Read the following sentences:

  • There is some water in the bottle.
  • He is fond of his daughter.
  • He fell off the ladder.

In sentence 1, the word in shows the relation between two things – water and bottle.

In sentence 2, the word of shows the relation between the adjective fond and the noun daughter.

In sentence 3, the word off shows the relation between the verb fell and the noun ladder.

These words which are used before a noun or a pronoun to show its relationship with another word in the sentence are called prepositions. The noun or pronoun which follows a preposition is called its object. Note that pronouns used after a preposition should be in the objective case.

  • He is fond of her. (NOT He is fond of she.)

A preposition may have two or more objects.

Between you and me there are few secrets. (Here the pronouns you and me are the objects of the preposition between.)

Kinds of prepositions

There are different kinds of prepositions.

Simple prepositions

These are words like at, in, for, to, with, on, off, out, etc.

  • He is in the office.
  • She sat on the bench.
  • She is angry with him.

Compound prepositions

These are words like above, before, behind, below, across, among, around, beside and between. Compound prepositions are generally formed by adding the prefix ‘a-‘ or ‘by-‘ to a noun, an adjective or an adverb.

Phrase prepositions

These are groups of words that serve as prepositions. Examples are: according to, along with, because of, in front of, by means of, on behalf of, in accordance with, in addition to, with reference to and in spite of.

  • Owing to his ill health, he retired from business.
  • He succeeded by dint of perseverance and hard work.
  • She stood in front of the mirror.
  • I can’t get along with him.

Relations shown by prepositions

Prepositions show various kinds of relations. The most important among them are the following:


  • She ran across the street.
  • The boy fell among the thorns.
  • We were at the foot of the hill.
  • The thief was hiding behind the cupboard.


  • I have a meeting in the afternoon.
  • You must return before sunset.
  • Wait till tomorrow.
  • We waited for hours.

Method and manner

  • The letter came by post.
  • He cut the cake with a knife.
  • They fought with courage.
  • They succeeded by hard work.

Reason and Purpose

  • She died of malaria.
  • He trembled with anger.
  • Smoking is injurious to health.


  • He is a man of principles.
  • Mumbai is the financial capital of India.
  • I saw a boy with red hair.

Direction and Motion

  • He fell into the well.
  • He climbed up the tree.
  • She walked towards the market.
  • The moon moves around the earth.

Objects of prepositions

The object of a preposition may be a noun, a pronoun, a gerund, an infinitive or a noun clause.

  • The house was built near a river. (Noun)
  • She was talking to him. (Pronoun)
  • We were prevented from entering the house. (Gerund)
  • What would you like to do besides watch a movie? (Infinitive)
  • I am content with what I have.  (Noun clause)

Correct use of some prepositions

Prepositions may be small words, but they are very important ones and their correct use shows your mastery of the language. Here are some hints about the correct use of some prepositions.

Beside and besides
Beside means ‘by the side of’. Besides means ‘in addition to’.

  • They have a house beside the sea. (by the side of the sea)
  • He stood beside me. (by my side)
  • He plays the violin besides the piano and the guitar. (He plays three instruments.)
  • Besides being a good actor, he is also a good singer. (= In addition to being a good actor, he is also a good singer.)

Since and for
Since should be used with a point of time in the past. It is used with a present perfect tense. For is used only when you refer to a period of time.

  • He has been absent since Tuesday. (NOT He has been absent for Tuesday.)
  • I have been ill since last week.
  • He has been absent for three days. (NOT He has been absent since three days.)
  • I have been ill for two weeks.

Between and among

Between is used to refer to two or three separate people or things. Among is used when the reference is to a group of people or things which we do not see separately.

  • She sat among the children.
  • She sat between Susie and Ann.
  • This is a custom which exists among the Hindus.
  • He has a house between the river and the woods.

By and with
By is used to refer to the doer of the action. With is used to refer to the instrument with which the action is performed.

  • The spider was killed by the boy.
  • The boy killed the spider with a stone.

In and At

In is usually used with large places – countries, districts, large cities etc. At is generally used for small and unimportant places like villages, small towns etc.

  • We shall meet him at the club this evening.
  • His brother lives in Paris.

Notes: This rule is not very rigidly followed. In is often used with small places. At, however, is seldom used for big places.

On, in, at and by

At shows an exact point of time; on shows a more general point of time and in shows a period of time.

  • I have a meeting at 4 pm.
  • The train leaves at 2 o’clock.
  • I was born on a Monday.
  • I was born on April 21st.
  • I was born in January.
  • We will visit them in the summer.
  • It is very hot in the day but quite cold at night.

