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Prepositions

Prepositional phrases are formed using a preposition and its object (a noun or a pronoun). Prepositional phrases describe the relationship between the object of the preposition and another element of a sentence. In general, prepositional phrases describe relationships of place, time, and ownership.

  • The dog is hiding under the car.
  • They only rented that apartment for a month.
  • The back door of my house is painted blue.

Following is a list of commonly used prepositions.

aboutbeforedespiteofto
abovebehinddownofftoward
acrossbelowduringonunder
afterbeneathforoutuntil
againstbesidefromoverup
alongbesidesinsincewith
amongbetweenintothroughwithin
aroundbeyondlikethroughoutwithout
atbyneartill

compound preposition functions as a single preposition, but is composed of more than one word. Just like other prepositions, a compound preposition is followed by a noun or pronoun object.

Following is a list of common compound prepositions.

ahead ofin addition toin regard to
as far asin back ofin spite of
because ofin case ofinstead of
by means ofin lieu ofnext to
contrary toin light ofout of
  • They solved the problem by means of a special algorithm.
  • In case of fire, do not use the elevators.
  • In spite of his hard work, the promotion went to Jane Anderson.
  • He ran out of the haunted house.

Whether simple or compound, prepositions function the same in sentences.

The preposition between expresses a choice involving two people or things, while the preposition among expresses a choice involving more than two people or things.

  • She had to choose between going out or watching a movie at home.
  • There is an enormous difference between love and hate.
  • Just between you and me, I’d really like to go out with Juan’s sister.
  • The mood among the guests was quite festive.
  • I have always counted you among my friends.
  • Among the men in his squadron was a lad of only 19.

The object of a prepositional phrase can be either a noun or a pronoun. In most cases, when a noun is replaced by a pronoun, the pronoun must be of the same number and gender as the noun.

  • Ms. Harper spoke of her son quite often.
  • Ms. Harper spoke of him quite often.
  • He sat on the old mare and looked out over the valley.
  • He sat on her and looked out over the valley.
  • In spite of the impending storm, they set off for the park.
  • In spite of it, they set off for the park.
  • She never received the gift from Tom and me.
  • She never received the gift from us.
  • He danced with the same two girls all evening.
  • He danced with them all evening.

However, if a prepositional phrase introduced by in indicates a location, a pronoun object sometimes cannot replace a noun object. Instead, it is more common to use an adverb, such as here or there. This is particularly true of cities and large regions.

  • She loved living in Washington, D.C.
  • She loved living there.
  • We haven’t been in this town for very long.
  • We haven’t been here for very long.

Compare the examples above with those below.

  • The woman sat comfortably in a comfy chair.
  • The woman sat comfortably in it.
  • Richard found 50 dollars in the little box.
  • Richard found 50 dollars in it.

Something similar occurs with the preposition of when it shows possession and, on occasion, with the preposition by. Although pronoun objects are quite acceptable following of and by, there is a tendency to use a possessive pronoun in place of the prepositional phrase.

  • The color of the blouse is bright red.
  • Its color is bright red.
  • The roar of the huge lion gave me chills.
  • Its roar gave me chills.
  • The quality of his poems and short stories was highly regarded.
  • Their quality was highly regarded.
  • The lecture by Professor Helms had an impact on us all.
  • His lecture had an impact on us all.
  • The raid on the house by the police was carried out in secret.
  • Their raid on the house was carried out in secret.

Although each of these sentences could have contained a prepositional phrase with a pronoun object, the tendency is to use a possessive pronoun instead of a prepositional phrase.

POSSIBLEThe raid on the house by them was unwarranted.
MORE LIKELYTheir raid on the house was unwarranted.

Sentences are not limited to one prepositional phrase. Indeed, a series of prepositional phrases can occur in one sentence.

  • Look in the attic in a little box on the floor behind that old mattress.

Each prepositional phrase in this example gives further information about where to look.

Where should I look?in the attic
Where in the attic?behind that old mattress
Where behind the mattress?on the floor
Where on the floor?in a little box

Naturally, you cannot connect random prepositional phrases to form a sentence. They must make sense together and provide further information. Consider what might logically follow the prepositional phrases in these examples.

  • She spent the night in an old house . . .
  • She spent the night in an old house located on a cliff near the Black River.
  • The men worked on the roof . . .
  • The men worked on the roof next to a chimney crumbling from years of neglect.

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