Prepositions

Prepositions

A preposition is a word (often a short word) that shows the relationship between two other nearby words.

Here is list of common prepositions:

above, about, across, against, along, among, around, at, before, behind, below, beneath, beside, between, beyond, by, down, during, except, for, from, in, inside, into, like, near, of, off, on, since, to, toward, through, under, until, up, upon, with, within.

Easy Examples of Prepositions

In the examples below, each preposition (highlighted) shows us the relationship between the word book and the word wizard:
  • The book about the wizard
  • The book by the wizard
  • The book near the wizard
  • The book behind the wizard
  • The book under the wizard
A preposition precedes a noun (or a pronoun) to show the noun's relationship to another word in the sentence. In our examples above, the preposition precedes the noun wizard to show that noun's relationship with the noun book.

When you're first learning about prepositions, it might be useful to think about prepositions as anywhere a mouse could go.
  • The mouse is behind the clock.
  • The mouse is near the clock.
  • The mouse is under the clock.
  • The mouse is alongside the clock.
  • The mouse is inside the clock.
In these examples, the prepositions show us the relationship between clock and mouse. This learning tip works because lots of prepositions show the relationship between two words by expressing their locations relative to each other.

Real-Life Examples of Prepositions

  • I cook with wine. Sometimes, I even add it to food. (Actor W C Fields)
  • (With shows the relationship between wine and cook. To shows the relationship between food and add it.)
  • Behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes. (Actor Jim Carrey)
  • (Behind shows the relationship between every great man and is. The term every great man is a noun phrase. Note that a preposition can sit before a noun, a noun phrase, a noun clause or a pronoun.)
  • The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits. (Physicist Albert Einstein)
  • (Between shows the relationship between stupidity and genius.)
  • If you haven't got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me. (Writer Alice Roosevelt Longworth)
  • (About shows the relationship between anybody and to say. Next to shows the relationship between me and sit. Note that a preposition can be more than one word. Other common multi-word prepositions are close to, ahead of, in front of, and according to.)

    Why Should I Care about Prepositions?

    There are four common issues involving prepositions:

    (Issue 1) Ending a sentence in a preposition.

    Lots of people think it is incorrect to end a sentence in a preposition because, as we've just covered, a preposition is supposed to sit before a noun. (It is, after all, how preposition gets its name.) Therefore, if the preposition is the last word in the sentence, it can't sit before anything. So, there's some logic to this ruling, which many people follow. However, this issue is far more complicated than many realise, and the best way to summarise it is by saying that, in the overwhelming majority of cases, it's perfectly acceptable - from a grammatical perspective - to end a sentence in a "preposition". (I'll explain the quotation marks later.)

    Here's the rub. Even though you'd very likely be correct by ending your sentence with a "preposition", you should be mindful that a fair few of your readers will think it's a grammar mistake or sloppy writing.

    As we still haven't trained ourselves to strikethrough this so-called ruling, we can't ignore it. I like to think of "avoiding a preposition at the end of a sentence" as a game rather than a ruling.

    Let's look at an example:
    • It is a scenario I have not thought of.
    • (This is natural sounding, but it ends in a preposition.)
    Let's play the game. Let's restructure our sentence:
    • It is a scenario of which I have not thought.
    • (This sounds awful. It's unnatural and contrived. On the plus side, our preposition now sits before the pronoun which, and that fits the rule for siting a preposition.)
    But, it sounds terrible, so let's keep playing. Let's reword our sentence:
    • It is a scenario I have not considered.
    • (Yes! This sounds natural, and it does not end in a preposition. This keeps everyone happy…except those people who think we shouldn't pander to those who still think you can't end a sentence in a preposition.)
    So, for now, I'm advising you become a panderer to this non-ruling. I must say this though. If restructuring your sentence makes it sound contrived and you can't reword it, then just let the preposition at the end ride. If you're questioned on it, fight like a dog because you'll be in the right.

    So, why was preposition in quotation marks earlier in this section? Well, quite often, your sentence will end in something that looks like a preposition but isn't. Be mindful that it could be part of a phrasal verb, i.e., a verb made up of a verb and another word (either a preposition or a particle), e.g., fill in, stick to, catch up, catch out. Quite often, these words must be next to each other, and that's often a factor in your sentence structure. (There's more on this in the phrasal verbs entry.)

    (Issue 2) Using the wrong case after a preposition

    The word or words that follow a preposition are called the object of a preposition. The object of a preposition is always in the objective case. This just means that words like I, she, we, and they change to me, her, us, and them when they follow a preposition (e.g., about me, with her, for us, against them). This is a pretty simple concept for a native English speaker, but it still catches some people out.
    • It is present from my wife and I. [wrong]
    • (This is wrong because I cannot be the object of the preposition from.)
    • It is present from me and my wife. [correct]
    • Between you and I [wrong]
    • (This is wrong because I cannot be the object of the preposition between.)
    • Between you and me [correct]
    Ironically, many people use terms like "from my wife and I" and "between you and I" with a highbrow tone, believing them to be grammatically pure. Nah, they're not grammatically pure. They're wrong. They have given rise to the term "übercorrect". Of interest, using "myself" incorrectly (e.g., "Please contact myself with any questions") is another example of "übercorrect" grammar. (See the entry on reflexive pronouns.)

    Another one that catches people out is using who after a preposition. Who becomes whom in the objective case. (In other words, who is to whom as he is to him or they is to them. The bottom line is who cannot be the object of a preposition…ever. You need whom.)
    • You went with who? [wrong]
    • You went with whom? [correct]
    • (Write whom after a preposition.)

    (Issue 3) Confusing prepositions with other words

    Writers sometimes confuse prepositions with other words. Here are the most common issues ordered by how frequently they are seen:
    • Writing the adverb too (which means overly or as well) instead of the preposition to (which has several meanings including towards and for).
    • Writing the preposition of instead of have when writing could've, should've or would've in full.
    • Writing the noun dependant (a person, usually a child or spouse) instead of the preposition dependent (reliant on).
    • Writing the preposition past (beyond) instead of passed (past tense of to pass).
    • Writing the preposition between (usually used with two distinct points) instead of the preposition among (in the middle of a group).
    • Writing the verb accept (receive willingly) instead of the preposition except (apart from).
    • Writing the preposition beside (near) instead of the preposition besides (except).
    These are covered in more detail in the Easily Confused Words chapter.

    (Issue 4) Keeping writing succinct

    Some phrasal verbs (i.e., multi-word verbs) have prepositions that do not add anything. When you encounter one of these, delete the prepositions to improve succinctness.
    • I cannot face up to the consequences.
    • (This is correct, but it's not succinct.)
    • I cannot face the consequences.
    • (This is sharper. The prepositions were a waste of ink.)

    Key Points

    • You can end a sentence in a preposition, but you run the risk of irking people who still think you can't.
    • Don’t say "between you and I" or "from my wife and I". They're both wrong.
    • "Too" means overly or as well. "To" doesn't.
    • Write "have" not "of" when expanding a contraction like would've.
    • "Dependent" means reliant on. A "dependant" is a person.
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