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Grammar and Mechanics: Prepositions

Preposition Basics

preposition is a word or group of words used before a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase to show direction, time, place, location, spatial relationships, or to introduce an object. Some examples of prepositions are words like in, at, on, of, and to.

Prepositions in English are highly idiomatic. Although there are some rules for usage, much preposition usage is dictated by fixed expressions. In these cases, it is best to memorize the phrase instead of the individual preposition.

A Few Rules

Note the italicization, bolding, and highlighting used for emphasis in the examples on this page.

 

Prepositions of Direction

To refer to a direction, use the prepositions to, (in)to, and on(to).

  • I went to the study site and distributed the invitations for participation.
  • I asked the participants to come in(to) the coffee shop to sign the Informed Consent Form.
  • Click on the link and answer the demographic questions.

 

Prepositions of Time

To refer to one point in time, use the prepositions in, at, and on.

Use in with parts of the day (not specific times), months, years, and seasons.

  • Interviewees were most available to meet in the evening.
  • I received the data for secondary analysis in December.
  • Participant 3 was born in 1996.
  • I plan to offer the professional development workshop in the fall.

Use at with the time of day. Also use at with noon, night, and midnight.

  • The workshop will begin at 8:00 a.m.
  • On Day 1, there will be a break at noon for lunch.
  • Attendees will be asked to complete a few follow-up questions at night.
  • All submitted responses are due at midnight.

Use on with days.

  • The participants were available for follow-up interviews on Wednesdays.

To refer to extended time, use the prepositions since, for, by, during, from…to, from…until, and (with)in.

  • He has taught at the selected school under study since 2005. (He started teaching at the school in 2005 and still teaches there.)
  • I collected data for 3 weeks. (I collected the data over a 3-week time frame.)
  • Participants will submit all written corrections by 6:00 p.m. (Participants will submit all written corrections sometime between now and 6:00 p.m.)
  • I took handwritten notes during the interviews. (I took notes while the interviews were happening.)
  • I collected data from January to June. (Starting in January and ending in June.)
  • The teachers at the research site are in school from August until May. (Starting in August and ending in May.)
  • The changes in training will be implemented within 2 years. (Not longer than 2 years.)

 

Prepositions of Place/Location

To refer to a place/location, use the prepositions in, at, on, and inside.

  • Potential participants must have worked in the school district for at least 5 years.
  • The employees at the business reported dissatisfaction in the amount of clear communication.
  • I left the recruitment flyers on the table.
  • Recordings will be kept inside a locked filing cabinet for a period of 5 years.

To refer to an object higher than a point, use the prepositions over and above. To refer to an object lower than a point, use the prepositions below, beneath, under, and underneath. These positions can be literal or figurative.

  • I placed a blank sheet of paper over my notes to allow me to listen more carefully.
  • I used the results described above to form common themes.
  • In the paragraph below, I highlight participant responses.
  • The interview responses fit under Theme 2.

To refer to an object close to a point, use the prepositions by, near, next to, between, among, and opposite.

  • I recommend that advertisements for healthy eating be placed by entrances to public food courts and school cafeterias as a reminder of a balanced diet.
  • The recruitment sites were located near the city center.
  • The participant placed an X next to N/A if the question was not applicable.
  • I found six subthemes among the main themes.

 

Prepositions of Spatial Relationships

To refer to a spatial relationship, use the prepositions above, across, against, ahead of, along, among, around, behind, below, beneath, beside, between, from, in front of, inside, near, off, out of, through, toward, under, and within.

  • Mean scores across the domains ranged from 3 to 4.5.
  • I would like to thank my entire committee for their support along my doctoral path.
  • I sought to discover relationships between the ideas.
  • Place a check mark within the box.

Prepositions Following Verbs and Adverbs

Some verbs and adjectives are followed by a certain preposition. Sometimes verbs and adjectives can be followed by different prepositions, giving the phrase different meanings. To find which preposition(s) follow(s) the verb or an adjective, look the verb or adjective up in an online dictionary, such as Merriam Webster, or use a corpus, such as The Corpus of Contemporary American English. Memorizing these phrases instead of just the preposition alone is the most helpful.

 

Some Common Verb + Preposition Combinations

About:

argue, complain, know, think, worry

  • Participant 2 complained about limited access to resources.
  • I thought about using a quantitative method, but a qualitative method better addressed my research questions.
  • Participants indicated the need for security so that they do not have to worry about managing access controls.

At:

arrive, hint, look, point

  • Previous researchers have arrived at the same results.
  • Smith (2018) hinted at weaknesses in the previous research.
  • I specifically looked at publications within the past 5 years.

