A preposition links nouns, pronouns and phrases to other words in a sentence. The word or phrase that the preposition introduces is called the object of the preposition.
Prepositions work with other words in prepositional phrases. A prepositional phrase usually indicates where (by showing direction or location), how (in what way or by what means), or when (at what time or how long) the action in the sentence took place.
Prepositions are hard for most students. Why? Because there are hardly any rules as to when to use which preposition. The only way to learn prepositions is looking them up in a dictionary, reading a lot in English and memorizing useful phrases.
Prepositions That Express Time And Place
The following are a few examples of using in, at, and on to show time and place:
• In a month or a year
Example: “I moved here in 2007 in September”
• In a specific period of time
Example: “She will be in Rome in a few days (seconds, months, etc.)”
• In a specific period of the day
Example: We are going to the park in the afternoon (morning, evening exception: at night)”
• On a specific day
Example: “The party is on Saturday, on your birthday”
• At a specific time or specific period of time
Example: “We will eat at 3:00 at noon (at night at dawn at lunch)”
• In a location surrounded by something else
Example: ” I live in the state of Nevada (in the livingroom in my apartment in the closet in the tub in downtown New York)”
• At a specified location
Example: “Let’s meet at my house (at the store at the corner of Main St.)”
• On a surface
Example: “The poem is on page 32 (on Broadway on street level on the third floor)”
Exceptions: in the attic or in the basement.
Using Prepositions in Common Expressions
There are many expressions in English which include prepositions. This is a list of a few you may often use when writing:
ability in – different from – involved with [someone]
access to – faith in – knowledge of
accustomed to – familiar with – made of
afraid of – famous for – married to
angry with or at – frightened by – opposed to
authority on – happy with – patient with
aware of – in charge of – proud of
based on – independent of – reason for
capable of – in favor of – related to
certain of – influence on or over – suspicious of
confidence in – interested in – time for
dependent on – involved in [something] – tired of
Prepositions in Verb Phrases
Verb phrases are two-word or three-word verbs that combine with prepositions to deliver their meaning. In some verb phrases the verb and the preposition should not be separated by other words: Look at the sky (not Look the sky at).
However, there are verb phrases where the verb and preposition can be separated: I threw away the trash is as correct as I threw the trash away. The following is a list of common verb phrases. The ones that cannot be separated are marked with an asterisk(*).
Common Verb Phrases
ask out – get along with* – look into
break down – get back – look out for
bring about – get off* – look over
call back – get over* – make up
drop off – hand in – run across*
figure out – keep up with* – speak to*
fill out – leave out – speak with*
fill up – look after* – throw away
find out – look around – throw out
Many of these verb phrases are informal and are used more in speaking than in writing.
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