Text: Prepositions

Icon of open box with two arrows going inside itPrepositions are relation words; they can indicate location, time, or other more abstract relationships. Prepositions are noted in bold in these examples:

  • 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.

A preposition combines with another word (usually a noun or pronoun) called the complement. Prepositions are still in bold, and their complements are in italics:

  • 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.

Prepositions generally come before their complements (e.g., in England, under the table, of Elena). However, there are a small handful of exceptions, including notwithstanding and ago:

  • Financial limitations notwithstanding, Phil paid back his debts.
  • He was released three days ago.

Prepositions of location are pretty easily defined (near, farover, under, etc.), and prepositions about time are as well (before, after, at, during, etc.). Prepositions of “more abstract relationships,” however, are a little more nebulous in their definition. The video below gives a good overview of this category of prepositions:

Note: The video said that prepositions are a closed group, but it never actually explained what a closed group is. Perhaps the easiest way to define a closed group is to define its opposite: an open group. An open group is a part of speech allows new words to be added. For example, nouns are an open group; new nouns, like selfie and blog, enter the language all the time (verbs, adjectives, and adverbs are open groups as well).

Thus a closed group simply refers to a part of speech that doesn’t allow in new words. Prepositions, pronouns, articles, and conjunctions are all examples of closed groups.


Identify the prepositions in the following sentences:

  1. The cow jumped over the moon.
  2. My favorite painting is The Girl with the Pearl Earring.
  3. Beatriz wanted to know if she would see Alexandre before lunch.
  4. All he does is talk about his band.

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

There are also some prepositions that have 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 boat.)
  • except for (Joan invited everyone to her party except for Ben.)
  • next to (Go ahead and sit down next to Jean-Claude.)

Prepositions in Sentences

You’ll often hear about prepositional phrases. A prepositional phrase includes a preposition and its complement (e.g., “behind the house,” “a long time ago,” and “as the saying goes“). These phrases can appear at the beginning or end of sentences. When they appear at the beginning of a sentence, they typically need a comma afterwards:

  • You can drop that off behind the house.
  • A long time ago, dinosaurs roamed the earth.
  • As the saying goes, hard work always pays off.

Ending a Sentence with a Preposition

As we just learned, it is totally okay to end a sentence with a preposition. And, as we saw, it can often make your writing smoother and more concise to do so.

However, it’s still best to avoid doing it unnecessarily. If your sentence ends with a preposition and would still mean the same thing without the preposition, take it out. For example:

Where are you at?

That’s not what it’s used for.

If you remove at, the sentence becomes “Where are you?” This means the same thing, so removing at is a good idea. However, if you remove for, the sentence becomes “That’s not what it’s used,” which doesn’t make sense.


Read each sentence and determine if the prepositions are being used correctly. If they are not, re-write the sentence.

  1. Do you have any idea why Olivia keeps calling for?
  2. You have no idea how much trouble you’re in.
  3. Luiz handed his credit card over to the cashier.
  4. He was going the beach after class.