From:

abstain, differ, distinct, graduate, recover, resign, suffer

  • The results differ from the original hypothesis.
  • Delimitations included excluding employees who resigned from their positions in the past year.
  • In this study, I focused on best practices to support patients who suffer from dementia.

For:

account, allow, apply, ask, prepare, search

  • It was necessary to account for any discrepancies in the results.
  • I returned the transcripts to the interviewees to allow for revisions to be made.
  • I searched for the key terms in Academic Search Complete, Business Source Complete, and MEDLINE.

In:

believe, confide, participate, occur, result, specialize, succeed

  • The same problem occurred in 3 out of 4 cases.
  • My recruitment strategies resulted in finding 10 participants.
  • I succeeded in implementing a staff training series for the employees.

Of:

approve, consist

  • The superintendent approved of my plan to research best practices in teaching math.
  • Phenomenological long interviews consist of one or two broad questions.

On:

base, comment, concentrate, depend, elaborate, insist, rely

  • Participant 8 commented on the lack of professional development at his school.
  • The employees depend on each other to get the job done.
  • I will elaborate on the results in Chapter 4.

To:

adapt, add, agree, belong, consent, contribute, lead, object, react, refer, reply, speak, talk

  • I hope to contribute to the previous research.
  • My results will lead to future research on the topic.
  • Please refer to my previous explanation.

With:

(dis)agree, coincide, compare, comply, deal

  • Participant 2 agreed with Participant 4 about receiving adequate in-house training support.
  • I complied with all the standards for ethical research.
  • The nurses often deal with inadequate staffing on their floor.

Although verb + preposition combinations may appear similar to phrasal verbs, the verb and the particle (in this case, the preposition) in these combinations cannot be separated like phrasal verbs. See more about phrasal verbs on the verb choice page.

Some Common Adjective + Preposition Combinations

 

About

At

By

From

For

In

Of

To

With

Accustomed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

Aware

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

 

Beneficial

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

Capable

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

 

Characteristic

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

 

Composed

 

 

X

 

 

 

X

 

 

Different

 

 

 

X

 

 

 

 

 

Disappointed

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

 

X

Employed

 

X

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

Essential

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

 

About

At

By

From

For

In

Of

To

With

Familiar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

Good

 

X

 

 

X

 

 

 

 

Grateful

 

 

 

 

X

 

 

X

 

Interested

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

 

 

Happy

X

 

 

 

X

 

 

 

X

Opposed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

Proud

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

 

Responsible

 

 

 

 

X

 

 

 

 

Similar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

Sorry

X

 

 

 

X

 

 

 

 

Ending a Sentence With a Preposition

At one time, schools taught students that a sentence should never end with a preposition. This rule is associated with Latin grammar, and though many aspects of Latin have made their way into English, following this particular grammar rule sometimes creates unclear or awkward sentence structures. Because the purpose of writing is to communicate ideas clearly, it is acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition if the alternative would create confusion or seem overly formal.

Example: The participants were aware of the commitment they were taking on.

Unclear Revision: The participants were aware of the commitment on which they were taking. (Unclear sentence. Take on is a phrasal verb here, and when the second part of the verb, on, is moved to the middle of the sentence, it becomes ungrammatical.)

 

Example: Interview Question 1 was the following: Where did you originally come from?

Overly Grammatical Revision: Interview Question 1 was the following: From where did you originally come? (Grammatical but overly formal. Nobody actually speaks like this.)

 

However, in academic writing, it may be worth revising sentences to avoid ending with a preposition in order to maintain a more formal scholarly voice.

Example: In my research, I focus on the community the students lived in.

Revision: In my research, I focus on the community in which the students lived.

 

Example: I avoided bias by not interviewing people I am working with.

Revision: I avoided bias by not interviewing people with whom I am working.

Prepositional Phrases and Wordiness

As with pronouns, using too many prepositional phrases in a sentence can create wordiness:

Example: I chose a mixed-method design to explain that the purpose of the study was to explore the leadership qualities of the principals in the schools as a means to gauge teacher satisfaction in the first year of teaching.

This type of sentence could be shortened and condensed to minimize the prepositional phrases and bring clarity to the writer's intent:

Revision: I chose a mixed-method design to explore the principals' leadership qualities and their impact on first-year teachers' satisfaction.

Unnecessary Prepositions

If the preposition is unnecessary, leave it out. This creates clearer, more concise writing.

Example: I left the uncompleted questions off of the results.

Revision: I left the uncompleted questions off the results.

 

Example: I skipped over a couple interview questions.

Revision: I skipped a couple interview questions.