The table below gives the most usual meanings of English prepositions. Each meaning is illustrated by an example.
1. On the subject of: This is a story about elephants.
2. Approximately: He is about ten years old.
1. Higher than; over: The plane flew above the clouds.
2. Earlier on a page: There is a heading above each diagram.
1. From one side to the other: We walked across the field.
2. On the other side of: There is a store across the street.
1. Later in time: after ten o'clock; after lunch
2. Later in a series: Q comes after P in the alphabet.
3. In pursuit of: The dog ran after the cat.
1. In opposition to: Theft is against the law.
2. Touching; supported by: I leaned my bicycle against the wall.
1. Following the length of: We walked along the road.
1. Within a group: The money was shared among three people.
Note: In formal English, among is usually used only when referring to more than two persons or things. In contrast, between is used when referring to two persons or things.
1. Circling something: We walked around the block.
2. Surrounding: There is a fence around the garden.
3. In different parts of: I looked around the house for the keys.
4. In the other direction: We turned around and went back home.
5. Approximately: He is around six feet tall.
1. A specific location: at 23 Chestnut Street; at the park
2. A point in time: at 5 o'clock; at Christmas
3. A condition: at peace; at war; at rest
4. An activity: at work; at school; at play
5. Towards: Look at someone; wave at someone
Note: When referring to a specific location or to a point in time, at is usually used. When referring to a certain street or a certain day, on is usually used. When referring to a location as an area, or when referring to a unit of time longer than a day, in is usually used.
e.g. at Christmas; on Christmas day; in the Christmas holidays
1. Earlier in time: before two o'clock; before Christmas
2. Earlier in a series: S comes before T in the alphabet.
1. At the back of: The little girl hid behind her mother.
2. Late: I am behind in my work.
3. Cause; origin: Who was behind that idea?
1. Lower than; under: below freezing; below sea level
2. Later on a page: Footnotes are provided below the text.
1. Lower than; below: beneath the earth
1. Next to; at the side of: I sit beside her in class.
1. Also; as well as: We study other languages besides English.
Note the differing meanings of beside and besides. Beside is usually used with reference to a physical location.
1. An intermediate location: Toronto lies between Montreal and Vancouver.
2. An intermediate time: between Christmas and New Year's Day
3. Intermediate in a series: B comes between A and C in the alphabet.
4. An intermediate amount: between five and ten people
5. Within a group of two: The money was shared between two people.
1. Farther than: The mountains lie beyond the horizon.
2. Further than; exceeding: That was beyond my expectations.
1. Except: I have read all but the last chapter.
Note: But is used more often as a conjunction than as a preposition.
1. Near: a house by the sea
2. Past: He waved as he drove by the house.
3. Not later than: Try to finish the work by next week.
4. In units of: cheaper by the dozen; sold by weight
5. Through the means of: travel by plane; written by him
Note: By is often used in combination with verbs in the Passive Voice.
