Prepositions

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.

Rule
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.
She lives in Japan.
Tara is looking for you.
The letter is under your blue book.
Pascal is used to English people.
She isn’t used to working.
I ate before coming.

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 in on
POINT ENCLOSED SPACE 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 in on
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

We use:

  • at for a PRECISE TIME
  • in for MONTHS, YEARS, CENTURIES and LONG PERIODS
  • on for DAYS and DATES
at in on
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:

Expression Example
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 on
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.

  • aboard
  • about
  • above
  • across
  • after
  • against
  • along
  • amid
  • among
  • anti
  • around
  • as
  • at
  • before
  • behind
  • below
  • beneath
  • beside
  • besides
  • between
  • beyond
  • but
  • by
  • concerning
  • considering
  • despite
  • down
  • during
  • except
  • excepting
  • excluding
  • following
  • for
  • from
  • in
  • inside
  • into
  • like
  • minus
  • near
  • of
  • off
  • on
  • onto
  • opposite
  • outside
  • over
  • past
  • per
  • plus
  • regarding
  • round
  • save
  • since
  • than
  • through
  • to
  • toward
  • towards
  • under
  • underneath
  • unlike
  • until
  • up
  • upon
  • versus
  • via
  • with
  • within
  • without

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