By shows the latest time at which an action will be finished. So it is usually used with a future tense.

  • I will be leaving by 6 o’clock.
  • I hope to finish the work by next week.

On and upon
On is generally used to talk about things at rest. Upon is used about things in motion.

  • She sat on a chair.
  • He jumped upon his horse.

In, within
With reference to time, in means at the end of a certain period; within means before the end of a certain period.

  • I will finish writing this book in three days. (at the end of three days)
  • I will finish writing this book within three days. (before the end of three days)

Special uses of some prepositions

In and at

Both at and in can be used with the names of cities, towns and villages. We use in when we are talking about the place as an area; we use at when we see it as a point.


  • My sister lives in Tokyo.
  • Our plane stopped at Tokyo on the way to Iran. (Tokyo = Tokyo airport)

We use at to talk about group activities and shops/workplaces.

  • I first met him at a party. (NOT …in a party.)
  • There weren’t many people at the meeting.
  • I saw him at the baker’s. (= baker’s shop)

We use in with the names of streets and at when we give the house number.

  • He lives in MG Street.
  • He lives at 128 MG Street.

We use on when we think of a place as a surface.

  • The cat is lying on the floor.
  • Hang this picture on the wall.

Till and until

Both till and until are used of time.

  • We waited till / until 12 o’ clock.
  • He slept till / until 11 am.


Since is used before a noun or phrase denoting some point of time. It is preceded by a verb in the perfect tenses.

  • He hasn’t eaten anything since yesterday.
  • He has been ill since last Monday.
  • It has been raining since yesterday.


In is used before a noun denoting a period of time. It means ‘at the end of’. Within means ‘before the end of’.

  • I shall return in an hour. (= at the end of one hour)
  • I shall return within an hour. (= before the end of one hour)

Prepositions: Some special points to be noted

Cases where prepositions are omitted

Prepositions of time are generally omitted before words like ‘last’, ‘first’, ‘next’ or ‘this’.

  • I met him last Friday. (NOT I met him on last Friday.)
  • We will discuss the matter next time.
  • I will visit my parents this week.

The use of preposition in the following types of sentences is optional.

  • I was here (in) the July before last.
  • They visited us (on) the day before yesterday.
  • He left the city (on) the next day.
  • We lived there (for) three months.

Prepositions are after certain verbs

Some intransitive verbs become transitive when a preposition is placed after them.

Examples are: listen to, apply to, partake of, aware of, beware of, depend upon, dispense with, dispose of and prevail upon

Different prepositions
Some words which differ slightly in form and meaning from each other take different prepositions after them.

Examples are:

Desire for; desirous of
Confidence in; confident of
According to; in accordance with
Sensible of; insensible to
Affection for; affectionate to
Ambition for; ambitious of
Fond of; fondness for
Neglectful of; negligent in
Dislike to; liking for

Gerund after preposition
The infinitive cannot be used with certain words which require a preposition followed by a gerund.

  • I am thinking of visiting my parents.
  • He is bent of attending the meeting.
  • You have no excuse for being late.

Commonly confused prepositions

About and On

Both about and on can mean ‘regarding’. There is a slight difference of meaning.


  • We had a discussion about money.
  • He gave a lecture on finance.

About used in the first sentence suggests that the discussion was ordinary. On used in the second sentence suggests that the lecture was serious or academic, suitable for specialists.

Above and over

Above and over can both mean ‘higher than’.

  • The water came up above / over our waist.

Above is preferred when one thing is not directly over another.

  • There is a temple above the lake. (The temple is not directly over the lake.)

Over is preferred when one thing covers or touches another.

  • He put on a sweater over his shirt. (NOT He put on a sweater above his shirt.)

In measurements of temperature and height we use above. In measurements of ages and speeds we use over.

  • The temperature never rose above 5 degrees Celsius.
  • You have to be over 18 to see that film.

Across and through

The difference between across and through is similar to the difference meaningon and inThrough is used for movement in a three dimensional space, with things on all sides. Across cannot be used with that meaning.


  • We went through the wood. (We were in the wood.)
  • The road goes through the forest.
  • We walked across the desert. (We were on the desert.)

Across and over can both be used to mean ‘on the other side of a line / road / bridge etc’.

  • There is a hospital across / over the border. (= There is a hospital on the other side of the border.)
  • His shop is across / over the road. (= His shop is on the other side of the road.)

Across and over can also be used to talk about movement to the other side of a line / road etc.

