It has been said that all things relate to each other. In English, prepositions describe relationships, even if not of the metaphysical sort.
Prepositions express a relationship of a noun or pronoun to another word or phrase in the sentence. The relationship can involve physical location, time, or an emotional connection. A prepositional phrase can act as an adjective or adverb by indicating when or how an action occurred.
A simple test for prepositions is to consider a house or box.
He went ______ the house.
He went… under, inside, outside, into, around, behind… the house.
For prepositions of manner or action, consider the noun “opinion.”
He disagreed with the opinion.
She wrote about her opinion.
Understanding relationships is easier with physical objects than with conceptual nouns. For some, it is easier to memorize the common prepositions and analyze sentences after identifying those prepositions.
|around||by||minus (elevation)||plus (elevation)||with|
A prepositional phrase includes the preposition, its object, and any modifiers. The noun or pronoun at the end of the phrase is the “object” of the preposition, though the noun is being related to another noun or pronoun in the sentence. Sometimes the preposition relates to the action of a noun or pronoun. In these cases, the preposition indirectly modifies the verb.
We went to the new store on Friday.
In the example, “to” and “on” introduce consecutive prepositional phrases. It is common to have multiple prepositional phrases in a sentence, often relating to the same word. Both objects relate to “we went” in this sentence. Some grammarians would explain the prepositional phrases relate to the pronoun “we” while others stress the modification of “went.” Much like adverbs, the phrases indicate where and when.
Compound prepositions are common, but we suggest avoiding them. Compound prepositions conflict with our philosophy of writing concisely.
|according to||by way of||instead of|
|ahead of||in front/back of||on account of|
|apart from||in regard to||out of|
|because of||in reference to||up to|
|by means of||in spite of||with respect to|
The use of compound prepositions has led writers to use compound prepositions that do not exist. These imaginary prepositions might sound correct, but avoid them. They are called imaginary because we “imagine” they sound correct.
We think “all of” is the most common imaginary preposition. The correct use is “all” by itself; there is no prepositional phrase.
Selecting the correct preposition can be challenging. The following are examples of the challenges facing writers and editors.
- He agrees to your suggestions regarding the schedule.
- I agree with him.
- We agree on a meeting schedule.
- He was angry at the new puppy for the mess.
- He was angry about the dumped trash.
- She was angry with her husband for not taking out the trash.
- The new orchid differs from other small varieties.
- I differ with your notion of beauty among flowers.
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________. Pocket Style Manual. 4th ed. Boston: Bedford, 2004. (ISBN: 0312406843)
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Shertzer, Margaret. The Elements of Grammar. New York: MacMillian Publishing, 1986. (ISBN: 0020154402)