How to Use Prepositions

Stacie Heaps
Professional Writer and Editor

The purpose of a preposition is to show the relationship of the object of the preposition to the rest of the sentence. Following is a list of words that are commonly used as prepositions:

about beside near to
above besides of toward
across between off towards
after beyond on under
against by onto until
along during our up
among for outside upon
around from over with
as in past within
before inside since without
behind into through  
below like throughout  

The examples below use prepositions to show the relationship between the desk and the rest of the sentence.

The pen was on the desk.

The pen was in the desk.

The pen was under the desk.

The pen was above the desk.

Prepositions are also used to show relationships of time.

He met his colleagues before the meeting.

He met his colleagues after the meeting.

He met his colleagues during the meeting.

In the two sets of examples above, prepositional phrases are used to indicate the relationship between the preposition, the object of the preposition, and the rest of the sentence.

Identifying Prepositions

Some words that can be used as prepositions can also be used as adverbs or conjunctions. In order for a word to be a preposition, it must have an object. Otherwise, it is not a preposition.

When a word is used as an adverb (that is, a word that modifies a verb, an adjective, another adverb, a preposition, a phrase, a clause, or a sentence), it has no noun or pronoun as an object. Such words can always be used at the end of a sentence.

They asked us to let them know when we were through with our meeting.

He said that the convention would be held mostly outside.

Some words that can be used as prepositions can also be used in verb phrases. Such phrases can also be used at the end of the sentence.

I asked her to take out the trash.

Will you please help us clean up?

Furthermore, some words that are often used as prepositions can also be used as conjunctions (words that act as connectors between words, phrases, clauses, or sentences). If a word that can be used as a preposition is followed by a subject and a verb, then it is acting as a conjunction, not a preposition.

The closet inside the room smelled of mold. (Conjunction)

He decided to walk inside the house. (Preposition)

They saw that beneath the table was an umbrella. (Conjunction)

The dog likes to sleep beneath the bed. (Preposition)

Prepositions with Pronouns

When a pronoun follows the preposition, it must be in the object form. The object pronouns are:

me you him her
us them whom  

The following sentences have prepositional phrases with personal pronouns as objects of the prepositions.

I believe that Mr. Jensen was talking to her.

Do you know when Luke will meet with us?

We have not heard from them yet.

For compound objects where the two pronouns are joined by a conjunction and follow a preposition, the same rule applies.

Between you and me, any idea is better than his last one.

(Remember that whenever the preposition between is used, the object form of the pronoun must follow it.)

Please let Frank and Janice know that the gift is from them and us.

Are you planning to come with him and me?

End-of-Sentence Prepositions

Generally, the object in a sentence follows the preposition it relates to.

We went to the park with them.

They could not learn anything from him.

I believe they will arrive before us.

However, in some cases, following the preposition with the object sounds unnecessarily forced and awkward.

To whom were you talking?

From where is he?

She just wanted someone with whom to read.

In such cases, the preposition can usually follow the object.

Whom were you talking to?

Where is he from?

She just wanted someone to read with.

In very formal writing, readers may object to sentences that end with a preposition. But for most cases, simply use the order that seems most natural.