Prepositions

The Prepositions

PREPOSITIONS

in grammar

Topic Introduction

The word PREPOSITION means “that (word) which is placed before (another word)”

For example:

He is in his office.

She is fond  of books.

I was talking  to him.

The words ‘in’, ‘of’, and ‘to’ are PREPOSITIONS.

A PREPOSITION is a word placed before a noun or a pronoun to show in what relation the person or thing expressed by it stands in regard to something else in an expression (or a sentence).

There is a newspaper on the table.

The word ‘on’ in the above sentence is showing the position of the newspaper in relation to the table; therefore ‘on’ is called a ‘preposition’.

Although there are only about one hundred and fifty preposition words in English language, the use of these simple-looking words is very complex.

The reason for this may be that these words are used as adverbs and particles, and are used in thousands of idioms and phrasal verbs.

[‘Adverbs’ are words that add to the meaning of verbs, i.e. how, when and where an action is done; and ‘particles’ are words that are used with other words to give different meanings from the actual meanings of the words.

Compare:

He stood up from his chair.    Adverb

He walked up the steps and entered the room. Preposition

He took the up escalator and reached the second floor of the building. Adjective

He upped his offer by a hundred dollars and bought the painting.   Verb

He took up the matter into his hands and solved the problem in no time. Particle  ( ‘took up’ = phrasal verb)

His business confidence is on the up.   Noun

He had to walk up hill to reach his small cottage. Prefix (= a letter or word used at the beginning of a word)]

As a learner of English you don’t have to know to which part of speech a word in a sentence belongs to; it is just that you use the right word in the right order depending on the context, but as a candidate taking a qualifying examination, you need to know the exact part of speech a word belongs to (in a given sentence, of course) because in grammar part of the question paper there may be some questions on ‘parts of speech’ popping up now and then.

However, once you learn the prepositions thoroughly, the other parts of speech (adverbs, particles, conjunctions) become easy to understand. And it is also important to remember that not all words fall under every part of speech!

Most of the verb words take certain preposition words to give some definite meanings.  Of the one hundred and fifty or so preposition words there are about fifty most frequently used ones, and once you learn them and the other words they are paired with most often, you can be confident of using them correctly when the real time comes.

Simple rules:

1.  a preposition is always followed by a noun, noun phrase or a pronoun word.  Even when a verb word is to be used, it is changed into its ‘noun form’ (gerund, verbal noun or ‘to-infinitive’ form):

e.g.   He wants to eat.

In this sentence ‘to’ is not a preposition; it may be called a ‘particle’ and the two words ‘to’ and ‘eat’ together are called the “to-infinitive” form of the verb word ‘eat’.  The main verb in this sentence is “wants”, and ‘to eat’ is used in the sense of a noun!

2.  Prepositions are never placed at the beginning of a sentence, especially in writing, but a phrase which is used at the beginning of a sentence may take a preposition.

KINDS OF PREPOSITIONS

There are three major categories in prepositions.  They are:

1. Simple Prepositions:

These are single words used in the very normal sense:

e.g.  at    by    on    in   from    off    of    out   through    till   with etc.

2.  Compound Prepositions:

These are generally formed by prefixing a preposition to a noun or an adjective or an adverb.

{‘Prefixing’ means attaching a letter or a group of letters to the front of the root (original) word.}

e.g.  across   along    before    behind    inside    outside    without   etc.

3.  Phrase Prepositions:

These are groups of words with the force of a single idea doing the job of a preposition…

e.g.   ‘by means of’   ‘for the sake of’   ‘in front of’    ‘instead of’   etc.

Important Points

There are some important points every learner must know about prepositions before ever attempting to use them.  They are:

1.  The noun or pronoun which comes after a preposition in a sentence is called the “object” of that particular preposition.  It is in the OBJECTIVE CASE and is said to be controlled by that preposition:

e.g.  Sam gave a book to Mary.

‘to’ Preposition —  ‘Mary’ noun – OBJECT of the preposition ‘to’ — no change in the form or Spelling because it is a Proper Noun

Mary gave a pen to him.

