(Use, particularities, and categories of English prepositions)

Table of contents – prepositions

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Use of prepositions
  2. Types of prepositions
  3. Word combinations with prepositions
  4. Further explanations and exercises

What are prepositions and what needs to be considered?

Prepositions are short words that connect individual or groups of words in a clause. Among other things, they establish spatial or temporal relationships between the elements of a sentence without which the statement might often become incomprehensible.

The particular difficulty in using prepositions, especially in the English language, is the lack of comprehensive rules. Such an absence means primarily for the English learner that many of them simply need to be learned by heart. Unfortunately, it is frequently the case that prepositions in other languages do not correspond to their English counterpart in terms of their meaning and may even distort it. Note accordingly:

  • In many cases, prepositions cannot be translated directly from another language into English. To demonstrate this, take a look at the following examples taken from the German language:
    • German preposition ‘in’ compared to the English one:
      • German: „Christian schläft gerade in dem Zug nach Hamburg.“
      • English: “Christian is sleeping on the train to Hamburg at the moment.”
        • A direct translation with ‘in the train’ would be wrong.
    • German preposition ‘bei’ compared to the English ‘by’, as they sound similar:
      • German: „Wir treffen uns bei Jenny.“
      • English: “We’re meeting at Jenny’s.”
        • Directly translated with ‘by Jenny’s’ is also wrong.

What types of prepositions exist in English?

In general, English prepositions fall into different groups or categories. The most important ones are:

  • Prepositions …
    • … of place and direction, such as ‘in, at, on, to, off’, etc.:
      • “Maria was so tired; she stayed in bed the whole day.”
    • … of time, for example, ‘since, during, at, until’, etc.:
      • “Jason has been working for that company since 2009.”
    • … of manner and instrument/means, such as ‘with, by’, etc.:
      • “She made the present with love.”
    • … and some that are not part of these categories. Alternatively, they may be divided into further classes (such as reason, purpose, or cause). Examples are ‘for, by’, etc.:
      • “Gerald has taken the dog for a walk.”
  • Be careful: Very often, prepositions may belong to several of these groups. To make this clear, we will use the English preposition ‘in’ in the next example sentences:
    • “We bought our house in August.”
      • temporal aspect
    • “Sam and Hanna live in a very big house.”
      • spatial relation
    • “Could you say that again in English, please?”
      • to indicate manner

What word combinations include prepositions?

Besides the stand-alone prepositions listed above, English also offers many that are always combined with certain other prepositions or with additional words (see prepositions after verbs for details) on the one hand. On the other hand, some compositions that are merged from two prepositions occasionally happen. Compare:

  • Examples of combinations consisting of several individual prepositions or containing other words:
    • out of:
      • “He pulled some money out of his pocket.”
    • next to:
      • “My dad was standing next to my teacher.”
        • This shows the adverbnext’ together with ‘to’ as a preposition.
    • in front of:
      • “There’s a fire truck in front of our neighbor’s house.”
        • This phrase includes the two prepositions ‘in’ and ‘of’ in conjunction with the nounfront’.
  • Apart from this, compound prepositions may also occur. Examples:
    • in’ coupled with ‘to’ becomes ‘into’:
      • “My little brother loves to jump into the swimming pool.”
    • on’ coupled with ‘to’ becomes ‘onto’:
      • “The ranger got back onto his horse.”

Further explanations relating to the ‘Prepositions’

The following explanations are related to the topic ‘Use and particularities of English prepositions’ and could therefore be interesting too: