Author Services Guide To Prepositions

Author Services Guide To Prepositions

Prepositions are words or phrases that are used to indicate relationships between sentence components. They are used to clarify aspects such as time, location, and direction.

Used correctly, prepositions provide clarity to sentences by illustrating the relationships between words. Incorrect usage, however, can cause significant confusion for the reader and obscure meaning.

Here, we look into the purpose of prepositions and how they operate in the English language.

Function of prepositions

As mentioned above, prepositions indicate relationships in location, time, or direction and more between people, places, and things. They are commonly followed by a noun, noun phrase, or pronoun. Common prepositions and prepositional phrases include of, in, at, from, to, with, for, by, during, onto, across, because of, due to, etc.

Below are some of the main instances in which prepositions are used.


One of the main uses of prepositions is to indicate the relative location of a subject or object in a sentence. For example:

They sat down in the library.

The restaurant was across the street from their office.

They are used in this way to clarify spatial relationships, so the reader can understand how the elements of the sentence fit together.


Another usage of prepositions is to indicate when something will occur or has occurred. For example:

The test begins in one hour.

They met at the end of the day.

This links together the temporal information in the sentence, allowing the reader to determine the sequence of events.


Giving relative directional information is also one of the main uses of prepositions. For example:

The car was driven across the entire country.

This study points towards a paradigm shift in the field.


Prepositions are also used to indicate possession. For example:

The pH of the solution was 3.

The opinions of the participants were gathered.

Here, the prepositions indicate ownership and thus clarify the relationship between sentence components.

Note that in all the examples above the preposition is followed by a noun or noun phrase. There are, however, instances in which prepositions are used with other word classes.

Prepositions with adjectives and verbs

Certain adjectives and verbs have “fixed” prepositions to form particular phrases. Note that particular words may form several phrases with different prepositions and meanings.

Adjective + preposition phrases

Adjectives and prepositions can be used together to convey a specific meaning and provide further information about nouns or pronouns in a sentence.

Preposition Adjective Phrase
About Excited; Anxious; Optimistic He was anxious about the exam.
Of Afraid; Tired; Full The room was full of people.
On Keen; Depend; Focused They depended on each other.
With Familiar; Concerned; Pleased I am familiar with the fundamentals.
To Open; Accustomed; Opposed She was open to changing her approach entirely.
At Amazed; Quick; Skilled The author was skilled at building tension.
By Annoyed; Impressed; Inspired I am impressed by your persistence.


Verb + preposition phrases

Similarly, verbs and prepositions can be used together to clarify meaning.

Preposition Verb Phrase
About Complained; Read; Worry She complained about her workload.
Of Approve; Consist; Speak The team consists of talented athletes.
On Insist; Concentrate; Decide They concentrated on the task at hand.
With Deal; Meet; Cope He had to deal with several customers at once.
To Refer; Belong; Listen They do not belong to the same genus.
At Stare; Shout; Laugh She stared at the car as it passed by.


These lists are by no means exhaustive; there are many different phrases that are made from combining verbs and adjectives with prepositions.

It should be noted that there is no specific grammatical rule by which to determine the correct preposition for a verb or adjective. They are conventions that are observed by writers, and so one way to improve your written communications skills is to familiarise yourself with many of these constructions and double-check your work to ensure you’ve used the correct preposition.

Common errors

To help you avoid mistakes with prepositions in the future, here we’ll cover a few common prepositional errors made by authors.


Of and in are frequently mixed up in academic communication, particularly when talking about changes.

Of, in this context, should be used to introduce quantities:

An increase of 40%.

A reduction of 4 g.

In, on the other hand, should precede concepts or things:

A decrease in interest.

An increase in solution.

There are certain instances which look similar but where these rules aren’t applicable, such as when referring to a chemical process (e.g., A reduction of water to hydrogen).


When referring to location, in and at are often used incorrectly.

Generally, in refers to large, general locations:

She lives in the UK.

They arrived in New York after a long flight.

whereas at usually refers to specific locations:

The man checked in at the hotel.

He was staying at his friend’s house.

However, when referring specifically to your position within or outside a location, in is used in place of at:

He stayed in his room.

They worked in the library.


By and of are also often used interchangeably but have very distinct meanings, particularly in the context of being made up of something.

By, in this instance, is used to identify an agent performing an action:

The poem was composed by Wordsworth.

The solution was made by the researchers.

whereas of is used to refer to the actual components that make up a whole:

The solution was composed of 50 mg sodium and 5 mg potassium.

The furnace belt was made of refractory steel.

Using prepositions

All in all, prepositions are highly important components of the English language crucial for conveying meaning. With no strict rules for their usage, it’s important to familiarise yourself with many common prepositional phrases and constructions to improve your communication skills.

For more support on all aspects of language and grammar, read our Guide To British And American English and Why Grammar Is Important In Academic Communication.

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