Learning Objectives

  • Correctly identify and use prepositions in a sentence

Prepositions are relation words; they can indicate location, time, or other more abstract relationships. A preposition combines with another word (usually a noun or pronoun) called the complement. Below, the prepositions are in bold, and their complements are in italics:An open box with two arrows pointing inside of it.

  • The woods behind my house are super creepy at night.
  • She sang until three in the morning.
  • They were happy for him.
  • He counted to three.

So far, all of the prepositions we’ve looked at are single words (and most of them are one syllable). The most common English prepositions are on, in, to, by, for, with, at, of, from, as.

There are also some prepositions comprised of more than one word:

  • in spite of (She made it to work in spite of the terrible traffic.)
  • by means of (He traveled by means of a boat.)
  • except for (Joan invited everyone to her party except for Ben.)
  • next to (Go ahead and sit down next to Jean-Claude.)

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Using Prepositions

Probably the greatest challenge with prepositions is knowing which one to use. Some verbs require specific prepositions.

Correct: I agree with Sabiya.
Incorrect: I agree to Sabiya.

Correct: The store is convenient to the high school.
Incorrect: The store is convenient to the teachers.

Here’s a table of some of the most commonly misused preposition/verb pairs:

different from comply with dependent on think of or about
need of profit by glad of bestow upon

Some verbs take a different preposition, depending on the object of the sentence:

agree with a person agree to a proposition part from (a person) part with (a thing)
differ from (person or thing) differ from or with an opinion confide in (to trust in) confide to (to intrust to)
reconcile with (a person) reconcile to (a statement or idea) confer on (to give) confer with (to talk with)
compare with (to determine value) compare to (because of similarity) convenient to (a place) convenient for (a purpose)

Multiple Prepositions

When multiple objects take the same preposition, you don’t need to repeat the preposition.

For example, in the sentence “I’ll read any book by Min Jin Lee or R. L. Stine,” both Min Jin Lee and R. L. Stine are objects of the preposition by, so it only needs to appear once in the sentence.

However, you can’t do this when you have different prepositions. Consider the familiar saying “He fell out of the frying pan and into the fire.” If you leave out one of the prepositions, as in “We fell out of the frying pan and the fire,” the statement suggests that we fell out of the frying pan and out of the fire—which might be a preferable outcome, but it’s a significant change of meaning!

Which Preposition?

The difference between beside and besides can be confusing. Beside means next to. Besides means in addition to.

  • I love to eat beside my dog.
  • Besides my dog, my husband and the cat eat beside me.

The difference between between and among can also be confusing. You should use between when referring to two people or things, and you should use among when referring to more than two people or things.

  • I hate to choose between ice cream and candy for dessert but it’s far better than choosing among all the vegetables at the salad bar.

Prepositions in Sentences

You may have heard about prepositional phrases. A prepositional phrase includes a preposition and its complement (e.g., “behind the house” or “from the post office“). These phrases can appear at the beginning or end of sentences. When they occur at the beginning of a sentence, they typically need a comma afterward:

  • You can drop that off behind the house.
  • Before a hurricane, it’s a good idea to board up your windows.

When they occur at the beginning of a sentence, they need a comma afterward:

  • As an editor, she does a lot of reading.

Ending a Sentence with a Preposition

It is 100 percent okay to end a sentence with a preposition. Let’s take a look at two examples to help us understand why it is best to avoid ending a sentence with prepositions unnecessarily. For example:

  • OK: Where are you at?
  • Better: Where are you?

If you remove at, the sentence becomes “Where are you?” This means the same thing, so removing at is a good idea.

  • OK: That’s not what it’s used for.
  • Incorrect: That’s not what it’s used.

When you remove for, the sentence becomes “That’s not what it’s used,” which doesn’t make sense.

If your sentence ends with a preposition and would still mean the same thing without the preposition, take it out.

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