Prepositions are connecting words that show the relationship among words in a sentence. Nouns, pronouns, gerund phrases, or noun clauses can be the objects of prepositions. Together with the preposition they form a prepositional phrase. These phrases serve as adjectives modifying nouns and pronouns or as adverbs modifying verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs.
- Put it in the box. (The noun box is the object of in; the prepositional phrase serves as an adverb and modifies the verb put.)
- Give this to the usher on the right. (The noun right is the object of on; the phrase is used as an adjective, modifying the noun usher.)
- After telling them a story, he put the children to bed. (The gerund phrase telling them a story is the object of the preposition after.)
- Because of what they told us, we cut our trip short. (The noun clause what they told us is the object of the preposition because of.)
Following is a list of some of the most commonly used prepositions.
Although most prepositions called phrasal prepositions. They are used frequently in spoken and written communication.
by way of
in care of
in case of
on behalf of
in spite of
on account of
on the side of
- In care of (c/o) is a common symbol used in correspondence. (In care of is a phrasal preposition that serves as the subject of the verb is.)
- They traveled by way of Vermont. (The phrasal preposition by way of modifies the verb traveled. The noun Vermont is the object of the phrase.)
Common Errors to Avoid
Prepositions are among the most overworked words in the English language. Use the following guidelines to avoid committing two of the more common errors.
- Avoid putting unnecessary prepositions at the end of sentences.
- Incorrect: Where are my keys at?
- Correct: Where are my keys?
- Incorrect: Can I go with?
- Correct: Can I go? Can I go with you?
- Incorrect: Where did that remote get to?
- Correct: Where is that remote?
- Informal writing and business communications, avoid putting the preposition at the end of a sentence. Rewrite the sentence so that it has a correct prepositional phrase.
- Avoid: They were not sure which college they should apply to.
- Better: They were not sure to which college they should apply. (The preposition is now part of the phrase to which college.)
- Avoid: Ask not whom the bell tolls for.
- Better: Ask not for whom the bell tolls.
Prepositions Used with Verbs
These guidelines are not rigid. Winston Churchill once remarked, “This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.”
Obviously, there will be exceptions to the rule, particularly when prepositions are used with verbs. In the quote by Churchill, the verb-preposition form is to put up with. In writing, however, it is best to recast the sentence to read “I will not put up with this sort of English.”
Prepositions are used with verbs to change the meaning slightly or to distinguish between people and objects.
- accompany by (a person)
- accompany with (an object)
- The president was accompanied by his wife.
- The form was accompanied with a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
Knowing when to use the right preposition with a verb can be a challenge.