1. Connected with; about: He studies everything concerning trees.
1. In spite of: We walked downtown despite the rain.
1. To a lower position: The ball rolled down the hill.
2. Further along: He lives down the street.
1. Throughout a period: She works during the day.
2. Sometime within a period: An accident occurred during the night.
1. Not including: I have visited everyone except him.
1. Duration of time: We walked for two hours.
2. Distance: I walked for five kilometers.
3. Purpose: I bought this jacket for you.
4. In the direction of: She left for New York.
5. In favor of: We are for the proposal.
6. Considering: The boy is clever for his age.
1. Place of origin: We left from Boston; he comes from Mexico
2. Start of a period of time: from now on; from yesterday until today
3. Start of a range: From 20 to 30 people were present.
4. Cause: He suffers from nervousness.
5. Source: I first heard the story from you.
1. Place thought of as an area: in London; in Europe
2. Within a location: in the room; in the building
3. Large units of time: That happened in March, in 1992.
4. Within a certain time: I will return in an hour.
5. By means of: write in pencil; speak in English
6. Condition: in doubt; in a hurry; in secret
7. A member of: He is in the orchestra; in the navy
8. Wearing: the boy in the blue shirt
9. With reference to: lacking in ideas; rich in oil
1. Within: They are inside the house.
1. To the inside of: We stepped into the room.
2. Change of condition: The boy changed into a man.
1. Resembling: That looks like him.
2. Appearing possible: It looks like rain.
3. Be in a suitable mood for: I feel like going swimming.
1. Less: Three minus two equals one.
1. Close to: near the school; near the ocean
1. Location: east of here; the middle of the road
2. Possession: a friend of mine; the sound of music
3. Part of a group: one of us; a member of the team
4. Measurement: a cup of milk; two meters of snow
1. Not on; away from: Please keep off the grass.
2. At some distance from: There are islands off the coast.
1. Touching the surface of: on the table; on the wall
2. A certain day: That happened on Sunday, on the 6th of June.
3. A certain street: on South Street
4. About: a book on engineering
5. A state or condition: on strike; on fire; on holiday
6. By means of: live on a pension; shown on television
1. To a position on: The child climbed onto the table.
1. Facing: The library is opposite the fire station.
1. To the outside of: She went out of the room.
2. From among: We won two games out of three.
3. Motive: We spoke to them out of politeness.
4. Material: The bridge is made out of steel.
5. Beyond: out of control; out of danger
1. On the outer side of: outside the house
2. Beyond the limits of: outside my experience
1. Above; higher than: There are cupboards over the sink.
2. Covering: We spread an extra blanket over the bed.
3. Across: I jumped over a puddle.
4. More than: It cost over ten dollars; it took over an hour
5. During: I saw him several times over the past week.
6. By means of: We made plans over the telephone.
1. Up to and beyond: I walked past the house.
2. After (in time): It was past 2 o'clock; half past two
3. Beyond: past belief
1. For each: 60 kilometers per hour; price per liter
1. With the addition of: Six plus four equals ten.
1. From a specific time in the past: I had been waiting since two o'clock.
2. From a past time until now: I have been waiting here since noon.
Note: Because of its meaning, the preposition since is usually used in combination with a perfect tense. It should be noted that the preposition for can also be used with a perfect tense. However, when used with reference to time, for is usually followed by a phrase referring to a period of time; whereas since is usually followed by a phrase referring to a specific time.
e.g. I have known him for six months.
I have known him since January.
In the first example, for is followed by six months, which refers to a period of time. In the second example, since is followed by January, which refers to a specific time.
1. Across; from end to end of: the main road through town
2. For the whole of a period: I slept through the night.
3. By means of: Skill improves through practice.
1. In every part of: throughout the world
2. For the whole of a period: throughout the winter
Note: Till can be used instead of until. However, at the beginning of a sentence, until is usually used.
1. In the direction of: Turn to the right.
2. Destination: I am going to Rome.
3. Until: from Monday to Friday; five minutes to ten
4. Compared with: They prefer hockey to soccer.
5. With indirect object: Please give it to me.
6. As part of infinitive: I like to ski; he wants to help.
7. In order to: We went to the store to buy soap.
Toward (or Towards)
1. In the direction of: We walked toward the center of town.
2. Near; just before (time): It rained towards evening.
1. Beneath: under the desk; under the trees
2. Less than: Under 100 people were present.
3. In circumstances of: under repair; under way; under discussion
1. Below, under: underneath the carpet
1. Up to a certain time: She will stay until Friday; until 5 p.m.
Note: On and upon have similar meanings. Upon may be used in certain expressions, as in once upon a time, and following certain verbs, as in to rely upon someone.
1. To a higher place: We went up the stairs.
2. In a higher place: She lives up the hill.
1. As far as: up to now; I have read up to page 100.
2. Depending on: The decision is up to you.
3. As good as; ready for: His work is up to standard.
1. Against (sports, legal): The next game is England versus Australia.
1. By way of: He went to Los Angeles via San Francisco.
1. Accompanying: He came with her; I have my keys with me.
2. Having; containing: Here is a book with a map of the island.
3. By means of; using: I repaired the shoes with glue.
4. Manner: with pleasure; with ease; with difficulty
5. Because of: We were paralyzed with fear.
1. Inside of: within twenty minutes; within one kilometer
1. Not having: Do not leave without your coat; without money
Below are examples of idioms consisting of prepositional phrases. The following selection of idioms emphasizes those used in North American English. The meaning of each idiom is indicated after the colon.
