In the English language, prepositions can be tricky to master because they’re usually idiomatic. However, there are some rules and tips for how to use them correctly. In this article, we’ll look at some of these rules, how to use prepositions in sentences, and some common prepositional phrases.
What Is a Preposition?
A preposition or prepositional phrase goes before a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase to indicate the time, location, or spatial position. There are many prepositions in English, and they all have specific uses and meanings with some general rules of use.
Prepositions of Direction
Prepositions of direction include to, in, into, on, and onto. These are used when describing the motion or direction of a person or thing.
I am driving to school now. I’ll be there soon.
Did you see the dog walking in the library?
Hurry into the classroom so we can get started.
Please merge onto the exit ramp here.
Prepositions of Time
The most common prepositions of time are at, in, and on. They each have specific uses, as described in these examples.
At is used with a specific time of day or with noon, night, or midnight.
We’re meeting at 8 o’clock tomorrow.
See you at noon to discuss this.
Bats are active at night.
I generally go to sleep at midnight.
In is used for unspecific times of the day (e.g., evening, morning, afternoon), months, years, or seasons.
enjoy long walks in the evening.
In March, we’re taking a holiday.
My daughter was born in 2001.
She likes seeing the cherry blossoms in the spring.
On is used in relation to days of the week.
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On Saturdays, I have piano lessons.
We go to the park on Sundays to see the local artists.
Prepositions of Place
There are several prepositions of place, all of which are used to indicate where someone or something is. For example, in is used to refer to the exact location, at is used in relation to a general area, on is used for surfaces, and inside is used when talking about containers.
I am in the kitchen.
Let’s meet at the coffee house.
Your keys are on the table.
I found this toy inside my dresser.
For objects that are above something else or overhead, use over or above. On the other hand, you should use below, beneath, under, or underneath for objects that are lower.
Did you see the plane fly over the school?
The medicine is above the sink.
The basement is beneath the garage.
The blanket is under the sofa.
Jimmy is underneath the box.
For objects that are close by or near something else, use by, near, next to, between, among, or opposite.
My house is by the school.
She lives near me.
When you arrive, park next to my car.
You can park between the red cars.
Look at all the seagulls among the trash.
The neighbor opposite me is not friendly.
Verbs and Prepositions
As mentioned earlier, many prepositions are idiomatic, meaning they work with specific verbs. Here’s a short list of some common verb + preposition combinations to remember.
Verb + To
You need to apologize to your sister.
I didn’t agree to these terms.
Who does this backpack belong to?
I’m listening to music.
He needs to talk to you about this issue.
Verb + For
Please apologize for cheating.
Did you apply for that job?
I need to pay for my food before we leave.
He’s waiting for the bus.
What are you looking for?
I work for a government agency.
My mother cares for my grandma.
Verb + From
My little sister graduated from university today.
I’m recovering from an illness.
My mother suffers from chronic fatigue.
He needs to resign from his job.
She’s finally retiring from her job after 50 years.
Verb + On
I want to congratulate you on your new job.
Could you elaborate on this?
My work is based on research.
The president didn’t comment on this matter.
She’s a person you can count on.
Please leave me alone. I need to concentrate on my homework.
Verb + At
Let me take a look at that.
Don’t stare at people.
What’s that man laughing at?
We’ll arrive at noon.
That woman is smiling at me.
Verb + With
He doesn’t agree with his boss.
You should not associate with people like that.
Can we discuss this with her?
My neighbor doesn’t like dealing with the police.
I need help with my homework.
The car collided with another car on the freeway.
Verb + About
What are you arguing about?
Can I ask you about this problem?
I need to think about this before I can answer your question.
Don’t worry about it too much.
I care about animals too much.
Please forget about the whole thing.
What are those people protesting about?
There are many prepositions in English. Some have clear rules, and others may need memorizing if you want to use them correctly. If you’re struggling with English grammar in your writing, check out our Common ESL Writing Errors guide. Or why not have a proofreader help? We offer a free trial to help make your writing clean, clear, and professional. Try it out today!