What is a Preposition?

In English, a preposition is a word (or phrase) that connects an antecedent and an object with the purpose of demonstrating the relationship between them. The object of a preposition is typically a pronoun (in the objective case) or a noun. Verbs, adjectives, adverbs and phrases may come after a preposition as well. Prepositions usually come before their recipient, but there are deviations to this rule.

Think of a preposition as a word or phrase that is used with another item to announce an object or to demonstrate time, direction or position. Prepositions always have objects. Prepositions such as underneath, between and opposite provide details. Some examples of prepositional phrases include under the table, after dinner and behind the counter.

The Chicago Manual of Style explains that prepositions point to many sorts of relationships: such as time, means, cause, possession, opposition, support, concession, exceptions and spatial relationships. Some words that exemplify these are to, out of, at, throughout, until, like, by, of, besides, except, for, against and for all.

Two types of prepositions exist: simple and compound. Simple prepositions contain only one syllable (such as: by, for, from, like, off, on, since, to, up, with). Compound prepositions are polysyllabic (for example: about, across, alongside, below, between, despite, inside, opposite, throughout, until).

Participial prepositions are participles that function as prepositions (verbs that end with the suffix -ing or the suffix -ed), such as barring, considering, during, provided and speaking. The difference between participial prepositions and other participles is very simple: participial prepositions generate no danglers (modifiers that show up where they’re not supposed to) when there is no subject. An example: Regarding Lisbon, there is a very interesting documentary on YouTube.

Phrasal prepositions are two or more words coming together to form a prepositional entity. Examples: according to, because of, by means of, given that, in addition to, in regard to, instead of, in spite of, out of, prior to, rather than and with respect to. Keep in mind that phrasal prepositions are inherently wordy, and it is often more appropriate to use simpler words.

Prepositional phrases (not to be confused with phrasal prepositions) have several components: the preposition itself, the preposition’s object, and, optionally, extra words that alter the object. These prepositional phrases can be utilized as nouns, adjectives (adjectival phrases) and adverbs (adverbial phrases). Here are examples of each:

  • Prepositional Noun Phrase: everywhere that John went.
  • Adjectival Phrase: by the end of the day, he was basically bored with it.
  • Adverbial Phrase: I’ll be there in an hour.

As you can see, the adjectival and adverbial prepositional phrases are placed as adjacent to the modified word as possible to stay away from potential problems. If multiple components are modified all at once (such as in the bed, the table and the closet for the emperor have been delivered) then the prepositional phrase should be placed after all the components.


Merriam-webster.com,. ‘Preposition | Grammar : A Word Or Group Of Words That Is Used With A Noun, Pronoun, Or Noun Phrase To Show Direction, Location, Or Time, Or To Introduce An Object‘. N.p., 2015. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

Study.com,. ‘What Is A Preposition? – Definition, Uses & Examples – Video & Lesson Transcript | Study.Com‘. N.p., 2015. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

The Chicago Manual of Style. 16th ed. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 2010.