not at all: not in any way
at all times: always
at any rate: whatever happens
keep someone at arm's length: avoid becoming closely involved with someone
at close quarters: very near
at one's disposal: to be used as one wishes
at a distance: not near
at fault: causing something wrong
at first: at the beginning
see at a glance: see immediately
at hand: near; readily available
at last: finally, after some delay
at a loss: uncertain what to do or say
at the mercy of: without defense against
at the moment: now
at once: immediately
at present: now
at rest: not moving
at risk: threatened by danger or loss
at short notice: with little warning
at stake: to be won or lost
at a stretch: continuously
at that rate: under those circumstances
at this point: at this place; at this moment
at the wheel: in control
behind the scenes: (of persons) influencing events secretly; (in a theater) behind the stage
behind schedule: not on time
be beside oneself: lose one's self-control
beside the point: irrelevant
read between the lines: deduce a meaning that is not actually expressed
beyond help: unable to be helped
beyond a joke: too annoying to be amusing
beyond reproach: perfect; blameless
by accident: not deliberately
by all means: by any possible method
bit by bit: gradually
by chance: by accident; without planning
by courtesy of: with the help or permission of
win by default: win because of lack of competition
by degrees: gradually
perform by ear: perform (music) by listening to the sound, without referring to written music
by hand: without the use of machinery
by heart: from memory
little by little: gradually
by means of: by using
by mistake: accidentally
by no means: not at all
one by one: one at a time
by oneself: alone
side by side: beside one another
by the way: incidentally (used to introduce an unrelated topic of conversation)
by word of mouth: orally
once and for all: for the last time (e.g. used when giving someone a final warning)
for certain: definitely; without doubt
for a change: for the sake of variety
for example: as an illustration
for fun: for the sake of enjoyment
for good: permanently
for good measure: in addition to the necessary amount
for instance: for example; as an illustration
for keeps: (colloquial) permanently
for a living: as a profession
for now: temporarily
run for office: compete for an elected position
for one thing: because of one reason (out of several)
for the sake of: for the benefit of; for the purpose of
for sale: intended to be sold
for sure: definitely (more colloquial than for certain)
food for thought: something which makes one think
play for time: delay doing something in the hope that the situation will improve
for the time being: until some other arrangement is made
ask for trouble: act in a dangerous or foolish way
for a while: for a period of time
word for word: exactly as said or written
from afar: from a distance
from all sides: from all directions
from head to foot: (of a person) completely; all over
from scratch: from the beginning
from time to time: occasionally
in addition to: as well as
in advance: before
be in agreement with: have the same opinion as
in any case: whatever happens
in brief: in a few words
in bulk: (of goods) in large amounts; not in packages
be in charge of: have responsibility for
in common: shared by all members of a group
in control: having the power to direct something
in the course of: during
in danger: likely to be harmed
in a daze: unable to think clearly; confused
in debt: owing money
in demand: (of goods or persons) desired by many people
in depth: (investigate something) thoroughly
in detail: (explain something) thoroughly
in disgrace: regarded with disapproval because of having done something wrong
in the distance: far away
in doubt: uncertain
in duplicate: so that there are two identical copies (of a document)
in earnest: seriously; in a determined way
in effect: (of rules) operating
in the end: finally
in fact: in reality; really
in fashion: fashionable; accepted as being the most desirable and up to date
in favor of: supporting (an idea)
in flames: burning, with visible flames
in a flash: very quickly; suddenly
in full: without omitting anything
in general: usually; as a whole
hand in hand: (of persons) holding hands; (of related situations) occurring together
in a hurry: trying to accomplish something quickly
in jest: as a joke
in kind: (payment) in goods rather than in money
in itself: without reference to anything else
in league with: (of persons) joined together with (usually for a dishonest purpose)
be in the limelight: be the focus of attention; receive great publicity
in the long run: in the end; eventually
in the long term: looking ahead to the distant future
leave someone in the lurch: abandon someone who is in a difficult situation
be in the minority: be in the smaller of two groups
in mint condition: (of manufactured goods) perfect; brand-new
in a minute: soon
in a moment: soon; quickly
set something in motion: start something going
nip something in the bud: put an end to something before it gets properly started
in no time: very soon; very quickly
in order of: arranged according to
in order to: for the purpose of
in part: to some degree
