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1.39: Prepositions

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    an 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.
    • He was happy for them.

    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 atnight.
    • She sang untilthree in the morning.
    • He was happy forthem.

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

    • Financial limitationsnotwithstanding, Phil paid back his debts.
    • He was released three daysago.

    Prepositions of location are pretty easily defined (near, far, over, 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. All of the word types in this section—prepositions, articles, and conjunctions—are closed groups.

    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.)

    Identify the prepositions in the following sentences:

    1. I love every painting by Vermeer except for The Girl with the Pearl Earring.
    2. In spite of their fight, Beatriz wanted to know if she would still see Alexandre before lunch.
    3. He only talks about two things: his band and his dogs.

    [reveal-answer q=”478512″]Show Answer[/reveal-answer]
    [hidden-answer a=”478512″]

    The prepositions have been bolded in the sentences below:

    1. I love every painting by Vermeer except forThe Girl with the Pearl Earring.
    2. In spite of their fight, Beatriz wanted to know if she would still see Alexandre before lunch.
    3. He only talks about two things: his band and his dogs.


    Using Prepositions

    A lot of struggles with prepositions come from trying to use the correct preposition. Some verbs require specific prepositions. 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)

    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 J.K. Rowling or R. L. Stine,” both J. K. Rowling 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. Let’s look at this using a common phrase: “We 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 sentence is saying that we fell out of the frying pan and out of the fire, which would be preferable, but isn’t the case in this idiom.

    Prepositions in Sentences

    You’ll often hear about prepositional phrases. A prepositional phrase includes a preposition and its complement (e.g., “behindthe house” or “along time ago“). 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 agreed with hand his credit card over to the cashier.
    4. Last week Ngozi reconciled to the new prices and her new co-worker.

    [practice-area rows=”4″][/practice-area]
    [reveal-answer q=”196326″]Show Answer[/reveal-answer]
    [hidden-answer a=”196326″]

    1. Incorrect. The preposition for does not work with the preposition why. There are two potential revisions for this sentence:
      • Do you have any idea why Olivia keeps calling?
      • Do you have any idea what Olivia keeps calling for?
    2. Correct. The preposition in at the end of the sentence is necessary. “You have no idea how much trouble you are” means something different than the sentence’s original intent.
    3. Incorrect. The preposition is with. You agree with a person or an idea, but you agree to do something:
      • Luiz agreed to hand his credit card to the cashier.
      • Luiz agreed with handing his credit card to the cashier.
        • This sentence is still awkward; the first revision is the best choice.
    4. Incorrect. There’s a missing preposition in the sentence. It should read: “Last week Ngozi reconciled to the new prices and with her new co-worker.” You reconcile to a fact and with a person.


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