The English Language Learner’s Guide to English Prepositions

English Prepositions

Peter flew to the window. Then, he was at the window. Earlier in the night, he had flown by the window. He thought it was open, so he flew into the window. Wendy saw Peter from the window. Her breath left a mark on the window. Peter’s favorite part of the window was how it opened.

All I had to do in the above sentences was change the prepositions and alter the wording a bit, and bam! they were new sentences with completely new meanings. Still, the object of each of these sentences was the window. As you can see, prepositions are small but mighty parts of speech. To English language learners, these pesky little words can be very challenging to master.

It’s really no surprise that English prepositions are so difficult to learn. For one thing, English has an excessive number of these relational words—more, in fact, than any other language out there. On top of that, the rules for when to use each preposition can be quite arbitrary. Native English speakers know when to use each preposition only because they are so familiar with the common uses of these words, but not because there are technical, logical rules that dictate their usage.

So, you may be wondering, is it even possible for an English language learner to master prepositions? Well, that depends. Are you willing to do lots of reading, lots of writing, and lots of practicing? Then of course it’s possible! Anything is possible, after all. All it takes is faith and trust . . . and a little bit of pixie dust!

What is a preposition?

A preposition is a part of speech that indicates the temporal, spatial, or logical relationship between the object and the rest of the sentence. Common prepositions include to, of, for, by, from, about, and around. There are many others, including above, after, before, below, beneath, during, following, into, inside, near, onto, outside, through, toward, under, and upon.

Prepositions are very important to the meaning of many sentences. Just look at these sentences about Peter and the Lost Boys to see what I mean. The prepositions are in bold, and the objects are underlined.

Peter flew home to Neverland.

The Lost Boys had been waiting for Peter for hours.

Thankfully, none of the boys knew how to tell time.

Why are prepositions important?

Peter Pan Let’s look more carefully at each example. We can do this by removing the prepositions and seeing what effect that has on the sentence.

Peter flew home Neverland.

In the first example, to is needed to connect Neverland to the rest of the sentence. Without it, the sentence stops making sense after home.

The Lost Boys had been waiting Peter hours.

In the second sentence, there are two objects: Peter and hours. For establishes the role played by these objects. Without for, Peter actually becomes an adjective describing hours, which neither makes sense nor conveys the intended meaning.

Thankfully, none the boys knew how tell time.

In the final example, removing the prepositions means there is now no logical connection between none and the boys, nor is it clear how tell time fits into the rest of the sentence.

As you can see, prepositions are very important for creating meaning!

More examples

I know memorization isn’t the best way to learn, but when it comes to prepositions, it’s probably your best bet. Here’s a quick list of rules and examples of proper preposition usage to remember.

  • Peter can go home or be at home, but he has to go to his house or be at his house. He can’t go house or be at house.
  • Saying that Peter flew by Captain Hook’s ship is very similar to saying that he flew past the ship. However, saying that Peter lives by Captain Hook’s ship means he lives near the ship, not that he passes by the ship to get home.
  • Tinkerbell recovered from an injury, but she is done with pirates and she hopes for a peaceful future with Peter.
  • Peter can fly to Wendy’s window at night, noon, or midnight, but if he travels to the window at other times, he must go in the morning, afternoon, or evening.
  • Peter Pan was published in 1911, but it was published on a Friday.

Test your knowledge and learn more!

Practice makes perfect, and there’s no better way to practice than to take a quiz! If you’d like to learn more about when to use prepositions, you should take a break from Peter Pan and focus your attention instead on another magical topic: puppies! This fun quiz covers basic preposition usage with help from your favorite furry friends.

Or maybe you’re looking for more comprehensive information about prepositions. If that’s the case, check out The Complete Guide to the Parts of Speech, where you’ll learn everything you need to know about the building blocks of the English language. How magical!

Image source: Unsplash/Pixabay.com, Stevebidmead/Pixabay.com

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