Section 4: Prepositions

Prepositions are structure-class words that precede a nominal, which is the object of the preposition. A preposition can be simple or phrasal. Together, the preposition and its object form a unit that can function either adjectivally or adverbially to modify form-class words. To repeat, a preposition followed by a nominal functioning as its object is a prepositional phrase.

Simple prepositions consist of one word. English has many prepositions. Common simple prepositions include about, across, after, against, among, around, as, at, before, beside, between, by, concerning, during, for, from, in, into, including, like, near, on, of, opposite, out, over, pending, regarding, since, to, through, under, until, via, with, without. Many of these words can also do double duty as subordinators, so be sure you can tell the difference.

Phrasal prepositions consist of two or more words. Common phrasal prepositions include according to, apart from, because of, by virtue of, down from, except for, for the sake of, in addition to, in place of, in regard to, instead of, off of, on behalf of, outside of, regardless of, short of, together with, and up to.

Prepositions occur before a noun phrase (in the “pre-position”). A preposition must have a nominal object to be a prepositional phrase.

  • under the blanket
  • over the top
  • in the green shirt

Prepositions connect their object to other words or phrases in a sentence. This connection modifies the other words or phrases:

We hurried to the store.

  • The prepositional phrase to the store modifies OUR HURRYING adverbially by telling you where we hurried to.

We drove without concern for the speed limit.

  • The prepositional phrase without concern  modifies OUR DRIVING adverbially and for the speed limit modifies CONCERN adjectivally. Be particularly aware that if two or more prepositional phrases are "stacked" up, the second will most often modify the nominal object in the previous prepositional phrase.

We needed a bucket of that ice cream with the Snickers bars mixed in.

  • of that ice cream modifies A BUCKET adjectivally.
  • with the Snickers bars mixed in modifies THAT ICE CREAM adjectivally.

For this section, we are primarily concerned with identifying prepositions. We will look more closely at prepositional phrases and how to determine their function in Section 5.

To test your understanding of the concepts discussed on this page, begin with the link below for an example practice exercise:


For a bit more of a challenge, analyze the following sentence from Robinson Crusoe for prepositions.

I told my mother that my intensely firm thoughts were bent upon seeing the very wide world that I should never settle to anything with resolution enough to go through with it, and my father should be giving me more robust consent than force me to go without it.

To review your answers to these two samples, check the PREPOSITION SAMPLES ANALYSES page.