‘to’ Preposition – ‘him’ pronoun – OBJECT of the preposition ‘to’ — change in the form and spelling because it is the OBJECTIVE CASE of the pronoun ‘he’

Compare:

He talked to me.

‘to’ Preposition; ‘me’  Object of the preposition ‘to

He told me.

‘told’ Verb; ‘me’ Object of Verb ‘told’

2.  A preposition may have two or more objects in the same expression (or sentence):

e.g.  He made his speech in English and French.

‘in’ Preposition; ‘English and French’ two objects of the preposition

3.  A preposition is usually placed before its object, but sometimes it is placed after it:

e.g.  This is the house that you are looking for.

Where is the boy (whom) I was speaking of?

What is she talking about?

Which of these chairs did you sit on?

4.  Several words are used sometimes as adverbs and sometimes as prepositions.  We decide whether that particular word is an adverb or a preposition depending on the position and function of that word in the given sentence (expression):

e.g.  Go and run about. (adverb)

Don’t loiter about the street.  (‘about’ preposition before a noun phrase; ‘the street’ noun phrase)

Has he come in? (Adverb)

Is he in his room? (‘in’ preposition before a noun phrase; ‘his room’ noun phrase)

5.  As a general rule the object of a preposition is a noun or a pronoun; however, sometimes an adverb of time or place may be used as an object:

e.g.  Your job will be done by then.

[‘by’ preposition – ‘then’ adverb of time (= that time) object of the preposition ‘by’]

Come away from there.  [‘from’ Preposition – ‘there’ adverb of place (= that place) object of the preposition ‘from’]

6.  Sometimes the object of a preposition is an adverb phrase:

e.g.  The noise came from across the river.  (‘from’ Preposition – ‘across the river’ adverbial phrase showing place)

7.  A CLAUSE can also be the object of a preposition:

e.g.  There is no meaning in what you say.  (‘in’ Preposition – ‘what you say’ subordinate noun clause)

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Then there are some words which do the job of a preposition in certain expressions though they are not prepositions categorically.

Some of them are:

‘Than’ is a conjunction categorically, but sometimes it is used as a preposition.

e.g.  I can’t accept fewer than fifty dollars for this article.

(‘than’ conjunction used as a preposition – ‘fifty dollars’ a noun phrase)

‘But’ is a conjunction categorically, but sometimes it is used as a preposition…

e.g.  What can he do but die?           All is lost but honour.

(‘but’ Conjunction used as a preposition (here ‘but’ means “except”)

‘A’ is an ARTICLE categorically, but at times it is used as a preposition…

e.g.  I meet her once a week.            He pays me $ 50 a day.

[Article ‘a’ used as a preposition (in the sense of “per”)]

In certain situations some pairs of prepositions must be used with care because the noun that comes after the preposition decides which preposition word is to be used.

For example:

“in & at” – ‘in’ is used with large places… ‘at’ is used with small place

We all met at the airport in Delhi, India.

(‘at’ with small place = airport — ‘in’ with large place = Delhi)

“by & with” – [mostly used in ACTIVE & PASSIVE VOICE]

‘by’ is used for people (& also time)…

‘with’ is used for things…

The police officer was killed by a criminal with a knife.

(‘by’ with a person = a criminal  —  ‘with’ — a thing = a knife)

“beside & besides”  —  ‘beside’ means “by the side of”…

‘besides’ means “in addition to”…

The cottage is beside the pond.

(‘beside’ = by the side of the pond)

He has to feed two of his sister’s sons besides three of his.

(‘besides’ = in addition to’ i.e.  he has five children to feed – 3+2 =5)

“since & for (‘in’ )”  —  [with Present Perfect Tense of a verb word]

‘since’ is used with “point of time”…

‘for’ is used with “period of time”…

‘ in’ is used with the word “ages”…

You have studied English since 2006.   (‘since 2006’ = point of time)

You have studied English for three years.  (‘for three years’ = period of time)

I haven’t seen her in ages. (‘in ages’ = “for a long time”)

“between & among”:

Grandma wanted her estate to be shared between her grandson and granddaughter equally. ~~ Two children and the word ‘between’ is used.

