Prepositions


It has been said that all things relate to each other. In English, prepositions describe relationships, even if not of the metaphysical sort.

Preposition (prep.)

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.

Common Prepositions

about
above
across
after
against
along
amid
among
around
at
behind
before
below
beneath
beside
besides
between
beyond
but
by
despite
down
during
except
for
from
in
inside
into
like
near
of
off
on
onto
opposite
out
outside
over
past
since
through
till
to
toward
under
underneath
until
up
upon
with
within
without

Prepositional Phrases

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

Compound prepositions are common, but we suggest avoiding them. Compound prepositions conflict with our philosophy of writing concisely.

Compound Prepositions

according to
ahead of
apart from
because of
by means of
by way of
in front/back of
in regard to
in reference to
in spite of
instead of
on account of
out of
up to
with respect to

Imaginary Prepositions

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.

Problematic Prepositions

Selecting the correct preposition can be challenging. The following are examples of the challenges facing writers and editors.

agree to/with/on:

He agrees to your suggestions regarding the schedule.

I agree with him.

We agree on a meeting schedule.

angry at/about/with:

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.

differ from/with:

The new orchid differs from other small varieties.

I differ with your notion of beauty among flowers.


Sources

Scholastic Writer’s Desk Reference. New York: Scholastic, 2000. (ISBN: 0439216508)

Christ, Henry I. Modern English in Action, Ten. Boston: D. C. Heath and Co, 1965.

Ellsworth, Blanche and John A. Higgens. English Simplified. 10th ed. New York: Pearson Education, 2004. (ISBN: 0321104293)

Hacker, Diana. The Bedford Handbook. 5th ed. Boston: Bedford, 1998. (ISBN: 0312247567)

Hacker, Diana. Pocket Style Manual. 4th ed. Boston: Bedford, 2004. (ISBN: 0312406843)

Mulvey, Dan. Grammar the Easy Way. Hauppauge, N.Y: Barron's, 2002. (ISBN: 0764119893)

Rozakis, Laurie E. Grammar and Style. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to. New York: Simon & Schuster, Alpha Books, 1997. (ISBN: 0028619560)

Shertzer, Margaret. The Elements of Grammar. New York: MacMillian Publishing, 1986. (ISBN: 0020154402)

Strunk, William and E. B. White. The Elements of Style. 3rd ed. New York: MacMillan Publishing, 1959. Reprint 1979. (ISBN: 0024182001)



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Writer: C. S. Wyatt
Updated: 30-Nov-2013
Editor: S. D. Schnelbach