Prepositions: The Twists and Turns

I wrote this article in response to a request by a good friend, Ian Israel, whom I call Liit. This may not be complete because the rules surrounding the uses of prepositions is a little bit lengthy, but I included here some of what I think are the most confused rules. I also included links of useful lists and a video of “Ask the Editor” from Merriam-Webster to talk about whether or not it is correct to end a sentence with a preposition. I hope you find this helpful, Liit.

Preposition has always been the trickiest part of grammar, at least personally. Determining which of the many prepositions to use is quite confusing, especially if you are not a native speaker of the English language. When I started studying and teaching grammar six or five years ago, I had the habit of saying I am “good in something” or “good on doing something,” until I came across the preposition section, which is about at least six or seven chapters of the book we were using. Now, what makes prepositions tricky?

Let us take a look at prepositions and prepositional phrases.

A preposition is a word that describes a relationship between other words in a sentence. In itself, a preposition—like in or after—is rather meaningless and hard to define in mere words. For instance, when you do try to define a preposition like in or between or on, you invariably use your hands or draw a picture to show how something is situated in relationship to something else. Prepositions are nearly always combined with other words in structures called prepositional phrases. Prepositional phrases can be made up of a million different words, but they tend to be built the same—a preposition followed by a determiner and an adjective or two, followed by a pronoun or noun (called the object of the preposition). This whole phrase, in turn, takes on a modifying role, acting as an adjective or an adverb, locating something in time and space, modifying a noun, or telling when or where or under what conditions something happened.

Is it any wonder that prepositions create such troubles for students for whom English is a second language? We say we are at the hospital to visit a friend who is in the hospital. We lie in bed but on the couch. We watch a film at the theater but on television. For native speakers, these little words present little difficulty, but try to learn another language, any other language, and you will quickly discover that prepositions are troublesome wherever you live and learn. This page contains some interesting (sometimes troublesome) prepositions with brief usage notes. To address all the potential difficulties with prepositions in idiomatic usage would require volumes, and the only way English language learners can begin to master the intricacies of preposition usage is through practice and paying close attention to speech and the written word. Keeping a good dictionary close at hand (to hand?) is an important first step.

Prepositions of Time: at, on, and in

We use at to designate specific times.

Our lunch break is at 12:00 noon.

My class starts at seven thirty in the morning.

We use on to designate days and dates.

My rest days are on Saturdays and Sundays.

I was born on July 23.

We use in for nonspecific times during a day, a month, a season, or a year.

I don’t like getting up early in the morning.

Going to the beach is a hype in the summer.

I was born in 1990.

My birthday is in July.

Prepositions of Place: at, on, and in

We use at for specific addresses.

Kaiih lives at 109 Lorega-San Miguel Street, Cebu City.

We use on to designate names of streets, avenues, etc.

Kaiih lives on Lorega-San Miguel Street.

There’s a good cookie shop on Third Avenue.

And we use in for the names of land-areas (towns, counties, states, countries, and continents).

He lives in Cebu City.

Cebu City is in the Philippines.

The Philippines is in Asia.

For a brief discussion of prepositions of spatial relationship, click here.

Prepositions of Movement

We use to in order to express movement toward a place.

Kaiih was walking to work when I met him.

They went to the party they were not invited to.

Toward and towards are also helpful prepositions to express movement. These are simply variant spellings of the same word; use whichever sounds better to you. But note that the former is preferred in American English, and the latter in British usage. The same preference applies to related words forward, upward, backward, etc.

The ship moved toward the open sea.

The men marched towards their doom.

With the words home, downtown, uptown, inside, outside, downstairs, upstairs, we use no preposition.

I went upstairs after dinner.

She went home.

The kids all went outside.

Prepositions of Extended Time: for and since

We use for when we measure time (seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years). Generally, for is used to indicate how long an action has/had happened or has/had been happening.

I have been waiting for three hours.

The rained poured for an hour before it stopped.

She had been in the hospital for three weeks before the doctors dismissed her.

We use since with a specific date or time in the past to indicate when the action started.

She has been in the hospital since last week.

I’ve been writing poetry since I was nine years old.

I have been waiting for you since three o’clock.

Unnecessary Prepositions

In everyday speech, we fall into some bad habits, using prepositions where they are not necessary. It would be a good idea to eliminate these words altogether, but we must be especially careful not to use them in formal, academic prose.

She met up with her best friend whom she hadn’t seen for three years..

The book fell off of the desk.

He threw my things out of the window.

She wouldn’t let the dog inside of the house. [or use “in”]

Where did he go to?

Put the picture in back of the TV. [use “behind” instead]

All of the houses were destroyed in the flood.

[Delete of whenever possible (all the houses). The only common exceptions occur when all of precedes a nonpossessive pronoun (all of us) and when it precedes a genitive (all of North Carolina’s players).]

