Function Words

What is a preposition?

In English we cannot have a noun or pronoun modifying a verb directly.  Sometimes it is not desirable to place the noun or pronoun as a direct modifier, even of another noun.

We have few little words (about twenty-five in common use) which serve to make the connection indirectly between the noun or pronoun and the word it is to modify.

The prepositions in common use are: in, on, upon, between, out, over, under, through, by, beside, besides, except, from, to, at, above, before, behind, after, into, against, within, without, with, of, throughout, during.

Besides these there are groups of words which serve as single prepositions. These are not separated in analyzing sentences.  Some of these groups are: in spite of, according to, because of, aside from, up to, out from, out of.

Source: The little grammar By Ethan Allen Cross

Prepositions are of 3 kinds:

  1. Simple:

 in, from, under, to, etc.

  1. Compound:

into, according to, because of, as for, etc.

  1. Phrasal:

as compared with, by reason of, for the sake of, etc.


Prepositions may be recognized by their customary positioning immediately before nouns or noun groups (or noun substitutes).

At night

For her

To whom it may concern

Because of his wife

For the sake of peace

On account of leaving.


In a few exceptional cases prepositions may be widely separated from their companion nouns.

Which girl are you going with?

What student did you give the book to?


When so separated they usually occur at the end of the sentence.

Prepositions that have compounded with verbs in a fixed idiomatic relationship (call up, break down, take off, etc) are to be classed as adverbs.


List of English Prepositions


Caution! Grammar Tips

The words in the above list are not prepositions in every sentence, but only when they express some relation and have an object.


“A polite man would not have burst out a laughing.”

The first “a” has no object, but limits the meaning of the noun man; it is therefore an article.  The second “a” has the participle laughing for its object, and is a preposition.


Many of the words in the above list of prepositions, particularly those that denote place or direction, are also used as adverbs.


If I say, “Look above this earth,” above has the noun earth for its object, and is a preposition.  But if I say, “Look above.” Above has no object; it modifies the verb look, and is therefore an adverb.


Some of the words in the list of prepositions are also used as conjunctions, – that is, to connect words or sentences.


If I say, “All but me remained,” but is used with the force of except, has me for its object, and is a preposition.   If I say, “But Brutus is an honorable man,” but is used without an object, as a connective.


Source: An English grammar By George Payn Quackenbos


You will find more about function words here see:

Function Words

Question words

March 21, 2015