  • He jumped across / over the stream.

We prefer over when we say ‘on/to the other side of something high’.

  • He climbed over the wall. (NOT He climbed across the wall.)

We prefer across when we say ‘on / to the other side of something flat’.

  • We swam across the river. (NOT We swam over the river.)


The preposition along is used with nouns that refer to things with a long thin shape. Examples are: road, river, corridor, line

  • She ran along the road.
  • There are trees along the riverside.

Along and through

To talk about periods or activities, we prefer through.

  • She was silent all through the journey. (NOT She was silent all along the journey.)

Note that along can also be used as an adverb particle.

  • Come along. (= Come with me.)
  • Run along now. (= Go away.)

Words with appropriate prepositions

Some verbs, adjectives and nouns are followed by particular prepositions. Here are some of the most common combinations. Note that alternatives are sometimes possible, and that British and American usage sometimes differ.

Absorbed in
He is completely absorbed in his research work.

Abstain from
You must abstain from smoking and drinking.

Acceptable to
That suggestion is not acceptable to us.

Acquainted with
I am only slightly acquainted with him.

Acquitted of
James was acquitted of the charge of theft.

Adapt to
One must learn to adapt oneself to changing circumstances.

Addicted to
James is addicted to gambling.

Admit to
He was admitted to the Medical College.

Admit of
This is an urgent matter which admits of no delay.

Allotted to
I have performed the task allotted to me.

Amazed at
I was amazed at her performance.

Anxious to
She is anxious to hear from her son.

Avail … of
Avail yourself of this opportunity.

Aware of
I am not aware of their plans.

Backward in
She is rather backward in her studies.

Believe in
Do you believe in ghosts?

Boast of
She boasts of her aristocratic upbringing.

Brood over
Don’t brood over past failures.

Call at (=visit)
On the way we called at a friend’s house.

Call for (= demand)
The principal has called for an explanation from the suspended students.

Care for
I don’t care for your objections. I have decided to do it.

Different uses of about

The preposition about has several uses. It can refer to movement or position in various directions or places.

  • The children were running about. (= The children were running in various directions.)
  • Clothes were lying about the room. (= Clothes were lying in various places in the room.)

About can also mean near or nearby.

  • Is anybody about? (= Is anybody nearby?)
  • There was no one about to save the boy from drowning.

In connection with

About can mean in connection with.

  • We talked about his plans.
  • They told the police about it.
  • I don’t know anything about it.


About can be used to make a rough estimate of something.

  • There were about twenty boys in the class. (It is a rough estimate of the number of students in the class. The actual figure could be slightly higher or lower.)
  • It is about 3 o’clock. (Not exactly 3 o’clock)
  • She is about forty years old. (Not exactly forty)

Expressions with about

How about and what about

These expressions are usually used to ask for a person’s opinion regarding something.

  • How about it? (= What is your opinion?)
  • What about going for a long drive? (= What is your opinion about going for a long drive?)
  • She is a pretty girl. But what about her character?

While you are about it = while you are doing it

About and on

About and on can have similar meanings. About can be used to talk about ordinary, general kinds of communication. On is used to talk about something more serious or academic.


  • It is a picture book for children about the castles of Europe.
  • It is a text book on African history.

Some prepositional phrases

prepositional phrase is a group of words introduced by a preposition. There are quite a few prepositional phrases in English and these set phrases are often used with specific verbs.

Prepositional phrases usually go at the end of sentences. Some of them also go at the beginning of sentences. In this lesson we will learn the usage of some common prepositional phrases.

By heart

To learn something by heart is to memorize it.

The teacher asked us to learn the poem by heart.

At a loss

They sold the car at a loss.

When you are at a loss for words, you are unable to speak.

I was so confused that I was at a loss for words.

From my perspective / from my point of view / from where I stand

All of these phrases mean ‘in my opinion’.

A: What do you think about their decision to withdraw support?

B: From my point of view, it is disastrous.

‘From where I stand, it appears that we are going to lose.’

By the way and by the by

These phrases are used when you want to add information.

Tom: What do you think of this cellphone? Is it any good?

Bill: This is the most popular and, by the way, the cheapest model we have in stock.

This phrase is also used when the speaker wants to open a new subject in a casual manner.

Peter: Oh, by the way, Mark, do you still have that leather jacket you borrowed from me?

Mark: Let me check. I thought I gave it back.

For better or (for) worse / for better, for worse

If something happens for better or worse, it happens whether its results are good or bad. Note that this phrase is mainly used in a marriage ceremony.

