LAVC Writing Center
Prepositions act as locators in time, space, and manner. A preposition describes the relationship between other words in a sentence. They are almost always combined with other words in structures called “prepositional phrases” which take on a modifying role, acting as an adjective or an adverb. Prepositional Phrases consist of a preposition followed by a determiner and an adjective, followed by a pronoun or a noun (the object of the preposition). They are used to locate something in time and space, modify a noun, and tell where or when or under what conditions something happened. Here are some guides to using Prepositions in your own writing to clarify things such as time, place, location, and movement.
Time: at, on, in, for, and since
We use at to designate specific times.
The train is due at 12:50 p.m.
We use on to designate days and dates.
My brother is coming on Monday.
We’re having our party on the Fourth of July.
We use in for nonspecific times during a day, a month, a season, or a year.
She likes to jog in the morning.
It’s too cold in winter to run outside.
He started the job in 1971.
He’s going to quit in August.
We use for when we measure time (seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years).
He held his breath for seven minutes.
She's lived there for seven years.
The British and Irish have been quarreling for seven centuries.
We use since with a specific date or time.
He's worked here since 1970.
She's been sitting in the waiting room since two-thirty.
Place: at, on, and in
We use at for specific addresses.
Jane Smith lives at 55 Boretz Rd in Durham.
We use on to designate names of streets, avenues, etc.
Her house is on Boretz Rd.
We use in for the names of land-areas (towns, counties, states, countries, and continents).
She lives in Durham.
Durham is in Windham County.
Windham County is in Connecticut.
Location: in, at, and on and no preposition
We typically use the preposition in for these words:
(the) bed* the bedroom school*
the library* the car (the) class*
We typically use the preposition at for these words:
class* home school*
the library* the office work
We typically use the preposition on for these words:
the bed * the ceiling the plane
the floor the horse the train
We do not use prepositions with the following words:
downstairs downtown upstairs
inside outside uptown
* These words can be used with various prepositions.
Movement: to and no preposition
We use to in order to express movement toward a place.
They were driving to work together.
She is going to the dentist's office this morning.
Toward and towards are also helpful prepositions to express movement. These are simply variant spellings of the same word; use whichever sounds better to you.
We're moving toward the light.
This is a big step towards the project's completion.
We use no preposition with the words home, downtown, uptown, inside, outside, downstairs, or upstairs.
Grandma went upstairs.
Grandpa went home.
They both went outside.
Sometimes prepositions are so commonly used with other words that they together convey one meaning. In these cases you will always use the two words together. This occurs in three categories: nouns, adjectives, and verbs.
|approval of||fondness for||need for|
|awareness of||grasp of||participation in|
|belief in||hatred of||reason for|
|love of||hope for||respect for|
|concern for||interest in||success in|
|confusion about||desire for||understanding of|
|afraid of||fond of||proud of|
|angry at||happy about||similar to|
|aware of||interested in||sorry for|
|capable of||jealous of||sure of|
|careless about||made of||tired of|
|familiar with||married to||worried about|
A combination of verb and preposition is called a phrasal verb. The word that is joined to the verb is then called a particle.
|apologize for||give up||prepare for|
|ask about||grow up||study for|
|ask for||look for||talk about|
|belong to||look forward to||think about|
|bring up||look up||trust in|
|care for||make up||work for|
|find out||pay for||worry about|
Identify the prepositions in the following paragraph about the qualities of a desk.
You can sit before the desk (or in front of the desk). The professor can sit on the desk (when he's being informal) or behind the desk, and then his feet are under the desk or beneath the desk. He can stand beside the desk (meaning next to the desk), before the desk, between the desk and you, or even on the desk (if he's really strange). If he's clumsy, he can bump into the desk or try to walk through the desk (and stuff would fall off the desk). Passing his hands over the desk or resting his elbows upon the desk, he often looks across the desk and speaks of the desk or concerning the desk as if there were nothing else like the desk. Because he thinks of nothing except the desk, sometimes you wonder about the desk, what's in the desk, what he paid for the desk, and if he could live without the desk. You can walk toward the desk, to the desk, around the desk, by the desk, and even past the desk while he sits at the desk or leans against the desk.
All of this happens, of course, in time: during the class, before the class, until the class, throughout the class, or after the class.
This handout is based on the following texts:
Capital Community College. “Guide to Grammar and Writing.” Charles Darling. Hartford, Connecticut. 22 Sep 99. 17 Nov 03.
For further reference, see the following books:
Beason, Larry and Mark Lester. A Commonsense Guide to Grammar and Usage. Boston: Bedford, 2000.
Langan, John. English Skills. 6th ed. Boston: McGraw Hill, 1997.
All of the above texts are available in The Writing Center.