Grandma wanted her estate to be shared out equally between her six grandsons.  ~~  In this sentence though there are more than two sons, the word ‘between’ is used because each grandson is taken separately and has an equal share.

Grandma wanted her estate to be shared among all her grandchildren.  ~~  Here there are more than two grandchildren taken as a group, and notice that there is no particular number of grandchildren mentioned. So the preposition ‘among‘ is preferred.

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Though the preposition words look small and easy to tackle, they are in no way simple! Learners make a lot of mistakes in using them, particularly the non-native speakers of English.

However, you are lucky in a way because most words take only certain (fixed) preposition words in most of the common expressions; and once you get to know them thoroughly, you can use these ‘little demons’ with fewer mistakes.

Here you are given a couple of lists to learn (by heart, if needed).

Note that these lists are not complete.  You must update these lists as you continue learning English language.

List A

According to, for the sake of, in consequence of

Agreeable to, in lieu of, in course of

Along with, in league with, in favour of

Away from, in accordance with, in front of

Because of, in addition to, with reference to

By means of, with a view to, with regard to

By reason of, on behalf of, in regard to

By virtue of, in case of, in spite of

By way of, in comparison to, instead of

In the event of, in compliance with, with an eye to

On account of, owing to, in order to

List B

Examples of some of the words which take more than one preposition giving a different meaning with each one are given at the end of this list.

abandon toabbreviate tobe absent frombe absorbed in

abstain from

accede to

accessible to

accord with

account for

(take into account)

be accountable to

accurate in

accuse of;

make an accusation against

acquaint with

acquit of

act on;

take action on

adapt to

add to

be addicted to

adhere to

adjacent to

adjust to;

make an adjustment to

admit to

advance on

affection for

affectionate to

be afraid of

agree about, on, over, to, with

be in agreement with

aim at

be allergic to

allocate to

allude to;

make an allusion to

alternate with

be amazed at, by

ambition for

ambitious of

amount to

amused at, by

be angry at (action); with (person)

anxiety for

be anxious about (person, action);

for (news)

apologise for (person, action);

to (another person)

make an apology for (person,

action); to (another person)

appeal for (help); to (person)

appetite for

applicable to;

be convenient for, to

convert into; to

convict of

convince of

cooperate with

cope with

correspond with

count on

credit with;

give credit for

be critical of;

make criticism of

be cruel to

cure {verb} of;

{noun} for

Deal in (goods, things);

with (matter, person)

decide about, on;

make a decision about, on

dedicate to

defective in

delight in

depend on

dependent on

deprive of

derive from

descend from

descendant of

desire for

desirous of

detach from

deter from

develop into

devoid of

devote to

die from; of

differ from;

be different from

be disappointed in;

be a disappointment to

discourage from

disgrace to

disgust with

dislike to

dismiss from

dispose of

disqualify from

be distant from

distrust of

divide into

doubt of

dream about, of;

have a dream about

dress in

be dressed in

drink to

due to

eligible for

limit with

be limited in; to

listen to

long [to have a desire or liking to

something very much] for;

have a longing for

loyal to

be lucky at; in

be mad about; on; with

marvel at

match for

mean by

merge into; with

mistake for;

make a mistake about

neglectful of

negligent in

negotiate on (matter);

with (person)

notorious for

obedience to

object to;

make an objection to

be occupied with; in

offer to;

make an offer to

operate on

opposition to

opt against; for; out of

part [to separate] with (things);

from (people)

partial to

partiality for

participate in

passion for

pay for

peculiar to

persist in

pity for;

take pity on

point at; to

be polite to

prefer to;

have a preference for

be prejudiced against

prepare for

present to (person); with (thing)

