Prepositions

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    1 Introduction

    Prepositions are short words that allow us to link nouns and pronouns with another sentence constituents. For example: It’s in the car.

    A preposition in one language often does not correspond to the same preposition in another language. For example in Czech:
    ON the table – is associated place
    ON Monday – is associated with time

    Therefore, we often have to keep in mind what phrases the given preposition forms.

    2 Overview of the Most Common Prepositions

    Preposition ON

    The preposition ON can have several different meanings. Let’s take a look at the most common ones:

    • The meanings of ON related to time:
    Days of the weekLucy will arrive on Friday.
    DatesMy birthday is on the 1st of March.
    • The meanings of ON related to place:
    Something is on the surface (horizontally)on the ground
    on the floor
    on the table
    Something is on the surface (vertically)The picture is on that wall.
    Which side something is onThe building is on the right.
    Which floor something is onMy flat is on the third floor.
    Public transporton the train
    on the bus
    on the plane
    Mediaon television
    on the radio
    on the Internet

    Preposition AT

    The preposition AT is no exception in the ambiguity of prepositions. So let’s have a look at the most important meanings:

    • The meanings of AT related to time:
    AT NIGHTI can't sleep at night.
    AT THE WEEKENDI will visit my grandmother at the weekend.
    An exact timeHe left my house at half-past one.
    • The meanings of AT related to place:
    When something is close to something else (at the same time, in connection with certain places, the preposition AT has the same meaning as IN, i.e. something is located somewhere)at the station
    at the bus stop
    at the door
    at school
    When we talk about a social eventMy favourite band played at the concert.
    Places where we do something specificat school
    at work
    at the butcher's
    at home

    Preposition IN

    Lastly, we will take a look at the preposition IN in our overview. Here are the most common meanings:

    • The meanings of IN related to time:
    Months and seasonThe series ends in July.
    It snows in winter.
    Day timeI will have a coffee in the afternoon.
    YearsWe won the title in 2010.
    Time of durationSuzie will come in twenty minutes.
    • The meanings of IN related to place:
    Something is insideMy car is in the garage.

    3 Other Prepositions Associated with Time

    Preposition on
    DatesI met her on the 15th of October.
    Days of the weekThe show is on Saturday.
    Preposition in
    Months and seasonsThe series ends in July.
    It snows in winter.
    Day timeI will have a coffee in the afternoon.
    YearsWe won the title in 2010.
    Time of durationSuzie will come in twenty minutes.
    Preposition at
    At nightI can't sleep at night.
    At the weekendI will visit my grandmother at the weekend.
    Exact timeHe left my house at half-past one.
    Preposition since
    • Something has happened in the past but still lasts (it is often connected with the present perfect)I have collected five stickers since last week.
    Preposition for
    • Expresses that something has lasted or lasts for some timeI lived in London for two years.
    Preposition ago
    • Determines how long ago something happenedI lost my keys two days ago.
    Preposition before
    • It shows that something has happened/happens before a certain momentI need to leave before six o'clock.
    Prepositions to and past
    • Expressing timeIt's ten to ten.
    It's quarter past four.
    Prepositions to/till/until
    • Expresses the beginning and end of a certain eventI will be on vacation from Monday to Thursday.
    Preposition by
    At the latestPaul will be here by six o'clock.
    • Till a certain timeBy three o'clock, I had only read six pages.

    4 Other Prepositions Associated with Place

    Preposition on
    • Something is on the surface (horizontally)on the ground
    on the floor
    on the table
    • Something is on the surface (vertically)The picture is on the wall.
    • Which side something is onThe building is on the right.
    • Which floor something is onMy flat is on the third floor.
    Public transporton the train
    on the bus
    on the plane
    Mediaon television
    on the radio
    on the Internet
    Preposition at
    • When something is close to something else (at the same time, in connection with certain places, the preposition AT has the same meaning as IN, i.e. something is located somewhere)at the station
    at the bus stop
    at the door
    at school
    • Places where we do something specificat school
    at work
    at the butcher's
    at home
    Preposition in
    • Something is insideMy car is in the garage.
    Prepositions by/next to/beside
    • Something is close to somethingby my side
    next to our house
    beside his car
    Preposition under
    • Something is beneath somethingI found a coin under the wardrobe.
    Preposition behind
    • Something is at the back of somethingThere is a girl behind that house.
    Preposition in front of
    • Something is before somethingI park my car in front of the house.
    Preposition below
    • Something is lower than something elseHer work is below standard.
    Preposition over
    Overcoming an obstacle or crossing somethingJohn jumped over the fence.
    Preposition above
    • Something is higher than something else but not exactly over itOur house is located just above the sea.
    Preposition across
    • Expresses a motion/side to side directionI went across the field.
    Preposition through
    • Expresses a movement withinWe drove through a tunnel.
    Preposition to
    • The movement towards somethingI went to his house.
    Preposition towards
    • The movement to something or someoneI walked towards my friend's house.
    Preposition from
    Where fromI am from the Czech Republic.
    Preposition into
    • If we go inside or put something inside somethingCould you put the ball into that box?
    Preposition onto
    Towards the surface of somethingPut the mug onto the table.

    5 Other Important Prepositions

    Preposition from
    From whomI got a gift from my boyfriend.
    Preposition of
    To whom or what it belongs toa page of a magazine
    a result of a research
    What certain things showa painting of a woman
    a photo of me and my friends
    Preposition by
    What someone createdHarry Potter is a book by J.K. Rowling.
    • The scale at which something falls or risesThe temperature has risen/fallen by 5 degrees Celsius.
    • The way of travelling (apart from walking and horseback riding)by car
    by plane
    by bus
    by train
    Preposition on
    • Moving on foot or horsebackto walk on foot
    I like travelling on horseback.
    • When we get on public transportto get on the train
    to get on the plane
    to get on the bus
    to get on board
    Preposition in
    • When we get in a car or a taxito get in the car
    Preposition at
    • Associated with age (a certain point in life)I learned to swim at five.
    • If we look at someoneShe looked at me and started laughing.
    Preposition out of
    • If we leave a place or a vehicleto get out of the house
    to get out of the car
    Preposition about
    • Expresses what a matter is aboutThe last lesson was about prepositions.
    Preposition for
    For whomI have something for you.
    Preposition over
    Covering somethingPut the tarp over the car. It's going to rain.
    • Meaning more thanHe looks quite old. I am sure that he is well over fifty years old.

    6 Prepositional Phrases

    We already mentioned that prepositions often don’t correspond across different languages. A preposition in one language might not have a translation in English and vice versa. So, let’s take a look at some frequent prepositional phrases in English:

    Listening to music:

    • I listen to American music.

    Watching television:

    • She likes to watch _ television.

    Surgery:

    • Only the very best doctors can operate on politicians.

    The verb suffer:

    • She often suffers from headaches.

    Divorce:

    • He is going to divorce _ his wife.

    Regret:

    • They felt sorry for me.

    Playing instruments:

    • I can play _ the violin.

    The prepositions are commonly found nearby the word they are related to (for example: We are at school). In some situations, the prepositions change their place in the sentence – they move behind the verb, often to the very end of the sentence (for example: Where are you going to?).
    Now, let’s have a look at the situations in which this phenomenon occurs:

    Wh-question, i.e. questions that start with interrogative pronouns what, which, who, etc.:

    • Who did you talk to?

    However, in this situation, the shift to the end of the sentence is optional. We can also say: To whom did you talk to? However, the “postponed” prepositions sound more natural in English.

    Some other examples:

    • Where are you (at)? = At which place are you?
    • What is it good for? = For what is it good?
    • How long for? = For how long?

    If we use passive voice:

    • We have already paid for the car. – active voice
    • The car has already been paid for. – passive voice

    In this case, it is necessary to move the preposition because we cannot say: For the car it has already been paid. Nor can we say: The car has already been paid, because we would destroy the phrase pay for – pay for something.

    Relative clauses

    • The man who I was robbed by is over there.

    Again, we can leave the preposition in place but the previous option is much more frequent. The sentence would then look like this: The man by whom I was robbed is over there.

    If there is an infinitive in the sentence:

    • Laura is difficult to deal with.

    This option also allows us to put more emphasis on the verb.

    Exclamations:

    • What have I done to be yelled at!
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    Vendula Nedělová
    She completed her master's degree at the Faculty of Education, Charles University, specializing in English language, music culture, pedagogy, and social pedagogy. She has many years of experience in language teaching in the Czech Republic, USA, Indonesia and Germany. She works as a methodologist and coordinator of language courses in ONLINE learning, where she leads a team of lecturers and the creation of language courses for more than 137 000 students. Vendula follows the motto: “Learning should be fun, because if we enjoy what we do, then it makes sense”.