in particular: especially
in power: (of a political party) holding office
in practice: able to do something well because of recent practice; in reality (opposite of in theory)
in print: (of a book) printed and available from the publisher
in private: not in front of other people
in public: openly; not in private
in reality: really
in reserve: saved for later use
in retrospect: looking back over past events
in return for: as repayment for
be in the right: be correct
in season: (of fruit or vegetables) readily available at that time of year
in a second: soon; quickly
in short supply: scarce; not easily obtainable
in sight: able to be seen
in stock: (of goods at a store) present and available
in that case: if that is true
in theory: ideally; according to theoretical considerations
be in time: not be late
in touch with in: communication with; informed about
in triplicate: so that there are three identical copies (of a document)
be in trouble: be in a difficult situation; be blamed or punished for doing something wrong
in tune: at the correct pitch
act in unison: act together
in vain: without success
in the vicinity of: near
once in a while: occasionally
in words of one syllable: (explain something) clearly and simply
in working order: able to function properly
in the wrong: responsible for an error; guilty
inside out: with the inner side out; thoroughly
paint oneself into a corner: take a course of action which greatly narrows one's future choices of action
go into hiding: hide oneself
get into a rut: get into a fixed and uninteresting way of life
get into trouble: get into a difficult situation; do something deserving blame or punishment
of course: certainly; as one would expect; as everyone knows
hard of hearing: somewhat deaf
next of kin: nearest relative or relatives
of one's own accord: voluntarily; on one's own initiative
of one's own free will: voluntarily; by choice
one's point of view: one's opinion about something
right of way: public right to use a path or road; (of road traffic) right to proceed before others
rule of thumb: a simple way to calculate what procedure to follow, based on extensive experience, rather than on theoretical considerations
go off the air: (of radio or television) stop broadcasting
off duty: not engaged in one's regular work
off one's hands: no longer one's responsibility
off and on: from time to time
off the record: say something privately, that is not to be officially recorded
off the track: following a wrong line of thought or action
on account of: because of
be on the air: (of radio or television) be in the process of broadcasting
on the alert: ready to act
be on all fours: (of a person) be on hands and knees
on the average: usually; normally
on behalf of: for; in the interests of
on board: on a ship or airplane
on business: as part of one's work
on condition that: only if; provided that
on demand: when asked for
on display: being exhibited
on duty: engaged in one's regular work
on fire: burning
to go on foot: to walk
be on one's guard: be alert and ready to meet an attack
on hand: available
on loan: lent and not yet returned
shoot on location: (of a movie) film in natural surroundings, not in a studio
on the lookout: watchful
put something on the map: cause something to become well-known
get on one's nerves: annoy; irritate
on no account: absolutely not
on the one hand: (used to introduce one side of an argument)
on one's own: alone; without help
act on one's own initiative: act independently, without orders from anyone else
on order: requested but not yet delivered
on the other hand: (used to introduce a contrasting side of an argument)
act on principle: do something to support a policy
on purpose: deliberately
go on record: say something which is to be officially recorded
on sale: being sold at a lower price than usual
on schedule: at the correct time; as planned or predicted
on second thoughts: after thinking further about something
on a shoestring: with a very small amount of money
be on the spot: be where important events are taking place; be placed in an awkward situation
on the spur of the moment: on a sudden impulse
go off on a tangent: change suddenly to a new line of thought or action
on time: at the correct time
walk on tiptoe: walk on the toes and balls of the feet
accept something on trust: accept something without proof
on the verge of: very close to; about to
on the whole: taking everything into consideration
out of the blue: unexpectedly
out of breath: (after running) panting from a shortage of oxygen
out of character: unlike a person's known character
out of control: not able to be regulated or guided
out of danger: safe
out of date: no longer used; old-fashioned; (of news) no longer true
out of debt: having paid one's debts
be out of one's depth: be unable to handle a situation because of lack of experience
out of doors: in the open air; not in a building
out of fashion: not fashionable; not presently in common use
out of hand: not under control
out of harm's way: safe
out of line with: in disagreement with
be out of one's mind: be insane
out of order: not functioning properly; (at a formal meeting) not behaving according to the rules
out of the ordinary: unusual
