prepositions aren’t literal. Certain prepositions don’t follow the rules—they’re expressions you’ll have to learn as you go. For instance, ‘on the phone’ doesn’t mean you’re sitting on your phone. It means you’re using your phone.
While some prepositional phrases like ‘on the plane’ just have to be memorised (hint: you’re not riding on top of the airplane), the majority follow logic and are easy to learn.
To put you on the fast track to success, you can start by thinking about them in three main categories.
What are the different types of English prepositions?
One easy way to memorise English prepositions is to think of them in terms of how we use them. Prepositions fall into three main categories:
- Abstract concepts
Many prepositions can be used in more than one way, so take note.
Prepositions of place and direction
Prepositions of place describe an object’s location in relation to another object. The cat is on the table. The car is in the garage. The keys are by the door. These prepositions are useful for giving directions or describing a person, object, or scene.
Examples: at, on, by, behind, under, over, near, far, from, to, off, on, among, opposite, toward, between
Prepositions of time
Prepositions of time describe when something takes place or a duration of time. The office is open between 8:00 and 5:00. I’ll stay at school until I’m done.
Examples: before, after, until, during, since, ago, at, from, to, within, between
Prepositions of abstract concepts
We also use prepositions in English to connect ideas and abstract concepts. This isn’t quite as easy to visualise and learn as physical prepositions, but it’s important. Let’s look at a few examples: She relaxes by going to the beach. He worries about failing his test. They talk about plans for the future.
Examples: by, about, of, from
Most common English prepositions list and their meanings
|to||Going to a specific location. An endpoint in time||I’m going to the store. The pool is closed from September to May.||Place, time, abstract concept|
|from||A place of origin. A starting point in time. In light of/considering||I’m from Australia. They’ll be in London from Monday to Thursday. From the evidence, it looks like a burglary.||Place, time, abstract|
|of||Belonging to or relating to a person, thing, or concept. About/due to (an abstract concept)||The Queen of England. A map of the city. I’m tired of hearing about it. Because of the weather, the festival is cancelled.||Place, abstract concept|
|in||In a place. Describing a finite amount of time. A state of being for an abstract concept||I’m in the car, where are you? They were gone in two minutes. That dress is in style.||Place, time, abstract concept|
|out||Away from the inside of a place or thing. Empty of||I took the card out of the envelope. He was out of luck.||Place, abstract concept|
|for||A duration of time. Because of||I’ll be gone for two hours. She’s missing the party for her sister’s birthday.||Time, abstract concept|
|on||A noun’s relationship to a surface. At a specific time interval. A mode of being||He spotted a shiny object on the road. The clock chimes on the hour. We try to start class on time. They’re on vacation.||Place, time, abstract concept|
|with||The proximity of two people, objects, or concepts. By means of. Adding a description or modifier||I’ll take an iced coffee with whipped cream. He ate his dinner with a fork. The girl with the blue hair||Place, abstract concept|
|at||A state of being at a location. Indicates a precise time||She’s at the park. We’ll start at 5:00.||Place, time|
|by||Next to. By means of. Before or at a certain time||The keys are by the door. They made everyone angry by skipping the queue. Make sure to get there by noon.||Place, time, abstract concept|
|up||Moving higher||She walked up the stairs.||Place|
|down||Moving lower||He walked down the stairs.||Place|
|about||On the subject of/in connection with. In several directions||They’re angry about missing the match. The book about horses. The boys are about the town.||Place, abstract concept|
|like||Similar to a person or thing, or manner||She has green eyes like her mother’s. It’s just like her to arrive late.||Place, abstract concept|
|as||Comparing a person, thing, or concept to another. Describing a person, thing, or concept’s function.||His face was white as a ghost. I’m here as a friend.||Place, abstract concept|
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Beyond these top 15 prepositions, here are 35 more basic prepositions in English that you should know:
- According to
- Next to
What is a prepositional phrase?
A prepositional phrase is a phrase made up of a preposition, an object, and sometimes a modifier. Together, the phrase functions as an adjective or adverb. They often answer the questions why, where, and how.
Examples of prepositional phrases:
- The girl with the yellow scarf waved at him.
- According to the weather forecast, it’s going to rain.
- The house across the street is for sale.
- She slept poorly during the night.
Don’t confuse a prepositional phrase with a double preposition. A double preposition is two prepositions used together, such as out of, because of, and according to. Some one-word prepositions like without, into, and onto are also double prepositions but have been condensed into a single word over hundreds of years.
How to learn prepositions quickly
One tip for learning these prepositions is to learn them in pairs, as many of them have opposites. For example:
Repetition will help you to memorise the meanings of common prepositions. As you go about your day, take five minutes to describe a picture or scene (for example: the house is by the lake, the woman is in the boat, the sun is in the sky). Write your description down and look up vocabulary as you need it.
Another fantastic way to get repetition and learn common expressions and phrases is through a language-learning app, with support from native speakers and a curriculum designed for fast learning.
Learn your English prepositions inside and out (get it?) and you’ll be able to write better, connect objects and ideas, and speak English fluently.
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