Common Prepositions

A common preposition is a single word that links and relates the object of the preposition (a noun or a pronoun) to the rest of the sentence, and answers questions like when, where, and how.

Here's a list of common prepositions. This isn't all of them, but it's enough to get you started:
- among
- around
- at
- before
- behind
- beneath
- beside
- by
- despite
- except
- for
- from
- in
- near
- off
- on
- out
- over
- past
- since
- through
- to
- toward
- under
- until
- upon
- with

 

Examples

" Abner fell asleep during geometry class."

In this angular example, the preposition during links class, the object of the preposition, to the rest of the sentence. It begins the prepositional phrase during geometry class that tells the reader when Abner was passed out and dreaming of quadrilaterals.

When did Abner fall asleep? During geometry class.

"Christine found $15.52 between the couch cushions."

Pizza's on Christine tonight. Here, the preposition between relates the object of the preposition, cushions, to the rest of the sentence. It begins the prepositional phrase between the couch cushions that tells us where all of Christine's cash came from.

Where did Christine find the money? Between the couch cushions.

" I bet it's difficult to sneeze without a nose."

Wiser words were never spoken. In this sentence, the preposition without links the object of the preposition, nose, to the rest of the sentence and answers the question how?

How is it difficult to sneeze? Without a nose. (Duh.)

 

Common mistakes

Into

The preposition into has many definitions that all relate to direction. He walked into the candy cane forest, Santa logged into his email…you get the idea.

In to

The word in can be an adverb, adjective, or a preposition, and the word to by itself can be an adverb or a preposition. Sometimes these two little words simply end up next to each other.

An example would be how the elves turn their toys in to Santa for evaluation. They turn them in. To whom? Santa. (You didn't think Santa only checked his list twice, now did you?)

If the in in in to/into is part of a phrasal verb, you'll want to leave that space in there. Phrasal verbs generally have two words, and they include a verb and either a preposition or an adverb—something like dig in and give in.

With over 200—count 'em, 200—of these phrases in the English language; do not even attempt to memorize them all. Trust us. We wasted way too much time and brainpower with zero results.

Examples:

"The woman refused to give into her parrot's squawking demand for a cracker."

"The golden retriever at the dog park was able to shove seven tennis balls into his mouth."

Which sentence uses the preposition into correctly? It's the second one. Where did the dog shove the tennis balls? Into his mouth, where else? The first sentence is incorrect because there's no direction involved. It should say that the woman refused to give in to her parrot. Welcome to the wonderful world of phrasal verbs, Shmoopers.

Let's keep it simple:
- Beside means next to.
- Besides means also or in addition to.

One is just a preposition and one is a preposition and an adverb. Can you guess which one is just a preposition? (Psst. It's "beside.")

Examples:

"Two people besides my sister were wearing flamingo earrings."

OR

"Two people beside my sister were wearing flamingo earrings."

Trick question, sucker. They're both right. But be careful because they mean two totally different things. The first sentence, "Three people besides my sister were wearing flamingo earrings," means "Three people in addition to my sister were wearing flamingo earrings." The second sentence, "Two people beside my sister were wearing flamingo earrings," means "Two people next to my sister were wearing flamingo earrings."

"Because we stopped feeding dog food to our pet turtle, he's much livelier.

"Since we stopped feeding dog food to our pet turtle, he's much livelier.

Which one's right?

Answer? Both. But here's the thing: they mean two different things:
- Because indicates a causal relationship. It's like saying "We stopped feeding dog food to our pet turtle, and because of that, he's much livelier."
- Since indicates a temporal (time-related) relationship. It's like saying "Our pet turtle has been a lot livelier starting from the time we stopped feeding him dog food."

To be honest, lots of people use because and since interchangeably, and we're guessing no one's going to slap a Scarlet G (for grammar) on you any time soon if you do it, too. But if you're taking a grammar quiz, you best know the difference.

Why is this here? Well, one can be a preposition and one is never ever a preposition. One thing we definitely know about prepositions is that they must have objects (or at least implied objects). To figure out which is a preposition, let's put a noun phrase after both of them and see which makes sense:
She hasn't laughed since the accident.
*She hasn't laughed because the accident.

Oops. She hasn't laughed because the accident what? Because it traumatized her? Looks like "because" isn't a preposition. Make sure you know which one you're using.

"Except" in general doesn't behave predictably, but we'll do our best in explaining this.

Except for and except are both just different ways of saying with the exception of. Easy peasy.

But wait—there's more.

"Except" by itself can be used as both a preposition and a conjunction. "Except for" is only used as a complex preposition-type thing.