Correct use of some prepositions

Study the following sentences. They contain some common mistakes in the use of prepositions.


Incorrect: This resembles to that.

Correct: This resembles that.

Incorrect: The baby resembles with her mother.

Correct: The baby resembles her mother.

The verb resemble does not take a preposition before its object.


Incorrect: He wrote me.

Correct: He wrote to me.

Incorrect: Write to me a letter.

Correct: Write me a letter.

When write has no direct object, we put to before the indirect object.


Incorrect: I shall explain them this.

Correct: I shall explain this to them.

The verb explain is followed by direct object + preposition + indirect object.


Incorrect: He invited me in dinner.

Correct: He invited me to dinner.

Invite takes the preposition to after it.


Incorrect: He reached to the station.

Correct: He reached the station.

The verb reach does not take a preposition before its object.

Incorrect: He is favorite with his friends.

Correct: He is a favorite with his friends.


Incorrect: She did ask any question to him.

Correct: She did not ask him any question.

Ask is usually followed by indirect object + direct object.

Waste, spend

Incorrect: We should not waste much time in trifles.

Correct: We should not waste much time on trifles.

Incorrect: He spent a lot of money in daughter’s wedding.

Correct: He spent a lot of money on his daughter’s wedding.

Prepositions after particular words and expressions

Certain words and expressions are followed by particular prepositions. Here is a list of the most common combinations.

Insist on

She insisted on paying for the drinks.

Interested in

He was always interested in politics.

Kind to

People have always been kind to me.

Lacking in

She is lacking in tact.

Laugh at

The little girl laughed at the poor beggar.

Laugh about

We will all laugh about this one day.

Listen to

Why don’t you listen to me?

Look at

What are you looking at?

Look for (= try to find)

I am looking for my keys.

Marriage to

Her marriage to James didn’t last very long.

Nice to

She is nice to everybody.

Operate on (a patient)

They operated on her yesterday evening.

Pay for (something that is bought)

Will you pay for the drinks?

Polite to

You weren’t polite to me last night.

Prevent somebody from doing something

She prevented me from entering her room.

Reason for

Nobody knows the reason for the accident.

Rude to

She was pretty rude to me last night.

Run into (= meet)

I ran into James at the library this morning.

Shocked at / by

I was shocked at / by the news of her death.


Sorry about something that has happened

I am sorry about your accident.

Sorry for / about something that one has done

I am sorry for / about interrupting you.

Sorry for a person

I really feel sorry for her.

Time prepositions

Time prepositions


Use on with days.

  • I met him on Friday.
  • My birthday is on May 18th.
  • We are having a small party on Christmas day.

Use at with clock times and other expressions of time such as noon, night and midnight.

  • The train departs at 6.30.
  • We usually have dinner at 9 o’clock.
  • I will meet you at noon.
  • Phone me at lunch time.

Use in with other parts of the day and with months, years and seasons.

  • We usually go out in the evening.
  • I saw him in the morning.
  • I was born in May.
  • Trees shed their leaves in autumn.
  • Days are short and dark in winter.
  • I take a nap in the afternoon.
  • They got married in 1996.
  • This house was built in 1972.

Other prepositions indicating time

In English, we use several prepositions to show time. The most common among them are: since, for, by, during and within. The sequences from-to and from-until are also used to talk about time.

  • We have lived in this city since 2007. (We arrived in this city in 2007 and have lived here ever since.)
  • She has been gone since Tuesday. (She went on Tuesday and has not returned yet.)
  • I am going to Vienna for two weeks. (I will spend two weeks there.)
  • I work from nine to six.
  • I will be here from three o’clock onwards.
  • The program lasted from 3 to 6. (Beginning at 3 and ending at 6)
  • It rained during the night. (For a certain period of time in the night)
  • We must finish the work within a year. (= No longer than a year)

Prepositions exercise

One of the biggest problems that ESL students face while learning English is an inability to use prepositions correctly. Although prepositions are small words, they can be quite confusing. Test your knowledge of prepositions with the grammar exercise.

A passage is given below with some blank spaces. You have to fill in the blanks using an appropriate preposition.

