A preposition is a word or group of words used before a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase to show direction, time, place, location, spatial relationships, or to introduce an object. Some examples of prepositions are words like “in,” “at,” “on,” “of,” and “to.”
Prepositions in English are highly idiomatic. Although there are some rules for usage, much preposition usage is dictated by fixed expressions. In these cases, it is best to memorize the phrase instead of the individual preposition.
A Few Rules
Prepositions of Direction
To refer to a direction, use the prepositions “to,” “in,” “into,” “on,” and “onto.”
- She drove to the store.
- Don’t ring the doorbell. Come right in(to) the house.
- Drive on(to) the grass and park the car there.
Prepositions of Time
To refer to one point in time, use the prepositions “in,” “at,” and “on.”
Use”in” with parts of the day (not specific times), months, years, and seasons.
- He reads in the evening.
- The weather is cold in December.
- She was born in 1996.
- We rake leaves in the fall.
Use “at”with the time of day. Also use “at” with noon, night, and midnight.
- I go to work at 8:00.
- He eats lunch at noon.
- She often goes for a walk at night.
- They go to bed at midnight.
Use “on” with days.
- I work on Saturdays.
- He does laundry on Wednesdays.
To refer to extended time, use the prepositions “since,” “for,” “by,” “during,” “from…to,” “from…until,” “with,” and “within.”
- I have lived in Minneapolis since 2005. (I moved there in 2005 and still live there.)
- He will be in Toronto for 3 weeks. (He will spend 3 weeks in Toronto.)
- She will finish her homework by 6:00. (She will finish her homework sometime between now and 6:00.)
- He works part time during the summer. (For the period of time throughout the summer.)
- I will collect data from January to June. (Starting in January and ending in June.)
- They are in school from August until May. (Starting in August and ending in May.)
- She will graduate within 2 years. (Not longer than 2 years.)
Prepositions of Place
To refer to a place, use the prepositions “in”(the point itself), “at”(the general vicinity), “on” (the surface), and “inside” (something contained).
- They will meet in the lunchroom.
- She was waiting at the corner.
- He left his phone on the bed.
- Place the pen inside the drawer.
To refer to an object higher than a point, use the prepositions “over” and “above.” To refer to an object lower than a point, use the prepositions “below,” “beneath,” “under,” and “underneath.”
- The bird flew over the house.
- The plates were on the shelf above the cups.
- Basements are dug below ground.
- There is hard wood beneath the carpet.
- The squirrel hid the nuts under a pile of leaves.
- The cat is hiding underneath the box.
To refer to an object close to a point, use the prepositions “by,” “near,” “next to,” “between,” “among,” and “opposite.”
- The gas station is by the grocery store.
- The park is near her house.
- Park your bike next to the garage.
- There is a deer between the two trees.
- There is a purple flower among the weeds.
- The garage is opposite the house.
Prepositions of Location
To refer to a location, use the prepositions “in”(an area or volume), “at”(a point), and “on”(a surface).
- They live in the country. (an area)
- She will find him at the library. (a point)
- There is a lot of dirt on the window. (a surface)
Prepositions of Spatial Relationships
To refer to a spatial relationship, use the prepositions “above,” “across,” “against,” “ahead of,” “along,” “among,” “around,” “behind,” “below,”
“beneath,” “beside,” “between,” “from,” “in front of,” “inside,” “near,” “off,” “out of,” “through,” “toward,” “under,” and “within.”
- The post office is across the street from the grocery store.
- We will stop at many attractions along the way.
- The kids are hiding behind the tree.
- His shirt is off.
- Walk toward the garage and then turn left.
- Place a check mark within the box.