Prepositions – the basics

Prepositions connect nouns or pronouns with the rest of a sentence. They’re short words that yield a lot of power. Prepositions expand on what you’re saying by specifying time, place, and direction.

The most used prepositions are: as, at, but, by, for, from, in, next, of, off, on, out, over, since, than, to, until, up, with.

Other common prepositions are: about, above, across, after, against, along, among, around, because of, before, behind, below, beneath, beside, between, close to, down, during, except, inside, instead of, into, like, near, on top of, onto, out of, outside, past, through, toward, upon, within, without.

There’s no formula or method that tells you which preposition to use. They are also very tricky to translate, because most languages use different prepositions in the same context. When it comes to knowing the right preposition, you just have to learn by reading good quality writing and memorising them.

  • You’re as tall as your brother. You’re older than your sister.
  • You’re just in time for a meeting, when you arrive at the last minute. You’re on time for a meeting when you have some time to spare.
  • You tell your dog to get off the couch. (not “off of”)
  • You can die of a disease, but you recover from it.
  • You can be embarrassed for somebody or be ashamed of their behaviour and feel superior to them because you don’t behave like that.
  • You can do something differently than somebody else, because their methods are different from yours.
  • You emigrate from a country and immigrate to another country.
  • You estimate the cost of a project to be about $5 million (never around), but not more than $8 million (never over).
Some prepositions can change the meaning of a phrase
  • You meet people at a restaurant, and if they’re late you’ll have to wait for them. Once everybody’s there, a waiter will wait on you. (Never say you’re waiting on somebody unless you are a waiter.)
  • You’re excited about something and excited for someone. Nowadays, many people say they are excited for something, which is wrong. Correct use: You’re excited about your next holiday. And you’re excited for your friend who has just landed her dream job.

©Andrea Paulsen