Set II, 1

Basic Uses of Prepositions

A preposition shows a relationship between its object and other words in a sentence. The preposition may be in the form of one word (at, by, in, on, etc.) or in the form of a phrase that functions as a unit (in front of, by way of, etc.)

Some of the relationships that prepositions express are place or position, time, manner, direction, and agent.

The book is on the desk.(place or position)
The boy ran toward the house.(direction)
The man arrived at ten o'clock.(time)
He travels by train.(manner)
The book was written by him.(agent)

A preposition + an object forms a phrase. This kind of phrase usually functions as a modifier (adjective or adverb).

The report of the meeting was read.(adjective)
We go to class at ten o'clock.(adverb)


The following sentences show some of the relationship of place or position expressed by various prepositions:

| on |
| in |
| by |
The paper is | beside | the desk.
| near |
| against |
| under |

| behind |
| in back of |
| in front of |
He is sitting | beside | her.
| near |
| by |

| in |
| inside |
| outside |
| in front of |
Jack is | in back of | the car.
| behind |
| underneath |
| on top of |

| across the park.|
| around the park.|
| under the bridge.|
| down the street.|
They walked | up the street.|
| over the hill.|
| through the park.|
| on the sidewalk.|

Below is a list of some prepositions that indicate relationships of place or position:

1.atElizabeth is at the store.
Is Mary at home?
2. toElizabeth went to the store.
from Mr. MacDonald is from Scotland.
3. inMr. Brown is sitting in the leather
chair in the lobby.
onPut a stamp on the envelope.
Please sit on the sofa.
4. byThe matches are over there by the
besideThe napkin is placed beside the plate.
nearThey are sitting near the window.
againstDon't lean against the stove.
5. overOur apartment is directly over yours.
A plane flew over our house at noon.
underThe box is under the table.
beneathThe closet is beneath the stairs.
underneathPut a pad underneath the rug.
on top of The carpenter is on top of the house.
6. behindThe chair is behind the desk.
in back ofJohn is standing in back of Harry.
in front ofThere is a car parked in front of the
7. upI saw Mr. Jones walking up the street.
downThere is a service station about two
miles down the road.
8. acrossThey live across the street from us.
aroundLet's take a walk around the block.
throughI took a walk through the park
9. betweenMartha is sitting between George and
amongThe letter is somewhere among these
10. insideThese plants should be kept inside
the house.
outsideThe chairs were left outside the
house all night.
11. afterPut a question mark after each
beforeIn giving dates, we usually place the
month before the day.
12. aboveThis city is three thousand feet
above sea level.
belowThis land is below sea level.
Your grade is below averagae.
13. at the top ofYour name is at the top of the waiting list.
at the bottom ofHis mane is at the bottom of the list.
at the head ofHe is now at the head of his class.

Compare in--on, on--at, at--in in the situations described below:

  1. IN--ON
    In general, in means beneath the surface; on means touching the surface.

  2. ON--AT
    In an address, on is used with the name of the street; at, with the house number and the name of the street.

  3. AT--IN
    In referring to location, at ordinarily indicates a specified location; in, a location within a house, building, city, and so forth.
    In is also used in referring to a location within a country.
    In is ordinarily used in referring to cities.
    At is sometimes used in referring to the arrival of a train, and so forth.


The prepositions listed in this section are those usually thought of as indicating direction. However, there is some overlapping of place and direction in such prepositions as from, to, through, up, down, over, under, etc.

The following sentence shows some of the relationships of direction expressed by various prepositions:

The dog ran |out of| the building.

Below is a list of some prepositions that indicate relationships of direction:

1.intoI walked into the room and sat down by the fireplace.
2.out ofThey ran out of the burning building.
3.towardHe walked toward the City Hall. way ofYou can go by way of the Panama Canal.

Compare in--into in the following situations:

In ordinarily refers to place or position.

Into ordinarily refers to motion or action, although in is often used interchangeably with into in situations of this kind.



The following sentence shows some of the relationships of time expressed by various prepositions:

| at|
| by|
Please arrive | before| 10 o'clock.
| after|

Below is a list of some prepositions that indicate relationships of time:
Note:At 2:30 p.m. = at exactly or precisely 2:30 p.m.
By 2 o'clock = not later than 2 o'clock.
The definite article is used as the expression in the morning, (afternoon, evening, but not in at noon,
(night, midnight).(Also see Section 75b.)

