A preposition is a word governing, and usually coming in front of, a noun or pronoun and expressing a relation to another word or element, as in:
- She left before breakfast.
- What did you come for?
(For what did you come?)
English Preposition Rule
There is one very simple rule about prepositions. And, unlike most rules, this rule has no exceptions.
A preposition is followed by a “noun”. It is never followed by a verb.
By “noun” we include:
- noun (dog, money, love)
- proper noun (name) (Bangkok, Mary)
- pronoun (you, him, us)
- noun group (my first job)
- gerund (swimming)
A preposition cannot be followed by a verb. If we want to follow a preposition by a verb, we must use the “-ing” form which is really a gerund or verb in noun form.
Quick Quiz: In the following sentences, why is “to” followed by a verb? That should be impossible, according to the above rule:
- I would like to go now.
- She used to smoke.
Here are some examples:
|Subject + verb||preposition||“noun”|
|The food is||on||the table.|
|Tara is looking||for||you.|
|The letter is||under||your blue book.|
|Pascal is used||to||English people.|
|She isn’t used||to||working.|
1. Prepositions of Place: at, in, on
In general, we use:
- at for a POINT
- in for an ENCLOSED SPACE
- on for a SURFACE
|at the corner||in the garden||on the wall|
|at the bus stop||in London||on the ceiling|
|at the door||in France||on the door|
|at the top of the page||in a box||on the cover|
|at the end of the road||in my pocket||on the floor|
|at the entrance||in my wallet||on the carpet|
|at the crossroads||in a building||on the menu|
|at the front desk||in a car||on a page|
Look at these examples:
- Jane is waiting for you at the bus stop.
- The shop is at the end of the street.
- My plane stopped at Dubai and Hanoi and arrived in Bangkok two hours late.
- When will you arrive at the office?
- Do you work in an office?
- I have a meeting in New York.
- Do you live in Japan?
- Jupiter is in the Solar System.
- The author’s name is on the cover of the book.
- There are no prices on this menu.
- You are standing on my foot.
- There was a “no smoking” sign on the wall.
- I live on the 7th floor at 21 Oxford Street in London.
Notice the use of the prepositions of place at, in and on in these standard expressions:
|at home||in a car||on a bus|
|at work||in a taxi||on a train|
|at school||in a helicopter||on a plane|
|at university||in a boat||on a ship|
|at college||in a lift (elevator)||on a bicycle, on a motorbike|
|at the top||in the newspaper||on a horse, on an elephant|
|at the bottom||in the sky||on the radio, on television|
|at the side||in a row||on the left, on the right|
|at reception||in Oxford Street||on the way|
2. Prepositions of Time: at, in, on
- at for a PRECISE TIME
- in for MONTHS, YEARS, CENTURIES and LONG PERIODS
- on for DAYS and DATES
|PRECISE TIME||MONTHS, YEARS, CENTURIES and LONG PERIODS||DAYS and DATES|
|at 3 o’clock||in May||on Sunday|
|at 10.30am||in summer||on Tuesdays|
|at noon||in the summer||on 6 March|
|at dinnertime||in 1990||on 25 Dec. 2010|
|at bedtime||in the 1990s||on Christmas Day|
|at sunrise||in the next century||on Independence Day|
|at sunset||in the Ice Age||on my birthday|
|at the moment||in the past/future||on New Year’s Eve|
Look at these examples:
- I have a meeting at 9am.
- The shop closes at midnight.
- Jane went home at lunchtime.
- In England, it often snows in December.
- Do you think we will go to Jupiter in the future?
- There should be a lot of progress in the next century.
- Do you work on Mondays?
- Her birthday is on 20 November.
- Where will you be on New Year’s Day?
Notice the use of the preposition of time at in the following standard expressions:
|at night||The stars shine at night.|
|at the weekend||I don’t usually work at the weekend.|
|at Christmas/Easter||I stay with my family at Christmas.|
|at the same time||We finished the test at the same time.|
|at present||He’s not home at present. Try later.|
Notice the use of the prepositions of time in and on in these common expressions:
|in the morning||on Tuesday morning|
|in the mornings||on Saturday mornings|
|in the afternoon(s)||on Sunday afternoons|
|in the evening(s)||on Monday evening|
When we say last, next, every, this we do not also use at, in, on.
- I went to London last June. (not in last June)
- He’s coming back next Tuesday. (not on next Tuesday)
- I go home every Easter. (not at every Easter)
- We’ll call you this evening. (not in this evening)
English Prepositions List
There are about 150 prepositions in English. Yet this is a very small number when you think of the thousands of other words (nouns, verbs etc). Prepositions are important words. We use individual prepositions more frequently than other individual words. In fact, the prepositions of, to and in are among the ten most frequent words in English. Here is a short list of 70 of the more common one-word prepositions. Many of these prepositions have more than one meaning. Please refer to a dictionary for precise meaning and usage.