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Prepositions Made Simple: Preposition Definitions & Examples

Prepositions are small words with big impact. You probably use words such as for, at, and on often while speaking in English. Yet, it’s difficult to be sure that you’re using these words in the correct way. In fact, words in this part of speech are often misused by native and bilingual speakers alike. That’s because it’s easier to focus on the other major parts of speech like nouns and verbs. This guide will help you define preposition and use them in sentences.

Before jumping into this topic, check out this incredible grammar check! Citation Machine also has helpful tools that can create citations for your papers in MLA format.

Almost all prepositions are under six letters in length. Due to this fact, both teachers and students can easily overlook discussing the proper use of these words. But don’t worry about not knowing this part of speech just yet. You’re about to learn a basic definition of preposition, so that you know how to use these words the right way.

What is a preposition? Usually, prepositions are used to connect nouns, pronouns, and noun phrases with other words in a sentence, often showing relationships between the words. They can function in several ways in a sentence. The basic definition of preposition doesn’t cover these functions, so let’s look at a few examples that do.

Describing Time

A preposition, like on in the sentence below, can help you describe the time when something happens. For instance:

  • My birthday falls on Christmas Eve.

The word on helps describe when my birthday is.

Describing Where

A preposition can also show where something or someone is, or where an action takes place.

  • I’m staying at home and watching a movie tonight.

They can even explain direction by helping describe a location. Next does that in this sentence:

  • You’ll find me next to the doughnut shop.

Introducing Objects

In addition to describing time, place, and direction, prepositions also introduce objects. The word for does this below:

  • I’ll watch for the all clear signal to show that I can enter the room.

To recap: prepositions connect nouns, pronouns, and noun phrases with other words in a sentence and can describe relationships between those words or phrases. Using a preposition with a noun phrase creates a connecting phrase. You’ll usually find phrases before a sentence’s object. We’ll learn more about that in the next section.

Before you learn more about the different ways you can use these words, let’s learn this preposition definition: a preposition is a connecting function word. It shows your audience the relationship between words in a sentence.

Now that you can define preposition, read on to gain an understanding about what is a prepositional phrase. Click here for an alternate definition.

Prepositional Phrases  & Examples

So, what is a prepositional phrase? A prepositional phrase is a group of words that contain a preposition and another word. However, the phrase does not contain a verb or subject. Instead, the phrase part of a sentence includes a preposition, an optional modifier, and a noun, pronoun, or gerund.

Since prepositions define or introduce phrases quite often, you’ll find that connecting words in a sentence normally begin connecting phrases. There’s a lot to learn about phrases, which you’ll find in another post. For now, try to determine what is a prepositional phrase in each of the following sentences:

  • The box with purple gift-wrapping paper is your mother’s.
  • I saw the thieves climb up the ladder.
  • He ran through the forest for hours.

In order to find the phrase, let’s begin with the basics. A definition of preposition begins with understanding that they are connecting words. Using these words, you can create longer sentences which are called prepositional phrases. 

Can you tell where the phrases begin and end? Here are the phrases in each sentence above:

  1. With purple gift-wrapping paper
  2. Up the ladder
  3. Through the forest

How’d you do? If you feel confident, review what you’ve learned above to see if you can answer both “What is a prepositional phrase?” and “What is a preposition?,” as well as say how they differ from each other.

Before learning about the different types of connecting words, why not take a quick break. Take some time to learn about APA format and more styles of creating academic citations.

Let’s Define Preposition & the Different Types

What is a Preposition of Time?

How would you tell someone that you need to go to work or school at a certain time using a preposition? You could say:

  • I must go to work at 8:00am on Monday.

Or perhaps you would say something like:

  • I have class in ten minutes.

Both of these sentences tell your audience that something needs to happen at a certain time. That’s the purpose of time prepositions.

Here’s a basic time preposition definition: Time connecting words that let you describe a certain time when something will occur. There are three that describe time:

  • At
  • In 
  • On

Although there aren’t many time connecting words, each one has many uses. Look at the following examples:

  • Tim has tea with Tina at ten on Tuesdays.
  • My mother always makes mousse in the mornings.
  • Do you want to go for a dive next weekend?

Now let’s dive even deeper into what prepositions define.

What is a Preposition of Place and What is a Preposition of Direction?

Here is a simple place and direction prepositions definition: Certain describing words that help you explain where something occurs.

The words you use to describe place are the exact same words you use to describe when something happens. There’s just one difference: the words that accompany connecting words in a sentence explain whether you’re speaking about time or a certain location. Otherwise, you still use the words at, in, and on for both. 

So, how can you explain location using these words? Here are a few examples:

  • What happened? I waited at our meeting spot after class.
  • My dog Jack loves playing in the backyard.
  • I always forget my keys whenever I set them on the table.

Also, prepositions define direction sometimes. They help you tell others where someone or something is located. There are many more direction connecting words than there are time or place words. It’s good to know as many as you can for your preposition definition. Here are a few sentences that tell you the location of something.

  • We would like to walk along the beach.
  • My dog just ran around the corner.
  • The movie theater is inside the mall on the top floor.

Real quick, now that you know a place and direction prepositions definition, check this out. It explains the different types of connecting words and gives more background information on how to use them. Once you’re done, recap time, place, and location words and see if you can write your own definition of preposition.

Stuck? Essentially these words explain when and where something or someone is. They can also detail the specific location of something in comparison to something else.

Another thing to note when trying to define preposition, is to understand how it can be confused with a particle. Words that look like a connecting word but are actually connected to verbs (and not nouns or pronouns) are known as particles. 

  • Nancy ran up the bill to $200.00.

Ran up acts as a verb with the word up and ran. Together it means Nancy, the subject, placed a lot of charges on the bill. Yet, if you changed the context of the sentence to look like:

  • Nancy ran up the hill.

Up no longer means increasing an amount and joins Nancy to create a direction. Be careful when determining a preposition definition. To understand what is a preposition also means debunking the myth that you can never end a sentence with a preposition. The examples below follow the ‘proper’ prepositions definition and usage:

  • From where did Patrick come?

This is grammatically correct and this sentence structure should be used in formal writing. However, you could flip the sentence and say:

  • Where did Patrick come from

The second sentence is still correct, but is more casual and conversational. It’s ok to use this structure when chatting with your friends, but when writing more formally, always listen to the original preposition definition rule of not ending your sentences with a connecting word. Try out one of your own examples when trying to define preposition. 

This part of speech is incredibly important for forming sentences. Without them, it’s impossible to share important information about nouns, pronouns, and gerunds with others. By using these words correctly, you’re able to help people understand the relationship between people, places, and things. 

Now that you can define preposition and talk about its importance, let’s explore two of its types.

What is a Subordinate Conjunction Preposition Definition?

Subordinate conjunctions are a type of word that helps people transition from one sentence to the next. There are some conjunctions which are also connecting words. However, not all connection words are subordinate conjunctions; only the words as, after, before, since, and until. These words precede a subject and verb to create a subordinate conjunction clause. Examples include:

  • As Peter waved his friends goodbye
  • Until you finish your homework
  • Before you watch television upstairs
  • After you hop in the shower
  • Since you never finalized the contract

What is a Preposition: Review Questions

Now you know the definition of a preposition, more about connecting words and prepositional phrases. Are there any new uses that you didn’t know about? Still having trouble with a prepositions definition? Test your knowledge by answering these review questions.

  1. What is a preposition?  
  2. What is the difference between a preposition and a prepositional phrase?
  3. Can prepositions define place, time, and location? Write examples using connecting words in every scenario.
  4. Ending sentences using prepositions: When is it ok and not ok?

 

 

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