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Ministry of Education.

Word Class: Prepositions

This is a closed word class.

Prepositions are grammatical words that show relationships between two things. These relationships often relate to time or space.

  • The screening is after the dinner.
  • That happened before the war.
  • The quartet played during the interval.
  • The banana is in the box.
  • The banana is on the box.
  • The banana is under the box.
  • The banana is beside the box.

The most important clue for recognising prepositions is that they usually have direct objects. This makes them rather like transitive verbs.

The combination of a preposition and its object is called a prepositional phrase.

Some prepositional phrases:

Preposition Determiner + Noun
to their school
in that magazine
from our fridge
over the moon
across the grass
around the bend
despite these problems
with Karla's permission

Some common prepositions:

about, above, across, after, against, along, amidst, among, around, as, at, before, behind, below, beneath, beside, between, beyond, by, despite, down, during, except, for, from, in, inside, into, like, near, of, off, on, onto, opposite, out, outside, over, past, round, since, through, till, to, throughout, towards, under, underneath, unlike, until, up, upon, via, with, within, without

Prepositions also sometimes work in pairs:

  • as for Myra; except for the soppy ending; up to the window; out of the tree.

Many familiar groups of words function like prepositions. We call these complex prepositions:

according to, ahead of, apart from, as to, because of, by means of, by way of, close to, in return for, in aid of, in case of, in charge of, in favour of, in front of, in need of, in place of, in respect of, in spite of, in view of, instead of, irrespective of, in addition to, in accordance with, in common with, in contact with, in line with, next to, on account of, on behalf of, on grounds of, owing to, prior to.

Some prepositional expressions in American English are not the same as in New Zealand English.

  • He took it off of the wall.
  • Aside from the war, it was the worst time in my life.
  • I did it in behalf of my friend.
  • The garage is in back of the house.

Exploring language content page

Exploring Language is reproduced by permission of the publishers Learning Media Limited on behalf of Ministry of Education, P O Box 3293, Wellington, New Zealand, © Crown, 1996.

Published on: 25 Feb 2009