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Prepositions and Conjunctions for English Grammar

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Aug 12, 2011

Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:

Prepositions and Conjunctions Practice Exercises for English Grammar

Prepositions

A preposition is a word that conveys a meaning of position, direction, time, or other abstraction. It serves to relate its object to another sentence element.

A prepositional phrase consists of a preposition, its object, and any modifiers of the object. In the prepositional phrase by the greatest German musician, the preposition is by, the object is musician, and the modifiers of the object are the greatest German.

Prepositional phrases are used to modify verbs, nouns, pronouns, and adjectives:

Relating to Verbs

    She found the sleeping child in her room. (Where did she find the sleeping child? In her room.)
    They stored their files under the table. (Where did they store their files? Under the table.)

Relating to Nouns and Pronouns

    She felt the hatred of the entire family. (Whose hatred? The hatred of the entire family.)
    I want anything by that author. (What do I want by that author? Anything.)

Relating to Adjectives

    She was young in heart. (Young in what sense? Young in heart.)
    The book was considered profane in intent. (In what sense profane? Profane in intent.)

The nine most commonly used prepositions are: at, by, for, from, in, of, on, to, and with. There are many more, and you will shortly be given a list of other frequently used prepositions.

Commonly Used Prepositions

The following list identifies those prepositions most commonly encountered; it is by no means complete. Among the words listed here are the nine prepositions that were given previously. In addition to the single words that constitute most of the entries in this list, there are some phrases that function as prepositions: in back of, in addition to, etc.

With each entry in the list, two phrases are supplied to illustrate use of the prepositions.

aboard   aboard the ship, aboard the airplane

about   about town, about people

above   above all, above my head

according to   according to the newspapers, according to custom

across   across the way, across our front yard

after   after a while, after meals

against   against public opinion, against the wall

ahead of   ahead of the crowd, ahead of his time

along   along the street, along the route

alongside   alongside the caravan, alongside the prison

amid   amid our preparations, amid our activity

amidst   amidst all my activity, amidst the local people

among   among other things, among the crowd

apart from   apart from my own feelings, apart from the expense involved

around   around the corner, around her waist

as far as   as far as Washington, as far as the train depot

aside from   aside from his published writings, aside from my own thoughts

as to   as to the point you raised, as to the performance itself

at   at no point, at the final moment

back of   back of the bus, back of the objection

because of   because of his poverty, because of our complete apathy

before   before dinner, before leaving

behind   behind his smile, behind closed doors

behind in   behind in the rent, behind in his payments

below   below the roof, below the living room

beneath   beneath my standards, beneath respect

beside   beside a garden wall, beside herself

besides   besides the dean himself, besides the immediate family

between   between you and me, between July and September

beyond   beyond my ken, beyond the mountains

but   but me, but a handful of people

by   by the same writer, by tomorrow

concerning   concerning taste, concerning her obstinacy

contrary to   contrary to my advice, contrary to the Constitution

despite   despite all our best efforts, despite his lateness

down   down the stairs, down the street

due to   due to lack of sleep, due to habitual absences

during   during his tenure, during the Bush years

except   except me, except my brother

for   for your own safety, for the sake of God

from   from nowhere, from the western sky

in   in back, in expectation

in addition to   in addition to her efforts, in addition to AIDS

in back of   in back of the house, in back of her mind

in front of   in front of it, in front of the store

in lieu of   in lieu of loving care, in lieu of a full-time chairman

in light of   in light of her accomplishments, in light of the child's age

in place of   in place of the flowers, in place of the current exhibit

in regard to   in regard to your letter, in regard to her request

inside   inside his head, inside the vault

in spite of   in spite of his mother's request, in spite of his good intentions

instead of   instead of the marines, instead of going home

into   into a deep depression, into the French quarter

in view of   in view of her prejudices, in view of your demands

like   like a bee, like an angel

near   near the old house, near despair

of   of pioneer stock, of great reputation

off   off the roof, off his outstanding debt

on   on my account, on occasion

on account of   on account of the delay, on account of the inconvenience

on board   on board the ocean liner, on board the Orient Express

onto   onto the platform, onto her shoulders

out   out the door, out the window

out of   out of sight and out of mind, out of the hall

over   over your head, over the party

owing to   owing to your anxiety, owing to his eagerness

past   past the school yard, past my comprehension

per   per second, per minute

round   round the barnyard, round my head

since   since her death, since the turn of the century

through   through my thoughts, through the gate

throughout   throughout her life, throughout the night

till   till death, till today

to   to no purpose, to New York

toward   toward better understanding, toward late afternoon

towards   towards New York, towards the north

under   under two flags, under suspicion

until   until morning, until death

unto   unto each other, unto ourselves

up   up the staircase, up the wall

upon   upon well-founded suspicions, upon further thought

up to   up to now, up to the limit of his ability

via   via the Alcan Highway, via Route 66

with   with care, with no friends

within   within his hearing, within the time

without   without arms, without assistance

Object of Preposition

The object of a preposition is always in the objective case.

    He gave the book to me. (The object of the preposition to is the pronoun me, which is in the objective case.)
    Whom did you give the book to? (Whom is the object of the preposition to and is in the objective case.)

Despite the tendency of many speakers and writers to use who when whom is preferred, as in the second sample sentence, anyone interested in good grammar should use whom as the objective form of the pronoun who.

Differentiating Prepositions from Other Parts of Speech

Many prepositions, such as after, but, for, and since, are also used as adverbs, adjectives, or conjunctions. The way to differentiate the various uses of these words is to examine the roles they play in a sentence.

Consider the following sentences:

    The ducks were in a row, one after another. (preposition)
    Do not follow after him. (preposition)
    Have you inquired after her? (preposition)
    After dinner we were treated to cups of superb coffee. (preposition)
    She was named after her aunt. (preposition)
    Jill came after. (adverb)
    They lived happily ever after. (adverb)
    The after years often are terrible. (adjective)
    After I find the place I want, I shall buy it and settle down. (conjunction)

In the above examples, after, when used as an adverb or an adjective, directly modifies a word or words: came after, lived after, after years. In the sentence in which after is used as a conjunction, it is followed by a clause: After I find the place I want. When used as a preposition, after introduces a prepositional phrase: after another, after him, after her, after dinner, after her aunt.

Prepositional Phrases as Modifiers

Prepositional phrases function as adverbs or adjectives. Consider the following sentences:

    We decided at the last minute. (adverb modifying decided)
    They come from Puerto Rico. (adverb modifying come)
    Most government officials speak with caution. (adverb modifying speak)
    The family vacationed in Saratoga Springs. (adverb modifying vacationed)
    People of quality do not gossip all the time. (adjective modifying People)
    The family in mourning wore black clothing. (adjective modifying family)
    The hero as anti-hero characterizes American detective fiction. (adjective modifying hero)
    Training in martial arts has never lost its popularity. (adjective modifying Training)
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