What You Must Know About Prepositions


Prepositions are so common in English. In fact, prepositions such as ‘to’, ‘of’, ‘in’, ‘at’,’ on’, ‘from’, ‘by’, are in the top twenty words in English that we frequently use in sentences.

Did you know that there are only 150 prepositions and we use about 70 out of them in general?

Prepositions convey the concept of position, direction, movement, location, time, possession, purpose, source, comparison and doing an action. These short words join noun, pronoun, and noun phrases to another part of the sentences and establish relationships.

Rules of Prepositions

Following are the thumb rules of using prepositions. Once you learn them by heart and inculcate in your writing for the first few weeks, you will not forget the correct use for rest of your lives.  

Prepositions must have objects

If a preposition does not have an object it is not a preposition — it’s probably an adverb.


I left my English book in classroom. (preposition ‘in’ has an object ‘school’)

Please come in. (adverb ‘in’ does not have an object. It qualifies verb ‘come’)

There is a long queue before me. (preposition ‘before’ has an object ‘me’)

I never saw it before. (adverb ‘before’ does not have an object. It qualifies verb ‘saw’)

Prepositions generally come before something

As the term conveys (Pre + Position = Before + Placement), a preposition comes before its object.

Example, I was present in the first two classes. (preposition ‘in’ comes before the object ‘the first two classes’)

 Even when a preposition does not appear before object, it is still closely related to the object.


Who did you talk to? / I talked to math teacher. (preposition ‘to’ is closely related to object ‘who’ and ‘math teacher’)

Pronouns following prepositions must be in object form

A noun or pronoun following a preposition is called ‘Prepositional Object’. Such pronouns cannot be in subjective form (I, we, he they), but objective form (me, us, him, them).


I gave the book to him (pronoun ‘him’ is in objective form followed by preposition ‘to’)

The battle is between me and her (pronoun ‘me’ and ‘her’ are in objective forms followed by preposition ‘between’)

Prepositions do not have any specific form

Prepositions can be one-word prepositions such as in, on, before, into or complex two-or-three word prepositions such as according to, on account of, in spite of, as for, aside from, as well as, and so on.

Golden preposition rule

A preposition is always followed by a noun. It is never followed by a verb. Unlike most rules, this rule has no exceptions. By noun we include the following:

Noun (Madhu, Kolkata, dog, love, station)

Pronoun (you, me, him, us, them)

Noun group (my first salary, his neighbor, your bag)

Gerund (singing, writing, playing, swimming)

Preposition and infinitive have different use with to

“to” as infinite particle and “to” as preposition are not same. So you should not confuse if you see a preposition “to” is followed by a verb. For example, in the sentence “I love to play” to has been used an infinitive particle not as a preposition. 

More examples:

“To” as a preposition

I look forward to meeting you. (preposition “to” is followed by a gerund “meeting”)

I am used to early breakfast (preposition “to” is followed by a noun group “early breakfast”)

She is committed to the project (preposition “to” is followed by a noun “project”)

“To” as an infinitive particle

He used to live in Moscow (infinitive particle “to” is not followed by a noun)

She used to sing (infinitive particle “to” is not followed by a noun)

Some useful tips to remember

  • Never guess the correct prepositions. It is not a good strategy. Learn by reading books and documents online or offline.
  • Never translate prepositions from your native language. That’s the worst way to learn prepositions.
  • Don’t mug up a whole sentence to remember prepositions used in it. Learn them with a group of words or common sentences as you come across. Make it a habit.

Note: If you still get confused for instance and there is no immediate help nearby, try this alternative. Find out known words or sentences having similar context and then analyze the correct usage. This reduces the chance of error, but not the error truly.

  • Don’t mix prepositions with phrasal verbs (verb + preposition, for example take up, put out, put down). They are different and should be learnt separately.
  • Don’t use unnecessary prepositional phrases or too many of them in a single sentence.

Final words for now

Prepositions must be learnt in chunks of words or collocations. Guess work does not really help here. Better you learn the tricks with reasoning and easy examples. Test your understanding against the lessons learnt, practice and apply while speaking and writing. You will get the mastery of using correct prepositions soon.

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