Prepositions form a small but very important word class. We use prepositions very frequently. In fact, the prepositions to, of, in, for, on, with, at, by, from are all in the top 25 words in English. If you can understand and correctly use prepositions, it will greatly improve your fluency. And remember, there are not very many prepositions. There are only 150 prepositions and we only use about 70 of these commonly. The following rules will help you understand and use prepositions correctly.
1. A preposition must have an object
All prepositions have objects. If a “preposition” does not have an object it is not a preposition—it’s probably an adverb. A preposition always has an object. An adverb never has an object. Look at these example sentences:
- They are in the kitchen. (preposition in has object the kitchen)
Please come in. (adverb in has no object; it qualifies come)
- There was a doorway before me. (preposition before has object me)
I had never seen it before. (adverb before has no object; it qualifies seen)
- I will call after work. (preposition after has object work)
He called soon after. (adverb after has no object; it qualifies called)
2. pre-position means place before
The name “preposition” indicates that a preposition (usually) comes before something (its object):
But even when a preposition does not come before its object, it is still closely related to its object:
- Who did you talk to? / I talked to Jane.
3. A pronoun following a preposition should be in object form
The noun or pronoun that follows a preposition forms a ‘prepositional object’. If it is a pronoun, it should therefore be in the objective form (me, her, them), not subjective form (I, she, they):
- This is from my wife and me.
- That’s between him and her.
- Mary gave it to them.
4. Preposition forms
Prepositions have no particular form. The majority of prepositions are one-word prepositions, but some are two- or three-word phrases known as complex-prepositions:
- one-word prepositions (before, into, on)
- complex prepositions (according to, but for, in spite of, on account of)
5. to preposition and to infinitive are not the same
Do not confuse the infinitive particle “to” (to sing, to live) with the preposition “to” (to London, to me).
to as preposition
- I look forward to lunch
I look forward to seeing you
I look forward to see you
- They are committed to the project.
They are committed to keeping the price down.
They are committed to keep the price down.
- I am used to cars.
I am used to driving.
I am used to drive.
to as infinitive particle
- They used to live in Moscow.
- They love to sing.
6. The golden preposition rule
A preposition is followed by a “noun”. It is NEVER followed by a verb.
Read more about this important preposition rule here.