Prepositions – how to understand them

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Prepositions – definition

prepositions Prepositions express a relationship between nouns (or pronouns) and some other part of the sentence.

redbtn It usually tells us where something is.

with out in
under over around


redbtn A preposition is used with a noun or pronoun.

The child ran around the snowman.

Jack and Jill went up the hill.

redbtn However, the same words are adverbs in the following statements:

Let’s take a walk around.

My lucky number came up.

He came over to me.

redbtn They are adverbs because they tell us about the verb.

redbtn NB! Prepositions often tell us about position, so don’t underestimate them.

redbtn Prepositions are mainly used in English to form adverbial and adjectival phrases, as in the following:

Adverbial phrases

‘Marseilles is in France’
[‘in France’ tells us where Marseilles is]

‘Hastings stands on the south coast of England’
[‘on the south coast of England’ tells us where Hastings stands]

‘The grocer marvelled at the arrival of the boxes’
[‘at the arrival’ tells us when the grocer marvelled]

‘She left the hall with a toss of her head’
[‘with a toss of her head’ tells us the manner in which she left]

redbtn All the prepositions above are used adverbially to tell us more about the verb in each case.

redbtn The following are examples of adjectival phrases. In each case the preposition describes a noun:

Adjectival phrases

‘The first cable across the Atlantic was laid in 1838′
[‘across the Atlantic’ describes the cable]

‘I love the sound of the sea’
[‘of the sea’ describes the sound]

‘I believe that the man in the moon exists’
[‘in the moon’ describes the man]

‘We all enjoyed the cheese on toast that our mother gave us’
[‘on toast’ describes the cheese]

redbtn Prepositions are usually used, as in the two sets of examples above, with a noun or a pronoun.

redbtn Examples of nouns from the sentences given above are ‘the arrival’, ‘a toss’, ‘ the moon’ and ‘toast’.

redbtn Prepositions can also be used as adverbs without an accompanying noun or pronoun.

Come in Turn round Go up
Jump off Look around Go under

Self-assessment quiz follows …

© Roy Johnson 2003

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