Sometimes, it’s the tiniest words in English that are the most difficult. And prepositions in English are no exception.
These small words, such as “at”, “in”, or “on”, can transform the meaning of a sentence. So you need to know them if you want to understand English.
In this post you’ll discover what prepositions are and why they’re important, as well as the different types of prepositions in English.
What Are Prepositions In English?
What exactly is a preposition? Well, there’s a little clue in the name which comes from the Latin prae- (before) and ponere (to put). That’s because we put prepositions before a noun that they modify.
Although prepositions in English are not as fun to learn as English idioms or British slang, they have an important role in sentences because they help link nouns, pronouns and phrases together. These links tell us about relationships between objects in space and time.
List Of Prepositions In English
Here's a list of prepositions in English, the most common ones at least:
I’m sure you’ve seen and heard these prepositions in English many times. But you may be confused about when and how to use them.
That’s exactly what I’m here to explain so don’t worry.
Different Types Of Prepositions In English
So you’ve already seen some of the most common prepositions in English, but we can divide them further according to how they function.
Specific prepositions have specific functions in English. And in your language, you may use different prepositions.
That’s why it’s a good idea not to translate prepositions, but instead to learn a little bit about the logic of how they function in English.
Prepositions Of Place
When you think of prepositions in English, you probably think of prepositions of place. These prepositions are easy to teach visually.
Maybe you remember classes at school where your teacher asked you to place different objects according to the prepositions e.g. the pen is on the table vs the pen is under the table.
Let’s take a closer look at three important prepositions of place: “in”, “on” and “at”.
You use “in” with an “area” or “volume”:
- Let’s go for a swim in the pool.
- We had our lunch in the garden.
- She lives in the city centre.
You use “on” with surfaces:
- I left my book on the table.
- Why are your clothes on the floor?
- Why are there no pictures on the wall?
You use “at” with a point:
- She’ll meet you at the supermarket.
- I saw your mum at the bus stop earlier.
- You need to turn left at the roundabout.
Prepositions Of Direction
This is where prepositions in English start to become more complicated. For example, if you speak French, you use the same preposition whether or not you’re moving:
- Je suis à la piscine (I’m at the pool)
- Je suis allé à la piscine hier (I went to the pool yesterday)
But in English, we use a different preposition when there’s movement: “to”, not “at”.
- I’m tired – it’s time to go to bed.
- When do you go back to the USA?
- I can drive you to the station.
Prepositions Of Manner
These prepositions are all about how you do something. A common preposition of manner is “by”.
Let’s take a look at some examples:
- By phone/email – I prefer to be contacted by phone
- By credit card – You can’t pay by credit card, only in cash (note – we say “in cash”, not “by”)
- By hand – All these scarfs were made by hand
- By mistake – I hit send on that message by mistake
- By car/train/bike/plane etc – I used to commute by car every day. Now I go to work on foot.
- By air/rail/road/sea – We’ll send the shipment by air so it arrives fast.
Prepositions Of Time
Certain prepositions in English are used to talk about times and dates.
Let’s take a look at some examples:
At + Time Of Day
- We eat breakfast at 8 o’clock.
- I like to go for a walk at lunchtime.
- The club opens at midnight.
On + Days And Dates
- My English classes are on Fridays.
- On New Year’s day people rest after partying the night before.
- He’s starting his new job on September 1st.
In + Months/Years/Seasons
- The new school terms starts in April.
- We met each other in 1991.
- The sun sets later in summer.
In English, you also use “in” with “the morning/the afternoon/the evening”.
- I prefer to go to the gym in the morning.
But when you combine these times of day with a specific day, then you use “on”:
- Are you free on Saturday morning?
Other prepositions of time include:
- You need to be in bed by 9pm (no later than 9pm) if you plan to get up at 5am.
- I have a part-time job during the school holidays
- I’ve been living here for two years
- We haven’t seen each other since last November.
- I plan to live here until I finish my studies.
Adjectives Plus Prepositions In English
Did you know that certain adjectives are followed by prepositions in English? Learn them together as you may use different adjective and preposition combinations in your own language.
Here are some examples of common adjective and preposition pairs:
- Afraid of (also scared of, frightened of, terrified of)
- I’m still afraid of the dark.
- Capable of
- He isn’t capable of meeting the deadline.
- Different to/from
- Is she different from her brother or are they similar?
- Disappointed with
- My parents were disappointed with me when they found out I cheated on the exam.
- Familiar with
- We want to hire someone who is familiar with this software. Have you used it before?
- Good/bad at etc
- My children were bad at maths until they had a teacher who explained it better.
- Interested in
- He’s not interested in politics.
- Married to
- John is married to an Argentinian woman.
- Opposed to
- The ruling party were opposed to compromises.
- Proud of
- They’re really proud of their children.
- Responsible for
- She’s responsible for a team of 20 people.
- Similar to
- Your apartment is similar to mine but our kitchen is smaller.
- Shocked by
- We were shocked by the news.
- Sorry about
- I’m sorry about what happened at the party last night
- Tired of / sick of
- She’s tired of/sick of his bad behaviour.
Nouns Plus Prepositions In English
Many nouns are also followed by a preposition. Here are some common ones that would be useful to know:
- Advantage/disadvantage of
- What are the advantages of working from home?
- Cause of
- The police need to determine the cause of the accident.
- Damage to
- Despite the storm, there was no damage to buildings in the area.
- Demand for
- In the last two years, there has been an increase in demand for video conferencing software
- Increase/decrease in // a rise/fall in
- The company posted a record increase in profits last quarter.
- Picture of
- He keeps a picture of his family on his desk.
- Reason for
- Did he give a reason for leaving his job?
- Relationship with
- Could you tell me about your relationship with your parents?
- Solution to
- We still haven’t found a solution to our problem.
Verbs Plus Prepositions In English
And finally, many verbs in English are followed by a preposition. These are not the same thing as phrasal verbs in English.
- Agree with/disagree with
- They never agree with each other on anything!
- Apply for
- I applied for over 100 jobs before I got this one.
- Apologise to
- She still hasn’t apologised to me for what she said last week.
- Arrive in
- When did you arrive in Spain? (Note that for buildings we would say “arrive at” e.g when did you arrive at the hotel?)
- Ask for
- When I asked for a raise, my boss said no.
- Concentrate on
- Could you turn the radio down? I can’t concentrate on my work.
- Depend on
- He’s not reliable – you can’t depend on him for anything.
- Explain to
- Could you explain it to me again?
- Listen to
- People love it when you listen to them properly.
- Look at
- Our art history teacher made us look at the painting for three hours.
- Look for
- I’m looking for a new job at the moment.
- Talk to
- Maybe you should talk to a doctor about it.
- Take care of
- We need someone to take care of our mother as she gets older.
- Wait for
- I’ll wait for you just outside the station.
Prepositions In English
Congratulations – you’ve made it to the end of this ultimate guide to prepositions in English. As you’ve discovered, these tiny words are essential to communicating clearly and concisely in English.
While this list of prepositions in English is an excellent starting point, memorising or translating the prepositions won’t help you use them correctly when you speak.
To do that, you need to apply the StoryLearning method and immerse yourself in English by reading. That’s right, when you read short stories in English, you’ll see the most important prepositions again and again.
As you read, the meanings of the prepositions will become clearer. And you won’t need to memorise rules in order to understand and use them correctly.