Demystifying Prepositions in Writing

What are prepositions? They may be small words, but they play a big role in helping us see how things connect in a sentence.

If you are looking to grasp the basics of prepositions, you’ve come to the right place. In this post, we’ll break it down into simple terms so you can start using prepositions like a pro.

Prepositions are the small words in the English language. Their primary job is to show the relationship between nouns (people, places, things) and other words in a sentence. Examples:

♦ in
♦ on
♦ at
♦ over
♦ under

In simple terms, prepositions are the connectors that help us understand sentences.

Why are Prepositions Important?

Prepositions are important because they provide crucial information in sentences. Here’s why:

Clarify Relationships

Prepositions clarify the relationships between nouns (or pronouns) and other elements in a sentence.

Prepositions show
♦ where something is
♦ when it happens
♦ how it moves
♦ the connection between objects or people

Without prepositions, sentences can be confusing.


Prepositions add precision to your writing by making your writing more descriptive and clear.

♦ The book is there
♦ The book is on the table

The book is on the table is more specific than saying the book is there. Where is there?


They provide context. Prepositions add depth to storytelling and descriptions, so readers can really imagine what’s happening.

Amid the bustling city streets, she found solace in the quiet park by the river
In this sentence:
Amid shows that her location is within the busy city streets.
In tells us where she found solace, which is the quiet park.
By establishes the park’s proximity to the river, giving us a sense of its location.

Avoid Ambiguity

Without prepositions, sentences can become ambiguous. For instance:

♦ He talked the phone
♦ He talked on the phone

He talked the phone makes little sense, but He talked on the phone does. The preposition in this sentence eliminates confusion.

In short, prepositions are essential for effective communication and clear writing.

Types of Propositions

We can categorize prepositions into different types based on their usage and meaning. Here are some common types of prepositions:

Prepositions of Place

These prepositions tell us where things are. By showing the location of something in relation to another object. Examples include:

♦ in
♦ on
♦ under
♦ over
♦ beside
♦ between

For instance, “The book is on the table.” The book isn’t floating in space; it’s on the table.

Prepositions of Time

These prepositions tell us when something happens. Examples:

♦ at
♦ in
♦ on
♦ before
♦ after
♦ during

When something happens is often as crucial as where. “We’ll meet at 3 PM.” The “at” tells us the exact time.

Prepositions of Direction

These prepositions show the way or direction of something. Examples include:

♦ to
♦ from
♦ toward
♦ through
♦ across

If you want to describe direction, prepositions help. She walked through the park. Through tells us the path she took.

Prepositions of Movement

Some prepositions describe how something moves or travels. Examples include

♦ along
♦ up
♦ down
♦ across
♦ around

He climbed up the steep mountain to reach the breathtaking summit. Up is the preposition of movement, showing the direction of his climb.

Note: Prepositions of direction and prepositions of movements seem similar, but they are different. Prepositions of direction are more concerned with indicating the destination or source of movement. While prepositions of movement describe the journey or the way something moves. They both deal with movement but focus on different aspects of it.

Prepositions of Agency

These prepositions show the doer of an action. Examples are:

♦ by
♦ with

The book was written by the author. The preposition By shows up the doer of the action.

Prepositions of Relationship

These prepositions express the relationship between objects or people. Examples include:

♦ with
♦ among
♦ between
♦ besides

He’s friends with Sarah. With shows the connection between he and Sarah.

Compound Prepositions

These are formed by combining words to create a single preposition. Examples include:

♦ in front of
♦ out of
♦ because of

Knowing the types of prepositions can improve your writing by adding clarity and detail to your sentences.

The Objective Case

As I mentioned earlier, a preposition is a tiny word that comes before another word to show how it’s connected to a different word in the sentence.

The word that comes after a preposition is called its “object.” Picture the preposition as the boss, telling its object what to do.

For example, in the sentence “The surface of the water glistened,” the word “of” tells us that “surface” is connected to “water.”
In “Philip is on the river,” “on” shows where Philip is in relation to the river.
If we used words like “in,” “near,” or “beyond,” it would change the relationship.
So, “water” is the object of the preposition “of,” and “river” is the object of the preposition “on.”

Sometimes, a preposition can have more than one object. He was filled with shame and despair.

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Prepositional Phrases

In the sentence “He stood behind the tree for some time,” “behind the tree” is a prepositional phrase that tells us where he stood.

These prepositional phrases can serve two main purposes:

1. They can act like adjectives, describing a noun. For example, “of nuts” in “a heap of nuts” tells us what kind of heap it is.

2. They can act like adverbs, describing a verb. In the sentence “He stood behind the tree for some time,” “for some time” explains how long he stood.

So, prepositions and their phrases help add details to sentences, like telling us where, when, or how something happens.

Prepositions or Adverbs

We can use some words as adverbs or prepositions.

Adverb Use Preposition
I fell down. I fell down the steps.
Stand by! He stood by the window.
A big dog ran behind. A dog ran behind the car.
Keep off! Keep off the grass.


Examples of Creative Preposition Use

So far, we have discussed prepositions, their types and uses. Here are a few examples of creative preposition usage in sentences by popular authors:


Michael Grant use through to connect tears and town.

♦ The monster tears through the town.

The Girl on the Train

Paula Hawkins uses over to connect she and city.

♦ She gazes out over the city; I watch her and she looks beautiful.

My Sister’s Keeper

Jodi Picoult use between to connect the bond and twins.

♦ It’s the bond between twins. It’s always there, no matter what.

Gone Girl

Gillian Flynn uses inside to make the connection.

♦ Amy’s mother was a tiny woman, always huddled inside her chair.


Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie uses through to make the connection.

♦ Ifemelu held her bag close to her body as she walked through the dark, laughing crowd.

10 Tips for Demystifying Prepositions

So how can you use prepositions to make your writing stand out? Here are a few tips.

1. Choose Precise Prepositions: Pick prepositions that show how words connect in your sentences.
2. Vary Prepositions: Switch it up by using different prepositions to express similar relationships.
3. Show, Don’t Tell: Instead of saying, “He was scared,” consider, “Fear ran through him like lightning.
4. Avoid Dangling Prepositions: Always have objects after your prepositions. Don’t leave them hanging without direction.

5. Use Prepositions in Exposition: Prepositions can clarify information in explanatory passages.
6. Don’t Overuse Prepositions: Try not to use too many prepositions in one sentence.
7. Check for Preposition Agreement: Double-check that the preposition matches the object’s case. (e.g., “with him,” not “with he”).

8. Read Widely: Check out how successful writers use prepositions in their works to level up your own skills.
9. Create Complex Sentences: Use prepositional phrases to construct complex sentences that add depth to your stories.
10. Edit for Clarity: Review your work for ambiguous prepositions that may confuse readers.

Try some of these tips and experiment with your use of prepositions.

Last Words on Demystifying Prepositions

So, prepositions are like your helpful guides in the sentence world. They give you all the details – where, when, how, and why. Prepositions will make your writing more precise and engaging as a writer. So, don’t be afraid to experiment and make mistakes. It’s all part of the learning process.

Happy writing!




Feature Image by Alison from Pixabay



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