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Modifiers: Prepositions

PrepositionsPrepositions are one of the eight main parts of speech. However, they never work alone: they always form phrases by taking objects. When prepositions do seem to work alone, it's because either they're Adverbs or they're part of a Phrasal Verb—a.k.a., combinative verb. As the menu of preposition topics at right demonstrates, prepositions are a small topic with big consequences.

Prepositions help to answer all manner of questions because they describe a temporal, spatial or logical relationship to other words in the sentence. As in most languages, prepositions in English can be very tricky and difficult to learn because they are used in so many idioms and colloquial expressions, which non-native or even non-regional speakers find daunting unless they immerse themselves in the culture in which they're used. Academic writing, though, tends to shy away from idiomatic usage and, instead, relies upon more neutral and straightforward usage. Fortunately, prepositions can be categorized according to their straightforward usage.

Because prepositional phrases are modifying phrases as well, and because they can take complex objects (sometimes comprised of extended verbal phrases and even noun clauses, or modified by other prepositional phrases), the very same mistakes that occur with other modifiers can also happen with prepositional phrases.

As far as basic parts of speech go, prepositions are pretty straightforward—more or less. This section takes up what's straightforward, more straightforward, and less straightforward about them, in the following topics:

Foreign and Formal Prepositions
Prepositional Verbs (Phrasal Verbs)
Present Participial Prepositions
Last Updated: 02/09/2015


Karl J Sherlock
Associate Professor, English
Phone: 619-644-7871

  • Grossmont
  • Cuyamaca
A Member of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District