preserve from

pretext for

on the pretext of

prevent from

preventive of

proficient in

profit by

for(job)apply to (person); for (job)make an application to (person);approach to

be appropriate to

approve of

aptitude for

argue about (subject);

with (person)

have an argument about (subject);

with (person)

arrest for

ascribe to

be ashamed to (admit);

of (past action)

ask about (person, information);

for (person, help)

assent to

assign to

associate with

assurance of

be astonished at, by

attach to;

be attached to;

attachment to

attend to;

pay attention to

averse to

be aware of

bargain [=expect] for (thing);

with (person);

make a bargain with

bear [=tolerate] with

beg for (thing)

believe in;

have a belief in

belong to

beneficial to

benefit from

bet against; on

blame for;

take the blame for

boast about, of;

make a boast about

borrow from

be capable of

capacity for

care for; about;

take care of

cater for (American – to)

centre on

be certain about, of

change into; to;

emerge from

eminent for

encouragement to

be engaged in (business);

to (person)

enlist in

enmity between; with

entitle to

envious of

be equal to

equip with

escape from

excel in

except for

exception to

exclude from

excuse for; from;

make an excuse for

exemption from

experience of

be experienced in

experiment on; with

explain to

failure of

faithful to

false to

be familiar with

be famous for

feed on

fed up with

fertile in

fire [shoot with a gun] with

fit for

be fond of;

have a fondness for

be free from; of; with

be friendly towards, with;

make friends with

be frightened of

be full of

be furious about (action);

with (person)

be generous to (person);

with (money)

be gifted with

be glad of

glance at

be good at; for

be grateful for (action);

to (person)

be guilty of

be hard on

head [to go to a place in a particular

direction] for

hear about, of

prohibit from

prompt in

protect against, from

protest against

be proud of;

take  pride in

provide for; with;

make a provision for

punish for


qualify for

quarrel about, over (matter);

with (person)

react against; to

be ready for

reason about, on (subject);

with (person)

recover from

reduction in

refer to

reference to

refrain from

relation with

release from

relegate to

be relevant to

rely on

remarkable for

remind about; of

be replaced by, with

reply to

report on (event, person);

to (employer, authority);

for (duty)

reputation for

rescue from

resemblance to

reserve for;

make a reservation for

resign from

be resigned to

respect of

respectful to

be responsible for; to;

have responsibility for

result from; in; of

retire from (job); to (bed)

reward for (action); with (prize)

rhyme with

get rid of

rob of

be satisfied with

save from

send for

take trouble over;

make trouble for, with

be true to; of

trust in

be unaware of

be used to

be useful for (purpose);

to (person)

be vexed with, at

be vital to

vote for

wait for

want of

wish for

wonder at

work at;

be at work on

worry about, over

worthy of

yield [to give in, to surrender] to

make a change incharge for; withcheat out ofchoose between;

make a choice between

coincide with

collaborate in (action);

with (person)

combine with

comment on;

make a comment on

commit to

common to

communicate to; with

compare with;

make a comparison with

compassion for

compensate for

compete against, with (person);

for (prize)

complain about (thing);

of (person, thing);

make a complaint to (person);

about (thing, person)

compliment to

comply with

be composed of

compromise with

concentrate on

be concerned about; in; with

concession to

condemn for (crime);

to (punishment)

confer on (matter);

with (person)

confess to

confide in

be confident about, of;

have confidence in

confine to

conform to

confront with

congratulate on

be conscious of

consent to;

give consent to

consist of

be consistent with

contemporary of

contempt for

be content with

contrary to

contrast with

contribution to;

make a contribution to

hinder [stop] from

hindrance to

hint at

hope for

be ideal for

be identical to, with

identify with

ignorant of

implicate in

impose on

improve on;

make improvements in

incentive to

inconvenient to;

be an inconvenience to

indebted to

indifferent to

indulge in

infer from;

make an inference from

inject into; with

innocent of

inquire into; about

insert in

insist on

intimacy with

intercourse with

be interested in;

take an interest in

interfere in; with

introduce to

intrude on

invest in;

