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Prepositions for Time, Place, and Introducing Objects

Summary:

This section deals with prepositions and their standard uses.

On prepositions

Prepositions are keywords that indicate the start of a prepositional phrase. A prepositional phrase begins with the first preposition in the sentence and ends with the object or noun of the phrase. For example, “She sat on the red carpet while reading.” The italicized portion is a prepositional phrase. Generally, prepositional phrases act as adverbs or adjectives in that they modify either verbs, adverbs, or adjectives. This section will demonstrate how to use prepositions for time, place, and objects in American English.

One point in time

“On,” “at”, and “in” are used to describe a moment in time.

On is used with days:

  • I will see you on Monday.
  • The week begins on Sunday.

At is used with noon, night, midnight, and with the time of day:

  • My plane leaves at noon.
  • The movie starts at 6 p.m.

In is used with other parts of the day, with months, with years, and with seasons:

  • He likes to read in the afternoon.
  • The days are long in August.
  • The book was published in 1999.
  • The flowers will bloom in spring.

Extended time

To express extended time, English uses the following prepositions: since, for, by, from—to, from-until, during, (with)in

  • She has been gone since yesterday. (She left yesterday and has not returned.)
  • I'm going to Paris for two weeks. (I will spend two weeks there.)
  • The movie showed from August to October. (Beginning in August and ending in October.)
  • The decorations were up from spring until fall. (Beginning in spring and ending in fall.)
  • I watch TV during the evening. (For some period of time in the evening.)
  • We must finish the project within a year. (No longer than a year.)

Place

To express notions of place, English uses the following prepositions:

In: to talk about an object being contained.

Inside: to refer more specifically to where the object is contained.

On: to talk about the surface.

At: to talk about a general vicinity.

  • There is a wasp in the house. (The wasp is contained in the house.)
  • Go look inside the refrigerator. (Inside is used as a specific place, the inside of the refrigerator.)
  • I left your keys on the table. (The keys are on the surface of the table).
  • She was waiting at the corner. (The corner is a general location she was waiting at.)

Higher than a point

To express notions of an object being higher than a point, English uses the following prepositions: over, above.

Over: to talk about an object that has moved higher and wider than another object.

Above: to talk about an object that has moved higher than another object.

  • He threw the ball over the roof. (The ball is somewhere past the height and width of the roof.)
  • Hang that picture above the couch. (The picture should be higher in relation to the couch.)

Lower than a point

To express notions of an object being lower than a point, English uses the following prepositions: under, underneath, beneath, below.

Under: to describe an object that is below a general point

Underneath: to describe something that is below a more specific point

Beneath: to describe an object that is directly below another object

Below: to describe an object that is lower or less than another object or point

  • The rabbit burrowed under the ground. (The rabbit is somewhere underground.)
  • The child hid underneath the blanket. (The child hid in a more specific place, a blanket.)
  • We relaxed in the shade beneath the branches. (The shade lies specifically right below the branches.)
  • The valley is below sea-level. (The valley is somewhere lower than sea-level)

Close to a point

To describe an object as being close to a point, English uses the following prepositions: near, by, next to, between, among, opposite.

  • She lives near the school. (She lives in close proximity to the school.)
  • There is an ice cream shop by the store. (The ice cream shop is very close to the store.)
  • An oak tree grows next to my house. (An oak tree grows beside the house, likely in the yard.)
  • The house is between Elm Street and Maple Street. (Elm and Maple Street sandwich the house).
  • I found my pen lying among the books. (The pen could be anywhere around the area that the books occupy.)
  • The bathroom is opposite that room. (Similar to “next to,” opposite means that the bathroom faces the room, rather than adjoins.)

To introduce objects of verbs

An object of a verb adds specificity to the verb. In terms of prepositional objects, the object is introduced by a preposition. For example, in the sentence, “They fought about the old chair,” which object did they fight over? The chair. When introducing objects of verbs, there are some prepositions that directly follow specific verbs. Below are some examples:

“At” is used with the following verbs: glance, laugh, look, rejoice, smile, stare

  • She glanced at her reflection.
    (exception with mirror: She glanced in the mirror.)
  • You didn't laugh at his joke.
  • I'm looking at the computer monitor.
  • We rejoiced at his safe rescue.
  • That pretty girl smiled at you.
  • Stop staring at me.

“Of” is used with the following verbs: approve, consist, smell

  • I don't approve of his speech.
  • My contribution to the article consists of many pages.
  • He came home smelling of alcohol.

“Of” (or “about”) is used with the following verbs: dream, think

  • I dream of finishing college in four years.
  • Can you think of a number between one and ten?
  • I am thinking about this problem.

“For” is used with the following verbs: call, hope, look, wait, watch, wish

  • Did someone call for a taxi?
  • He hopes for a raise in salary next year.
  • I'm looking for my keys.
  • We'll wait for her here.
  • You go buy the tickets, and I'll watch for the train.
  • If you wish for an "A" in this class, you must work hard.
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Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.