1.atThe baseball game will start at 2:30 p.m.
This gate opens at noon and closes at midnignt.
byTry to be there by 2 o'clock.
2.inThe train will arrive in an hour.
I must leave in a few minutes.
He goes to work early in the morning.
onRay's birthday is on November 18.
3.forThey stayed for three weeks.
duringWe saw them often during the summer.
sinceWe have been here since 1955.
4.afterCall me again after 10 o'clock.
beforeHe always gets home before 6 o'clock
5.untilWhy don't you stay until (till) Sunday?
(till)I'll be here till (until) 5 o'clock. the beginning ofI'll call you at the beginning of the week.
at the end ofYou will receive your check at the end of the month.
in the middle ofLet's have lunch sometime in the middle of the week.

Compare on--in and for--during--since in the situations described below.

  1. ON--IN
    In giving dates, on is used before days of the week or before months and day of the month; in, before months not followed by the day and before numbers indicating the year.

    In expressions of time, for refers to a period of time, frequently stated in terms of the number of hours, days, weeks, and so forth, and in such expressions as for a long (short) time, for several (a few) minutes, for a little while, and so forth.

|fifteen minutes.
| two hours.
We waited for | several hours.
| a long time.


During also refers to a period of time, frequently stated as a block of time (during the summer, during the year, during the semester, during my vacation, etc.).

|the winter.
| the year.
It rained a great deal during | the spring semester.
| April.
| 1955.

In many cases for refers to something more or less continuous: during, to something intermittent. For is followed by the indefinite article: during, by the definite article. Compare:

It rained for a day or so.

(It rained almost continuously for a day or so.)

It rained during the day.

(It rained sometime during the day or perhaps off and on during the day.)

Since refers to a period of time that extends from a point of time in the past to the present or to another point of time in the past. The verb tense is usually the present perfect or past perfect.


| five o'clock.
I have been here since | May 10th.
| June, 1952.
We have been here since | noon.

Compare: We haven't seen him for two or three years.
We saw him several times during our trip South.
We haven't seen him since 1954.
They have lived in London for two years.
They have met many people during the two years
(two year period) they have been in London.
They have lived in London since 1950.

In addition, note the following expressions:

    On time means "on schedule"; in time usually means before an appointed time (often with time left over to do something).
    • Were you late for your appointment?
      • No, I was there on time. (I was there at the appointed time.)
      • No, I reached the office in time to have a cup of coffee before my appointment.

  2. FROM . . . TO--FROM . . . UNTIL
    These expressions have approximately the same meanings and are usually interchangeable in expression of time. However, only from ... to is used in referring to place or position.
    • He works from 8:00 to 5:00. He works from 8:00 until 5:00.
    • We drove from Boston to New York in four hours.

    Around and about (sometimes preceded with by and are used to indicate approximate time.)
    • I'll pick you up around 7 o'clock.
    • It is now about 5 o'clock.


1. byYou can go by bus (car, train, ship. plane, foot).
2. on He went on foot (horseback).
I like to travel on train (ship, plane). We came here in a car (taxi).
Please write in ink (pencil).
He speaks in a low voice.
He left in a hurry.
4. withI accept your invitation with pleasure.
She greeted him with a smile.
The car started with a jerk.
5. likeHe walks like an old man.
You speak like an authority on the subject.


  1. AGENT (or INSTRUMENT)--by and with
    • This poem was written by Walt Whitman.
    • The door is opened by a mechanical device.
    • Try opening the door with this key.
    • I can write better with my own pen.

    • He went with her to the store. II, 1--9
    • Try some of this sauce with your meat.

  3. PURPOSE--for
    • This door is for emergency exits only.
    • I need to go to the store for a loaf of bread.

    • The new wing of the building is almost completed.
    • We heard the news of your promotion from Bill.

  5. MEASURE--of and by
    • I want three quarts of milk and a pound of cheese.
    • One-third of the students are from South America.
    • Coffee is sold by the pound, but ribbon is sold by the yard.

  6. SIMILARITY--like
    • You look like your brother.
    • This material feels like silk.
    • It looks like rain.

    • He got a job as an elevator operator.
    • Mr. Kingsley will serve as chairman of the committee.
    • She appeared as Desdemona in Othello.

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