make an investment in

invitation to

be involved in

irrelevant to

issue to (person);

with (documents)

be jealous of

join to; in; up

judge {verb} by

be keen on

be kind to

laugh about (event);

at (person, joke)

lead to

lean on

leave to; with; for

lend to

be liable to

sensitive to

separate from

serve with

be set on

settle on

share in (business, project);

with (person);

have a share in

shoot at; take a shot at

be short of

be sick of

sigh for

signal to

be similar to

smell of

smile at

be sorry about (event);

for (person, action)

specialist in

spend on

spy on

stare at

steal from

be subject to

submit to;

submission to

substitute for

succeed in

sue for

suffer from

be suitable for

be superior to

supply to (person); with (goods)

be sure about, of

be surprised at, by

surrender to

susceptible to

suspicious of

swear about (event);

at (person)

sympathise with;

be in sympathy with

talk about (person, event);

have a talk to (person);

give a talk on (subject)

teem with

thank for;

give thanks for

be tired of

tolerance of, for

tolerant of, towards

trade in (goods); with (person)

transform into

translate into

treat for (illness);

with (medicine)

triumph over

trouble about; with

CERTAIN WORDS WITH DIFFERENT PREPOSITIONS, GIVING OUT DIFFERENT MEANINGS:

Care: I don’t care about her any more.     [I’m not worried about her.]

I don’t care for her any more.

[“I don’t like her any more.” Less frequently “I don’t look after her any more.”]

I’ll take care of her. [I’ll look after her.]

Change: I’m going to change into something cooler. [put on (wear) clothes]

The witch changed the prince into a frog.

[made him look like a frog; transformed]

We’re changing to summer time tonight.

[making a change of time from winter time (short days and long nights) to summer time (long days and short nights]

We’ve had to make a change in the programme.   [change our previous plan]

Communicate: Would you communicate our deepest sympathy to him?

[requesting somebody to give ‘him’ our sympathy, i.e. to let him know that

we are very sorry for…]

We find it difficult to communicate with them.  [make contact with them]

Compliment: He complimented her on her dress.   [he said that her dress was beautiful]

He paid a compliment to her.   [he said something good to her]

Be concerned: I’m concerned about the children.  [I’m worried about the welfare of the children]

Were you concerned in the affair?  [did you take part in the matter/affair]

He’s not concerned with that part of the business.

[it is not his responsibility to look after that part of the business]

Convert: The old building was converted into a theatre.

[the old building was made into or transformed into (used as) a theatre]

The premises were converted to more profitable uses.

[the place was altered to suit a more profitable purpose; made improvements to that place]

He was converted into a Buddhist.      {into a Buddhist = a person}

He was converted to Buddhism.          {to Buddhism = religion}

[he changed his religion]

Die: He died of pneumonia.  [the disease ‘pneumonia’ was the cause of his death]

He died from a fall.  [he died as a result of the fall (because he fell down) – ‘the fall’ did not kill him right at that time]

Experiment: He’s experimenting on mice.  He’s experimenting on tropical diseases.

[‘mice’ and ‘tropical diseases’ are the subjects of his experiments]

He’s experimenting with mice and tropical diseases.

[he is using ‘mice and tropical diseases’ in his experiments, probably trying to find out what will happen with them]

Be free: At last she was free from pain.  [now she was without pain]

The goods are free of tax.  [no need to pay tax on the goods]

He’s free with his money.  [he is not careful with his money; he spends it without care]

Be friendly: They were friendly towards the new comers.

[they were good, cooperative and happy with the new comers]

They were friendly with their neighbours.

[they were on good terms, i.e. they had no problems or quarrels with their neighbours]

Be good: She’s good at games.  [she plays games well]

That cricket bat is only good for practice.

[that bat is useful for practice; you cannot play any serious real matches with it]

Inject: They’re going to inject penicillin into the patient.  {the patient = a person}

They’re going to inject the patient with penicillin.  {penicillin = medicine}

Interfere: I’ve no wish to interfere in this matter.

I’ve no wish to interfere with you or what you’re doing.

Leave: He left the money to me.       He left the problem to me.

[he passed on the ‘money’ and ‘problem’ to me and now I got them; they were mine]

He left the money with me.    He left the problem with me.

[he passed on the ‘money’ and ‘problem’ to me and now they were my responsibility, but they were not mine]

Be limited: He’s limited in intelligence.   [he is not very clever or smart]

He’s limited to spending only two hours a day on chess.

[he is not allowed (or has no chance) to spend more than two hours on chess]

live: She lives at 15, High Street, ….., …. She lives on Maple Street.

She lives in New York.

Be lucky: He’s lucky at cards.  [he does very well while playing card games; it is not his talent but his winning happens by chance every time]

He’s lucky in love.     [he is successful in his love; he has his love]

Be mad: She’s mad about/on classical music.

[‘classical music’ – a thing – she likes it very, very much]

She’s mad with him.            She’s mad at him.

[‘him’ – a person – she is very, very angry with him]

Merge: A couple of small factories merged into a big company.

[several small things joined to form a big thing]

The water from the left canal merges with that of the right canal.

[the left canal water joins the right canal (to make a river)]

Mistake: I mistook that young man for your brother.

[I thought that that young man was your brother, but I was wrong;

either they both looked alike or I was not paying attention]

I’d never make a mistake about a thing like that.

[I am always very careful about things like that, so there is no chance of my doing wrong in such matters]

Be occupied: He’s occupied with a customer at the moment.

[he is busy with another person; talking or dealing with him/her]

He’s occupied in trying to work out the programme.

[he is busy planning the programme]

Opt: I opted for the higher offer.   [I chose the better offer]

I opted out of the business deal with him.

[I decided not to take part in that business deal]

Point: It’s rude to point at people.

[it is not good manners to show one’s finger or hand at people]

He was pointing to the mosque.

[he was showing or indicating where the mosque was]

{Note: “at” is used with ‘point’, ‘throw’, etc. to express or show anger}

Provide: You would be wise to provide for the future.

[make preparations for the future; be ready to face any problem that might arise in the future, usually the money problems a person faces in old age]

We provided them with food.          We provided for them.

[we gave them or supplied food for them —  notice the order of words: “with” food  and  “for”  them]

React: Naturally, we reacted against such a bad plan.

[we expressed or showed our dislike strongly]

How did the patient react to the drug?

[how did the patient feel, or show how he felt, after taking the medicine]

Remind:   Remind me about that matter tomorrow, will you?

[bring that matter to my attention; tell me that I should do…]

He reminds me of my cousin.

[he makes me remember my cousin, probably because he looks, behaves or talks like my cousin]

Be responsible: He’s responsible to his boss for what takes place in the office.

[his boss will question him for whatever happens; he is expected to explain

to his boss, and no one else can ask him to tell them what he has done]

He’s responsible for the children.

[he is the one to take care of the children; he looks after them; he is to answer if anything happens to the children]

Result: The explosion resulted from insufficient care being taken of the cooking gas cylinders.

[the gas cylinders were not carefully looked after, so the explosion took place]

The carelessness resulted in the explosion of the gas cylinders.

[their carelessness caused the explosion]

Trouble: I shouldn’t trouble about it.

[I don’t like to be bothered or disturbed by it]

He’s troubled with asthma.  [ he suffered from asthma]

I took a lot of trouble over it.  [I was very careful to do it well]

He could make trouble for you with your boss.

[he may cause you some problem; he may cause your boss to be annoyed (angry) with you, may be by telling some bad things about you]

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Before concluding this topic, the learners must note an important point:

It is not the end of the topic but only the beginning!  Because…

No one single book or course material can include all the rules and important points on any one particular topic.  There are many, many things one needs to learn.  And one learner may understand a particular point more easily than the other.

Some rules are deliberately avoided in this topic just to give the learner some food for thought!

So, come up with your ‘quarries’ and make learning a lively interactive task.

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