Using prepositions in English

These are four common prepositions expressing time. They are often confused and take some practice to master proper use.

For Since Ago During
Used to express how long a time period lasts. This introduces a specific time in the past and continuing up until the present or defined moment in the past. This is used to discuss a past, completed time period in relation to the present. This is used when referring to something that happens in a period of time or when referring to entire time period.
For+ [time period] Since +[time period] [time period]+ ago During+[time period]
I lived in France for three years
Erin worked at the bank for two weeks before quitting.
I’ve been very politically engaged since 2008.
I’ve been tired since last week.
The civil right movement happened over 50 years ago.
How long ago did you start driving? I began driving eight months ago.
During the summer I did a lot of travelling.
Cameron was very sick during high school.

Across, over, and through are prepositions used to situate movement and position.

- Across is used to indicate from one side of something to another. The "something" in question must have sides or limits (example: a city, a road, a bridge). Across also indicates that the same thing is happening in many places at the same time. Additionally, in American English the phrase across from is used to show that something is ‘on the other side.’

The bridge went across the widest part of the Mississippi river.
She’s waiting across from the old movie theatre.
People celebrated Independence Day all across the Unites States.

- Through is used for movement from one side to the other when you are considered ‘in’ something (like a forest or grass).

Sadie skipped through the field. Sadie skipped across the field

- Over means that something is in a higher position in relation to something else. It can also refer to movement.

From my apartment, you can see over the whole city.
Last year we drove over the mountain pass.

* Note that all three can also be used as adverbs.

- "In," "on," and "at" are all prepositions that can refer to time or location.

In (general) Centuries
In the 1700’s
In May
In Romania
In Berlin
On (more specific) Days
On Thursday
On Christmas
On Wall Street
At (specific) Hours
Meal times
Times of day
Specific location
At 7am
At my house
At lunchtime
At night
My mother was born in the 20th century.
I live on Humboldt Street.
I’ll call you on Christmas day.
Will you come over at 8pm please?
Lionel was born in Maine.
LHe proposed to me at breakfast time.

- No prepositions are needed before:

Today, yesterday, tomorrow
This year, month, etc.
Last night, week, etc.
Next week, month, etc.

Among and between are both prepositions. In general, we use between when referring to only two people or things, while among is used for three or more. Let’s break down their specific uses in detail below.

Belonging to a specified group. This usually means a plural noun or collective noun follows ’among’.

Sadie was among the seven girls selected to read their poetry.
I was among the 50 Americans trapped in the building

Surrounded by people or things, or within that group of people or things.

Henry walked among the deer.

Used to show choice and division when three or more people or things are involved.

The money was divided among all seven participants.

The space separating two people or things. The nouns can be singular or plural and are two distinct items.

The dog slept between Erin and Joseph.

The time separating two events or dates.

My great-grandmother was born sometime between 1850 and 1860.

Used to show choice and division between two people or things.

Katy had to decide between living in China or Greece.

What is a preposition?
A preposition is a word that describes the relationship between a noun, pronoun, or another element in a phrase. Prepositions are only found in prepositional phrases. A phrase is a part of speech, or a sentence, that acts together to perform a certain task. A prepositional phrase is a phrase composed of the preposition followed by a noun or pronoun. Prepositional phrases will take on one of the two forms below.

Of In To For
With At From By
About As Into Like
Between Over Against Before
Preposition + Noun, pronoun, or clause

- A prepositional phrase must start with a preposition and be followed by either a noun, pronoun, or clause. It may also include modifiers in between those two, such as adjectives and adverbs.

To + bed
In + time
From + our crazy + aunt
With + me
At + my + house
At + the closest + grocery store
Preposition + Modifier + Noun, pronoun, or clause

- A prepositional phrase will never contain the subject of the sentence; prepositional phrases operate as adjectives or adverbs. They are important because they answer questions like: which one? Where? When? How?

The towel on the floor is all wet.
à Where is the towel? (on the floor)
Our class before noon was cancelled.
à When is the class? (before noon)
The email from the professor contained very important information.
à Which email? (From the professor)

Complex Prepositions

- Complex prepositions work the same way as regular prepositions; however, they are two or three words combined to make a single preposition.

Two-word prepositions

According to As for As to But for
Along with Alternative to Away from Aside from
Because of Contrast to Due to Except for
Relative to Equally with Ahead of Apart from

From: word + simple preposition

Three-word prepositions

In spite of In aid of In lieu of In front of
In case of In view of In place of In regard to
In reference to In comparison to In order to In relation to

From: simple preposition + noun + simple preposition

- For the most part, prepositions are not used with transitive verbs because they require direct objects. Here are some of the most common transitive verbs:

Ask Attend Buy Take
Lose Make Love Find
Contact Need Discuss Raise
Join Describe Use Want
I want cake.
Can I use your umbrella?
Let’s discuss the homework.

* These verbs are followed by direct objects.

- When a sentence has a list of nouns, a preposition is only required before the first noun, not each noun in the list.

I went to buy a cake with chocolate and whipped cream.
I walked across a field and a bridge this afternoon.

A preposition cannot be placed between an auxiliary verb and its main verb. Sometimes adverbs may be placed between the auxiliary and the main verb.

I will change my bike.
NOT à I will to change my bike.
I should have gone to the park earlier.
NOT à I should have to gone the park earlier.

You can, however, add an adverb after the first auxiliary verb in certain cases.

I should already have gone to the park, it’s too dark now!

While it is perfectly fine to end a sentence with a preposition for informal writing or speaking, it isn’t acceptable in formal writing. Here are some examples showing how you can rephrase a sentence ending with a preposition.

Which drawer should this go into?
Into which drawer should this go?
Who were you on the phone with?
With whom were you on the phone?

"Per" is used to describe prices or times in relation to weight, speed, or other times.

Five miles per hour à same as: five miles an hour
$7.80 per kilo à same as: $7.80 for one kilo
$20 per hour to rent this boat à same as: this boat costs $20 for each hour of use.

Many people have a hard time deciding whether to use "like" or "as." Traditionally, "like" is used as a preposition and "as" is used as a conjunction. Nowa-days "like" is often employed as a conjunction. To distinguish between the two, look at what follows the as/ like. Use "like" if it is not followed by a verb and "as" if there is a verb.

He swims like a fish.
Sally acted as if she wasn’t upset.
I acted just as you would have in that situation.
You’re acting like my little brother!