Preposition – Definition

If you’ve been studying grammar for a while, you may be wondering, what is a preposition? One of the more difficult aspects of mastering English would be to fully understand how to use prepositions properly.

In short, the definition of Preposition is a word used to link nouns, pronouns, and phrases to other kinds of words in a sentence. Prepositions are usually short words that are normally placed before the noun or pronoun they affect.

Prepositions express where something is or when something happened.

  • I love studying in my room.
  • He drove up the hill.
  • Please be on time.
  • He threw the ball across the field.
  • She went with her sister.

Types of Prepositions

Prepositions can be used to indicate time, place, direction, location and

  1. Preposition of Time
  2. Preposition of Space – Place, Position, and Direction
  3. Other
Time Space (Place) Space (Position) Space (Direction) Other
After Above Beyond Across Against
Before Across By Into except
By Among From On As
For At In Opposite About
During Away from In front of Out (of) With
From Behind Inside Outside Like
At Below Into Over For
Throughout Beside Near Around Without
  Between Off Toward By
  Next Down Under  
  Along   Up  

What is a Preposition of Time?

A preposition of time is a preposition that refers to a specific time or period. It could be used to indicate a date on a calendar, days of the week, or an actual time of when an action takes place.

There are some words that are shared between the preposition of space. However, they have different functions and serve a different purpose.

English Usage Example
On Days of the week On Monday
In Months/seasons In January / in spring
  Time of day In the morning
  Year In 2019
  After a certain period of time In three hours
At For night At night
  A certain point of time At ten after five
Since From a certain point of time in the past until now Since 1990
For Over a certain period of time from past until now For 7 years
Ago A certain time in the past 4 years ago
Before Earlier than a certain point of time Before 2000
After In the time following (an event or another period of time) After 2000
To Telling the time Ten to five (4:50)
Past Telling the time Ten after five (5:10)
From + To/till/until Marking beginning and end of a time period From 9 am until 5 pm
Till/until To say how long something will last The shop will be open until 10 pm
By At the latest She will submit her work by midnight
  Up to a certain time I had finished all my work by noon

How to use ON as a time preposition:

The preposition ‘ON’ is used to indicate certain days of the week, dates, and special days like holidays.

  • I go swimming on Saturdays.
  • April fool’s day is on April 1st.
  • Please sing for me on my wedding day.

How to use IN as a time preposition:

The preposition ‘IN’ is used to indicate years, months, seasons, centuries, general times of the day, and long periods of time.

  • I got my first job in 2010.
  • It’s very windy in April.
  • It snows heavily in winter.
  • Edison existed in the 20th century.
  • She betrayed me in the past.

How to use AT as a time preposition:

The preposition ‘AT’ is used to indicate time that appears on the clock, holidays and festivals, and specific time frames.

  • He gets off work at 7 pm.
  • Let’s meet at the Thailand Water Festival.
  • She cries in her bed at night.

How to use BEFORE and AFTER as a time preposition:

The preposition ‘BEFORE’ and ‘AFTER’ explains when something happened, happens or will happen in relation to some other event, action or time.

  • Before working in this company, I used to work in a minimum wage job.
  • I come to this restaurant after every big meeting.
  • I before E, except after C

How to use DURING and THROUGHOUT as a time preposition:

The preposition ‘DURING’ can indicate throughout the course or a period. It can also explain a particular point in time within the course of an event or action taking place.

However, ‘THROUGHOUT’ indicates entirety of the course or period, from beginning to end.

  • I was thinking of Mindy during math class.
  • My date got hit in the head by banana during our date.
  • Mike has been popular throughout his high school life.

How to use ABOUT and AROUND as a time preposition:

The preposition ‘ABOUT’ and ‘AROUND’ indicates something that happened, happens or will happen within a particular time. They both express a general idea, but not specific of when an action or event takes place.

  • She usually comes back home around 10 pm.
  • It was about 5 am in the morning when everyone heard the scream.
  • Chinese New Year usually takes places around January or February.

How to use UNTIL and BY as a time preposition:

The preposition ‘UNTIL’ means ‘up to (a certain time)’. We can also use it paired with ‘FROM’ to express when some action takes begins and ends. ‘UNTIL’ can be shortened to ‘TILL’ or ‘TIL’ (informal), but the latter is considered to be informal in writing.

  • I have until midnight to hand in my homework.
  • The class will be running from spring until fall.
  • We played videogames till 3 am in the morning.

The preposition ‘BY’ is used to talk about something that will happen before a particular time or deadline. Do not use ‘UNTIL’ in these sentences.

  • The concert will finish by 10 pm.
  • I will be back in Canada by May 6th.
  • She should be here by five, or else she’ll be in trouble.

What is a Preposition of Space (Place, Position, Direction)

A preposition of space encompasses three types of space related prepositions: Place, Position and Direction. They describe position, location, directions and movement. In order to understand, ‘what is a preposition of space?’, you’ll want to understand what each type does to the sentence.

 They each play a different but similar role in certain sentences; you’ll need to practice using them to understand how they modify the overall structure of the sentence.

There are some prepositions that are shared with preposition of time; however, they have a different function. You’ll need to understand the difference in order to grasp the idea of what is a preposition of space.

