A preposition is a kind of connecting word: it joins a noun, a pronoun or any nominal to another word in a sentence and shows the relationship between them. (A nominal is a word or word group acting as a noun.)
For example, here is a sentence containing the preposition on:
- Bart ate the cookies on the table.
Here, the preposition on is connecting the noun table with the word cookies and showing the relationship between them.
In this case, the preposition shows a relationship of location, since on tells us where the cookies are located in relationship to the table. They’re not over the table, or under the table, or beside the table; they’re on the table. (Or at least they were, before Bart ate them.)
Relationships shown by prepositions
Most of our common prepositions show relationships of time, location or direction:
- Time: after, at, before, during, since, till, until
- Location: above, against, among, around, at, behind, below, beneath, beside, between, beyond, by, in, inside, near, on, outside, over, past, throughout, under, upon, with, within
- Direction: across, along, around, down, from, into, off, onto, out, through, to, toward, up
Object of a preposition
A preposition is normally followed by a noun, a pronoun or a nominal (a word or word group acting as a noun). This word or word group is called the object of the preposition. For example, in the phrase on the table, the noun table is the object of the preposition on.
A preposition combined with one or more objects gives a prepositional phrase. If there are any modifiers (adjectives and adverbs) between the preposition and its object, they are part of the phrase as well.
Here are some examples of prepositional phrases:
- beside the smouldering fire [preposition beside + modifiers + object fire (noun)]
- with swords and bayonets [preposition with + 2 objects: swords and bayonets (nouns)]
- between you and me [preposition between + 2 objects: you and me (pronouns)]
- without opening the letter [preposition without + object opening the letterFootnote * (nominal)]
Preposition versus adverb
Many of the words included in the above lists of prepositions can be used as adverbs as well. In that case, they will not take an object:
- preposition + object: Marjorie raced past the startled security guard.
- adverb: Marjorie raced past.
Wiffaboot is a word formed from the first letters of the nine most common prepositions in the English language: with, in, for, from, at, by, of, on and to.
Since most of the prepositions we use every day belong to this short list, if you can remember wiffaboot, you’re off to a good start!
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