Prepositions - Small, But Important, Words!
WHAT IS A PREPOSITION?
According to the Merriam-Webster Learners Dictionary, a preposition is: “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”.
Prepositions express relationships such as space (place, position, direction), time, or figurative location. A preposition always has an object (usually a noun or pronoun). The preposition and its object (and any modifiers) are together called a prepositional phrase.
- The preposition “on” in “The flask is on the lab bench” shows location.
- The preposition “in” in “The centrifuge will finish in 3 hours” shows time.
WHY ARE PREPOSITIONS IMPORTANT?
Prepositions are often called the biggest small words in English because although they are generally short words, they are very important to the meaning of the sentence. A misused preposition can make a big difference between a clearly stated sentence and a confusing jumble of words. When used properly, however, prepositions provide the glue between parts of a sentence that allows you to share your scientific research more precisely and professionally.
Prepositions are used to connect nouns, pronouns, or phrases (called the object of the preposition) to other words within a sentence. They reveal the temporal, spatial, or logical relationship of their object to another word or part of the sentence. For example:
- The flask is on the lab bench. (space)
- The waste basket is below the lab bench. (space)
- The centrifuge is beside the lab bench. (space)
- The fume hood is across from the lab bench. (space)
- He broke the flask during the experiment. (time)
In each of these examples, the preposition (bold) is used to show the relationship in space or time of one noun (red) to another noun (blue). The second noun (blue) is called the object of the preposition. Note that a preposition can comprise multiple words (e.g., across from).
HOW DO I USE PREPOSITIONS?
Prepositions are usually short words, and are normally placed directly in front of nouns, noun phrases, or pronouns. Because they are somewhat vague, learning about prepositions and using them correctly in English sentences takes practice. Here are some rules for using prepositions:
- Prepositions are followed by a noun, and never by a verb.
- A prepositional phrase begins with a preposition and ends with the preposition’s object (either a noun or pronoun).
- The subject of the sentence cannot be part of a prepositional phrase.
- Verbs cannot be part of a prepositional phrase.
There are hundreds of prepositions in the English language. Understanding how to use each one may seem a bit daunting. Most of these prepositions fall into one of three categories: those denoting space (place, position, or direction), time, or other relationships. Some prepositions are formed using two or three words – like “across from” or “in front of.”
Common English Prepositions
in front of
The following three tables provide examples of the use of many commonly used prepositions (source: https://www.ego4u.com/en/cram-up/grammar/prepositions).
|Prepositions – Space (Place, Position, and Direction)|
|in||room, building, street, town, country||in the kitchen, in London|
|book, paper, etc.||in the book|
|car, taxi||in the car, in a taxi|
|picture, world||in the picture, in the world|
|at||meaning next to, by an object||at the door, at the station|
|for table||at the table|
|for events||at a concert, at the party|
|place where you are to do something typical (watch a film, study, work)||at the cinema, at school, at work|
|on||attached||the picture on the wall|
|for a place with a river||London lies on the Thames.|
|being on a surface||on the table|
|for a certain side (left, right)||on the left|
|for a floor in a house||on the first floor|
|for public transport||on the bus, on a plane|
|for television, radio||on TV, on the radio|
|by, next to, beside||left or right of somebody or something||Jane is standing by / next to / beside the car.|
|under||on the ground, lower than (or covered by) something else||the bag is under the table|
|below||lower than something else but above ground||the fish are below the surface|
|over||covered by something else||put a jacket over your shirt|
|meaning more than||over 16 years of age|
|getting to the other side (also across)||walk over the bridge|
|overcoming an obstacle||climb over the wall|
|above||higher than something else, but not directly over it||a path above the lake|
|across||getting to the other side (also over)||walk across the bridge|
|getting to the other side||swim across the lake|
|through||something with limits on top, bottom and the sides||drive through the tunnel|
|to||movement to person or building||go to the cinema|
|movement to a place or country||go to London / Ireland|
|for bed||go to bed|
|into||enter a room / a building||go into the kitchen / the house|
|towards||movement in the direction of something (but not directly to it)||go 5 steps towards the house|
|onto||movement to the top of something||jump onto the table|
|from||in the sense of where from||a flower from the garden|
Prepositions – Time
|on||days of the week||on Monday|
|in||months / seasons||in August / in winter|
|time of day||in the morning|
|after a certain period of time (when?)||in an hour|
|at||for night||at night|
|a certain point of time (when?)||at half past nine|
|since||from a certain point of time (past till now)||since 1980|
|for||over a certain period of time (past till now)||for 2 years|
|ago||a certain time in the past||2 years ago|
|before||earlier than a certain point of time||before 2004|
|to||telling the time||ten to six (5:50)|
|past||telling the time||ten past six (6:10)|
|to/till/until||marking the beginning and end of a period of time||from Monday to/till Friday|
|till/until||in the sense of how long something is going to last||He is on holiday until Friday.|
|by||in the sense of at the latest||I will be back by 6 o’clock.|
|up to a certain time||By 11 o'clock, I had read five pages.|
Other important prepositions
|from||who gave it||a present from Jane|
|of||who/what does it belong to||a page of the book|
|what does it show||the picture of a palace|
|by||who made it||a book by Mark Twain|
|on||walking or riding on horseback||on foot, on horseback|
|entering a public transport vehicle||get on the bus|
|in||entering a car / Taxi||get in the car|
|off||leaving a public transport vehicle||get off the train|
|out of||leaving a car / Taxi||get out of the taxi|
|by||rise or fall of something||prices have risen by 10 percent|
|traveling (other than walking or horseback riding)||by car, by bus|
|at||for age||she learned Russian at 45|
|about||for topics, meaning what about||we were talking about you|
|One important guideline for using prepositions is that they are usually followed by nouns (any form of noun, including noun phrases and pronouns). Examples of forms of nouns acceptable for this purpose are:|
||scientist, article, hypothesis|
||you, him, us|
||our current research|
|Many prepositions are also used idiomatically, meaning that there is no specific rule to guide you but that some expressions must be memorized, such that certain verbs and adjectives are followed by specific prepositions. Here are some examples:|
|Avoid using unnecessary prepositions. If the meaning of the sentence is not changed by omitting the preposition, then the preposition is not necessary.|
|Incorrect: We discussed about the experiment.|
|Correct: We discussed the experiment.|
|Incorrect: She entered into the room.|
|Correct: She entered the room.|
Prepositions serve as a bridge, connecting thoughts and phrases so your reader can follow your writing more easily. When used correctly, they will enhance your scientific articles, linking details that explain and amplify your written content.