Examples:

"I like every single ice cream flavor except for rocky road."

OR

"I like every single ice cream flavor except rocky road."

To be honest, we think both these examples are wrong (who doesn't like rocky road ice cream?), but grammatically, they're both correct. Except for and except both mean without or were it not for and are both used as prepositions here (with "rocky road" as the object).

"I like everything about you except that you have an evil twin."

OR

"I like everything about you except for that you have an evil twin."

In this case, only the first one is grammatically correct. Since "except for" functions as a preposition, it needs an object. The phrase "that you have an evil twin" can't be used as an object because it's a clause, which is why the second sentence is grammatically incorrect.

"Why is this section even here? None of these words are prepositions." Thank you—that's exactly what we're saying. Astute, Shmooper. Very astute.

People usually think that "to" is always a preposition. It's not. This little word can also be an infinitive marker. You can usually tell if it's an infinitive marker if it's followed by a verb. If it's followed by a noun phrase, it's a preposition. End of story.

Knowing that, we might as well discuss the difference between "try and" and "try to." Everybody will understand what you mean when you say try and. However, by inserting the preposition and in between try and whatever you're trying to do, you're separating these two actions. So if you're going to "try and dance," you will first try, and then you will dance.

So yeah, it doesn't make "logical" sense. This is what linguists call an idiom, or a colloquialism. And it's totally fine to use "try and" out loud because absolutely everyone will know what you mean. However…your English teachers might not like it in an essay. Womp womp.

Examples:

"I want to try and watch every episode of Friends in one day."

OR

"I want to try to watch every episode of Friends in one day."

No matter how you put it, it's just not possible. Two hundred and thirty-six episodes times 23ish minutes each (assuming you're watching on Netflix sans commercials and never getting up to pee)? That's like 90 hours—way more than the 24 we've given ourselves here.

But we digress. The first sentence is basically saying, "I want to try to do something that I'm not going to name, and then I'm going to watch every episode of Friends in one day." That's weirdly and unnecessarily mysterious, don't you think? Just stick with try to.

Are you writing a paper about panda bears or on panda bears? Technically, either one's right, but we suggest using about, just to get into the habit. After all, what happens when you're writing a paper on the moon? Do you think you get WiFi up there?

Yes. We're hilarious.

If you ever find yourself in a heated debate about preposition use, ask the other person where they're from. It's pretty likely there's just a regional difference. Here are a few examples of preposition use that can go either way depending on where you're from or what you're used to:
1. Quarter of vs. quarter to vs. quarter till (when referring to time)
2. On line vs. in line
3. Toward vs. towards

Even though these deviate from the standard, it's nothing to bite someone's head over.

Fun fact: a not-so-long time ago, a bunch of English grammarians decided that Latin was the best language ever. They thought Latin was so cool, in fact, that they tried to make English more like it. To do this, they applied Latin grammar rules to English.

And so a bunch of weird, arbitrary grammar commandments like "thou shalt not split infinitives" and "thou shalt not end a sentence with a preposition" were born.

Well, we say that's silly. You can totally do both of those things in English. People do it all the time and nothing bad ever happens, right?

Right. But there are still academic standards to consider, so we'll give you some guidance on that. Academics tend to say it's okay to end a sentence with a preposition as long as it "goes" with the verb. To determine this, find the object of the preposition and reunite it with its preposition. It might be good to change question pronouns (who, what, where, when) to other non-question pronouns (they, that, there, then). If they make sense together, it's okay.

Here are some examples where reuniting the preposition with its intended object doesn't make sense:

Where did you put the paper at?
*At here. / Over here. / In here. / Under here.

Where has Timmy gone to?
*To here. / Over here. / In here. / Under here.

These are colloquial expressions—that is, many, many people speak like this, but it's not Standard American English, which is what you need to use in an academic setting.

Compare those sentences with these, which are okay:

Who are you going to give that giant lollipop to?
To her. / To him.

I wonder what they're talking about.
About this. / About that.

But as always, check with Teach first before you blame us on your next grammar quiz.

Examples:

"Sweetheart, I'm totally paying attention to your exciting story about what happened at the bank, but I need to figure out where my phone is at."

The preposition at is completely unnecessary here. It had no business being in the sentence at all. Simply get rid of it and move on.

"I was on hold for so long that I forgot what I was even on the phone for."

This one could go either way. If you deleted the preposition for, it would make the sentence nonsensical. But, at the same time, you could just say "I forgot why I was even on the phone."

And that, Shmoopers, is an example of grammar being ambiguous. Who knew?