English Usage Example
In room, building, street, town, country in the kitchen, in London
  book, paper, etc. in the book
  car, taxi, van, limo in the car, in a taxi
  picture, world in the picture, in the world
At meaning next to, by an object at the door, at the station
  for table at the table
  for events at a concert, at the party
  place where you are to do something typical (watch a film, study, work) at the cinema, at school, at work
On Attached the picture on the wall
  for a place with a river London lies on the Thames.
  being on a surface on the table
  for a certain side (left, right) on the left
  for a floor in a house on the first floor
  for public transport on the bus, on a plane
  for television, radio on TV, on the radio
By, next to, beside left or right of somebody or something Jane is standing by / next to / beside the car.
Under on the ground, lower than (or covered by) something else the bag is under the table
Below lower than something else but above ground the fish are below the surface
Over covered by something else put a jacket over your shirt
  meaning more than over 16 years of age
  getting to the other side (also across) walk over the bridge
  overcoming an obstacle climb over the wall
Above higher than something else, but not directly over it a path above the lake
Across getting to the other side (also over) walk across the bridge
  getting to the other side swim across the lake
Through something with limits on top, bottom and the sides drive through the tunnel
To movement to person or building go to the cinema
  movement to a place or country go to London / Ireland
  for bed go to bed
Into enter a room / a building go into the kitchen / the house
Towards movement in the direction of something (but not directly to it) go 5 steps towards the house
Onto movement to the top of something jump onto the table
From in the sense of where from a flower from the garden

How to use IN as a space preposition:

The preposition ‘IN’ means inside or within confined boundaries. This can mean almost anything such as a literal location like room, house, country, city, book, etc. This can also talk about a figurative location like ‘an idea in your head’.

  • My mom’s locket is in the kitchen.
  • Her last words were written in her book.
  • There’s a whole different world in your head!

How to use AT as a space preposition:

The preposition ‘AT’ is used to refer to a specific location, events, or a place where an action is performed. It can also mean ‘located in’.

  • I met my best friend at school.
  • My sister was crowned prom queen at prom night.
  • I was working all day at the library.

How to use ON as a space preposition:

The preposition ‘ON’ can refer to something that has a surface, attaching to, floor of a building, public transportation, and more.

  • Your keys are on the table.
  • The mirror is on the wall.
  • I’m on the 5th floor.
  • Get on the bus.

How to use BY, NEXT TO, and BESIDE as a space preposition:

The preposition ‘BY’, ‘NEXT TO’, and ‘BESIDE’ refer to the left or right of something or somebody.

  • He was by the river last night.
  • She stood next to the door.
  • My friend sat beside me throughout our fourth grade.

How to use UP, OVER, DOWN, PAST, and AROUND as a space preposition:

The preposition ‘UP’, ‘OVER’, ‘DOWN’, ‘PAST’ and ‘AROUND’ indicate directions of movement.

  • She flew up to the sky.
  • He climbed over the fence.
  • Mother walked down the stairs.
  • Father ran past the bookstore.
  • We drove around the school.

How to use TO and TOWARDS as a space preposition:

The preposition ‘TO’ usually refers to moving to person, building, place, country or any other location. It can also precede ‘sleep’ or ‘bed’ when referring to the action of sleeping.

  • She went to her brother and asked him a question.
  • I went to the bank last night to withdraw money.
  • I went to bed early last night.

The preposition ‘TOWARDS’ indicates a movement to a particular direction, but not directly.

  • The tired man walked towards the exit.
  • She fixed her gaze towards the teacher.

How to use ACROSS as a space preposition:

The preposition ‘ACROSS’ indicates movement from one side to another or passing over a location.

  • He ran across the entire field to catch the ball.
  • I went across the border to Canada to go sightseeing.

How to use THROUGH as a space preposition:

The preposition ‘THROUGH’ refers to moving directly inside something and coming out of the other end. It can also refer to the top, bottom and side being limited.

  • She drove through the tunnel.
  • My little boy threw a baseball through the window.

How to use INTO as a space preposition:

The preposition ‘INTO’ means looking inside or moving inside.

  • Alice fell into the rabbit hole.
  • She peeked into the window and saw a gruesome sight.
  • Mark went into the room he was warned not to enter.

What is a Prepositional Phrase?

What is a prepositional phrase? To answer that simply, it is a modifying phrase that consists of a preposition and its object.

Prepositions are words that indicate relationships between various elements within a sentence, so a prepositional phrase is a group of words that contain a preposition.

For the following examples, the prepositional phrases will be bolded, the word they are modifying will be underlined.

Prepositional Phrase functioning as Adjective Phrase

The prepositional phrase functions as an adjective in the following examples, modify the noun in which it is describing.

  • The basketball behind the counter belongs to Michael Jordan.
  • We stayed at a hotel beside the beach.
  • The man with my mom is my dad.
  • The girl with big eyes is beautiful.
  • The mirror on the wall spoke to the evil queen.

Prepositional Phrase functioning as Adverb Phrase

The prepositional phrase functions as an adverb in the following examples, modifying the verb in which it is describing.

  • I hate it when people talk during dinner.
  • We climbed up the mountain to reach our goal.
  • She looked around the room for her special goggles.
  • Let’s talk after you’re done.
  • The sun rose over the hill, shining everywhere.
  • I searched under the car for her keys.

Bottom Line

Now that you’ve learned all about what is a preposition, you’ll want to check out the other 8 parts of speech. Familiarize yourself with what is a conjunction, noun, verb, adjective, adverb, pronoun, and interjection.

You can also master English by knowing how to use determiners properly. It’s always a good idea to review your English grammar by checking out ESL Workshop.

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