There are of course no friends like living, breathing, corporeal men and women; my devotion………………1…………… reading has never made me a recluse. How could it? Books are ………………2………………….. the people, by the people. Literature is the immortal part …………………..3……………….. history; it is the best and most enduring part of personality. But book-friends have this advantage …………………4………………… . living friends; you can enjoy the most truly aristocratic society …………………5………………… the world whenever you want it. The great dead are beyond our physical reach, and the great living are usually almost as inaccessible; as for our personal friends and acquaintance, we cannot always see them. Perchance they are asleep, or a way …………………..6………………… a journey. But in a private library, you can at any moment converse ………………….7………………….. Socrates or Shakespeare or Carlyle or Dumas or Dickens or Shaw or Barrie or Galsworthy. And there is no doubt that in these books you see these men ………………..8………………. their best. They wrote for you. They ‘laid themselves out’, they did their ultimate best ………………..9………………. entertain you, to make a favorable impression. You are necessary to them as an audience is to an actor; only instead of seeing them masked, you look …………………..10………………….. their inmost heart of heart.


1. my devotion to reading

2. for the people

3. immortal part of history

4. advantage over living friends

5. aristocratic society in the world

6. a way on a journey

7. converse with

8. men at their best

9. best to entertain you

10. look into their inner most heart

Using through

Through can be used as a preposition or an adverb. When through is used as a preposition, it is followed by a noun. When it is used as an adverb, it is not followed by a noun.

Through means from end to end or side to side of.

  • The River Thames goes through London.
  • We drove through the desert.

Through can also be used to talk about entering at one side and coming out at the other.

  • The road goes through the forest.
  • The train went through the tunnel.
  • She wouldn’t let me through.

To go through something is to examine it.

  • We must go through the accounts. (= We must examine the accounts.)

Through can also be used to talk about time. It means from beginning to end of.

  • He will not live through the night. (= He will die before morning.)

Through as an adverb

As an adverb through means from end to end, side to side or beginning to end.

  • I have read the letter through twice and cannot understand it.

Through can mean ‘all the way’.

  • Does this train go through to Bangkok? (= Does this train go all the way to Bangkok?)

All through

  • I was awake all through the night.

Through can also indicate the cause, etc.

  • The accident happened through no fault of yours.

Mistakes in the use of prepositions

In this lesson we will take a look at some of the most common mistakes in the use of prepositions.

  • Incorrect: The ball rolled slowly in the goal.
  • Correct: The ball rolled slowly into the goal.
  • Incorrect: She ran in the room crying.
  • Correct: She ran into the room crying.

The prepositions in and on are used to show position. To say where things are going, we use into and onto.

  • Incorrect: The train will arrive within five minutes.
  • Correct: The train will arrive in five minutes.

We use in to say how soon something will happen. Within means ‘inside’ or ‘not beyond’.

  • Incorrect: If you don’t live by your income, you will incur huge debts.
  • Correct: If you don’t live within your income, you will incur huge debts.
  • Incorrect: The ball went to the window ad fell on the ground.
  • Correct: The ball went through the window and fell on the ground.

Through is used for movement in a three dimensional space.

  • Incorrect: He wrote the book in a month’s time.
  • Correct: He wrote the book in a month.

The expressions in a week’s / month’s time is used to say how something will happen. It is not used to say how long something takes.

  • Incorrect: We usually go and see Granny on Sunday.
  • Correct: We usually go and see Granny on Sundays.
  • Incorrect: I don’t care for your opinion.
  • Correct: I don’t care about your opinion.

Care for means ‘like’ or ‘be fond of’. If you care about something, you feel that it is important or interesting.

Prepositions exercise

Complete the following sentences using appropriate prepositions.

1. She was happy when she got the job. But six months …………………….. she was fired.

2. I prefer the seaside …………………. the mountains.

3. She stopped talking about her illnesses and went ………………… . to tell us about all her other problems.

4. He is inclined ………………………. lose his temper.

5. Children raised by single parents may have difficulty …………………… . forming stable relationships themselves.

6. A crocodile starts life ………………… .. an egg.

7. She was surprised …………………… .. his mistake.

8.  The Managing Director began his address …………………… .. the shareholders by summarizing the results for the year.

9. There tends ………………….. be jealousy when a new little brother or sister comes along.

10. I am going …………………… . a business trip next week.


1. She was happy when she got a job. But six months later she was fired.

2. I prefer the seaside to the mountains.

3. She stopped talking about her illnesses and went on to tell us about all her other problems.

4. He is inclined to lose temper.

5. Children raised by single parents may have difficulty in forming stable relationships themselves.

6. A crocodile starts life as an egg.

7. She was surprised at his mistake.

8. The Managing Director began his address to the shareholders by summarizing the results for the year.

9. There tends to be jealousy when a new brother or sister comes along.

10. I am going on a business trip next week.
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