Prepositions and Collocations

Prepositions are sometimes so firmly wedded to other words that they have practically become one word. (In fact, in other languages, such as German, they would have become one word.) This occurs in three categories: nouns, adjectives, and verbs.


approval of
awareness of
belief in
concern for
confusion about
desire for
fondness for
grasp of
hatred of
hope for
interest in
love of
need for
participation in
reason for
respect for
success in
understanding of


afraid of
angry at
aware of
capable of
careless about
familiar with
fond of
happy about
interested in
jealous of
made of
married to
proud of
similar to
sorry for
sure of
tired of
worried about


apologize for
ask about
ask for
belong to
bring up
care for
find out
give up
grow up
look for
look forward to
look up
make up
pay for
prepare for
study for
talk about
think about
trust in
work for
worry about

Here are some useful links to additional list of commonly used prepositions and collocations and a visual aid to better understand preposition of spatial relationship.

Ending a Sentence with a Preposition

Many people argue that it is grammatically wrong to end a sentence with a preposition, but based on shaky historical precedent, the rule itself is a latecomer to the rules of writing. To answer this issue, I will leave Emily Brewster, an associate editor at Merriam-Webster to answer this that has been the topic of debate among many scholars.


43 thoughts on “Prepositions: The Twists and Turns

Add yours

  1. Wow, wonderful blog layout! How long have you been
    blogging for? you make blogging look easy. The overall look of your site is magnificent, as well as the content!

  2. Its like you learn my mind! You appear to understand a lot about this,
    like you wrote the ebook in it or something. I feel that you just could do with a
    few % to power the message home a bit, but instead of that, this is great blog. A fantastic read. I’ll definitely be back.

  3. Good post. I learn something totally new and challenging on sites I
    stumbleupon every day. It will always be useful to read content from other writers and use a little something from other web

  4. I drop a leave a response when I like a post on a site or if I have something
    to add to the conversation. Usually it is a result
    of the sincerness displayed in the article I looked at.
    And after this post Prepositions: The Twists and Turns |
    Knavish Kirby Keith. I was actually excited enough to write a thought :
    -) I do have a couple of questions for you if it’s okay. Could it be only me or do some of these comments come across as if they are left by brain dead folks? 😛 And, if you are posting at other social sites, I’d like to keep up with you.
    Could you list all of your public sites like your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?

    1. Thank you very much; I really appreciate your comment. To answer your questions: 1. They might be ESL students who are trying to learn the English grammar. I have encountered so many ESL students who write the same way, and even worse. 2. This is my main blog as of now. I have a Tumblr account, but that is left for my vanity (selfies and food photos). My Facebook and Twitter adds are on the “Contact” tab on my blog. Also, my LinkedIn profile can be searched using my e-mail address: All my other social networking sites are there in the “Contact” tab. Thanks for showing an interest to my work. 🙂

  5. Hello there, just became aware of your blog through Google, and found that it’s truly informative. I am going to watch out for brussels. I will be grateful if you continue this in future. Numerous people will be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

  6. What i do not realize is in truth how you’re now not actually a lot more well-liked than you may be now. You are very intelligent. You understand therefore considerably relating to this matter, made me for my part consider it from so many numerous angles. Its like men and women aren’t interested until
    it is one thing to accomplish with Woman gaga!
    Your personal stuffs nice. All the time deal with it up!

  7. It’s perfect time to make some plans for the longer term and it’s time to be happy.
    I have learn this publish and if I may I want to recommend you
    some interesting issues or advice. Maybe you could write subsequent articles regarding this
    article. I desire to read more things about it!

  8. Have you ever thought about writing an ebook or guest authoring on other websites?
    I have a blog based upon on the same subjects you discuss and would really like to have you
    share some stories/information. I know my subscribers would value your work.
    If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to send me an email.

    1. I have thought of publishing my own book, but it’s fiction and not the informative type. I would sure be glad to be a guest author for you. How do I tap you for communication? 🙂

  9. Pingback: Google
  10. Thank you a lot for sharing this with all of us you really recognise
    what you are talking about! Bookmarked. Kindly also discuss with my site =).
    We can have a hyperlink alternate contract between us

  11. This is really interesting, You’re a very skilled blogger.
    I’ve joined your rss feed and look forward to seeking more of your great post.
    Also, I have shared your web site in my social networks!

  12. Great site. Lots of useful info here. I’m sending it to several friends ans also sharing in delicious.
    And of course, thanks to your sweat!

  13. Hello! This post couldn’t be written any better!
    Reading through this post reminds me of my previous room mate!
    He always kept talking about this. I will forward this page to him.
    Pretty sure he will have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!

  14. Heya superb blog! Does running a blog like this take a large amount of
    work? I’ve absolutely no expertise in programming however I had been hoping
    to start my own blog soon. Anyhow, if you have any ideas or tips for new blog owners
    please share. I know this is off topic but I just had to ask.

    Many thanks!

Tell Me Your Thoughts About What You've Just Read

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: