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Prepositions and Compound Prepositions

The following list shows the most common prepositionsNote that some of these words can be other parts of speech, depending on their use. The word up, for instance, can be a noun, verb, adverb, adjective, or preposition.

Common Prepositions

as toatbeforebehind
concerningdespitedowndue to
upuponup tovia

Compound prepositions are several words that together function as a single preposition. Compound prepositions combine at least one preposition with a noun or adjective. The English language contains many compound prepositions; the following table lists some of the more common ones.

Compound Prepositions

ahead ofas far asbecause ofby means of
contrary toin addition toin back ofin case of
in lieu ofin light ofin regard toin spite of
instead ofnext toout of

Prepositions that form in this manner with verbs are not called compound prepositions; they are phrasal verbs. Examples of phrasal verbs include put onstand by, and use up.

Common Pitfall: Misused Prepositions

Some prepositions are commonly misused because the writer mistakes one meaning for another. The word except means without, minus an object, or excluding a certain event. Besides means with, plus an object, or including a certain event.

  • Incorrect: Maria asked for all the books by Fitzgerald besides The Great Gatsby. (Incorrect if the intent of the sentence is that Maria did not want The Great Gatsby.)
  • Correct: Maria asked for all the books by Fitzgerald except The Great Gatsby.
  • Incorrect: Except volleyball, Maria plays basketball and soccer. (Incorrect if the intent of the sentence is that Maria plays all three sports.)
  • Correct: Besides volleyball, Maria plays basketball and soccer.

The word between refers to a choice involving exactly two things. Among refers to a choice involving more than two things. The most common mistake is to use between in cases where among should be used.

  • Incorrect: I had to choose between going to the movie, ice skating, and having dinner with my parents.
  • Correct: I had to choose among going to the movie, ice skating, and having dinner with my parents.
  • Incorrect: I had to choose among blue and red paint.
  • Correct: I had to choose between blue and red paint.

Common Pitfall: The Double Preposition

It is not necessary to use two prepositions together. In most cases, one preposition is sufficient.

  • Incorrect: Do not go beyond toward the water.
  • Correct: Do not go toward the water.
  • Incorrect: He walked around by the fence.
  • Correct: He came by the fence.
  • Correct: He walked around the fence.

Gray Area: Prepositions at the End of a Sentence

A hard-and-fast rule of grammar used to be “never end a sentence with a preposition.” This rule was created by grammarians who had studied Latin and were carrying over rules from that language into the English language. Modern usage does not adhere to this rule as strictly. If a writer feels it is necessary to capture dialog or simplify the structure of a sentence by putting a preposition at the end, it is permissible to do so. However, sentences can sometimes be recast so that a preposition at the end is not necessary.

  • Acceptable: What kind of trouble is she in?
  • Acceptable: He had no idea what he was there for.
  • Better: He had no idea why he was there.

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