out of place: unsuitable
out of practice: unable to do something as well as one has in past, because of lack of recent practice
out of print: (of a book) no longer available from the publisher
out of proportion: too big or too small; not having the appropriate relationship to something
out of the question: impossible; not to be considered
out of season: (of fruit or vegetables) not readily available at that time of year
out of shape: (of persons) not in top condition because of lack of exercise
out of sight: hidden, not able to be seen
out of stock: (of goods at a store) temporarily unavailable
out of style: not fashionable
out of touch: with not in communication with; not informed about
out of town: having temporarily left town
out of trouble: not in trouble
out of tune: not at the correct pitch
out of work: no longer having employment
to all intents and purposes: in all important ways
to a certain extent: partly
to date: so far; until now
up to date: current; modern
see eye to eye with: agree entirely with
take something to heart: be much affected by something
made to measure: exactly suitable; (of clothes) made for a certain person
keep something to oneself: not tell anyone
to the point: relevant
under age: below the age of being legally permitted to do something
be under arrest: be held prisoner and charged with wrongdoing
under the auspices of: with the patronage of; supported by
under one's breath: in a whisper
under the circumstances: because this is true
under consideration: being thought about
under control: able to be regulated or guided
under cover of: protected by; undetected because of
under fire: being shot at; being criticized
under the impression that: having the idea that
be under the influence of: be affected by
be under oath: have sworn to tell the truth
under observation: being watched carefully
under restraint: prevented from doing something
have something up one's sleeve: have a secret idea or plan in reserve
with impunity: without risk of injury or punishment
with the naked eye: without using a magnifying lens
with no strings attached: (of help given) with no conditions; to be used freely
take with a pinch of salt: not believe completely
with regard to: concerning; about
with respect to: concerning; about
tarred with the same brush: having the same faults
with a vengeance: very much; more than usual
within limits: to a certain extent; not too much
within living memory: within the memory of people now alive
go without saying: be obvious
The following are examples of nouns which are usually followed by certain prepositions. In the case of phrases which are idioms, the meanings of the phrases are indicated in brackets.
|take precautions against
|have affection for
|make allowances for
|have compassion for
|an excuse for
|a reason for
|have a reputation for
|have respect for
|have sympathy for
|have a talent for
|lie in wait for (ambush)
|pave the way for (prepare for)
|have confidence in
|have faith in
|have an interest in
|take part in
|make progress in
|have insight into
|have an abhorrence of
|an acknowledgement of
|take advantage of
|take care of
|take command of
|an example of
|an excess of
|make a fool of
|make fun of (ridicule)
|have an impression of
|a lack of
|a number of
|a pair of
|be part of
|a possibility of
|make a practice of (do often)
|a proof of
|a quantity of
|a recollection of
|a result of
|run the risk of (risk)
|catch sight of (see suddenly)
|a sign of
|a survey of
|a symbol of
|a symptom of
|a token of
|make use of
|a way of
|wash one's hands of (stop caring
|about and dealing with)
|an attack on
|make an impression on
|play a joke on
|shed light on (explain)
|have pity on
|have access to
|pay attention to
|an objection to
|a reply to
|a response to
|lay siege to (besiege)
|shut one's eyes to (deliberately
|ignore a problem)
|Toward or Towards
|an attitude toward(s)
|have a connection with
|find fault with (criticize)
|fall in love with
|change places with
In some cases different prepositions can be used without causing a change in meaning. For instance, the following examples both have the same meaning.
e.g. I was angry at them.
I was angry with them.
However, in many cases, the use of different prepositions causes a change in meaning. For instance, the past participle protected is typically followed by the preposition from. However, like many other past participles, protected may also be followed by the preposition by, where by serves to introduce the performer of the action expressed by the past participle.
e.g. The city is protected from the soldiers.
The city is protected by the soldiers.
The first example indicates that the soldiers are a threat to the city; whereas the second example indicates that the soldiers are protecting the city.
The following are examples of predicate adjectives and past participles of verbs in the Passive Voice which are usually followed by certain prepositions. In addition, it should be kept in mind that most verbs in the Passive Voice can be followed by a phrase beginning with the preposition by.
|Toward or Towards
The following are examples of verbs which are often followed by certain prepositions.
|lie about (tell a lie)