06 March 2013
Grammar Bites: Preppy Prepositions
A preposition is simply a word that links two elements of a sentence by showing how they are related.
"We swam in the sea."
"We always have tea at four o'clock."
The word or phrase that is introduced by the preposition is called the object of the preposition, or the prepositional complement. This is usually a noun phrase.
Most prepositions consist of one word, but some prepositions consist of more than one: due to, because of, except for are some obvious such examples.
The preposition and its complement combined are called a prepositional phrase.
There are three main uses of prepositional phrases:
- Modifying a noun phrase: "They talked to the woman in the red dress."
- Adverbial: "After dinner, we all withdrew to the parlour."
- Complementing a verb or adjective: "He appeared in the doorway."
Be careful, though: some words (such as after,
as, before, since, until and when) can be both prepositions and conjunctions. It all depends on what follows these words: if a phrase follows the word, the word is acting as a preposition; if a clause follows it, then it is working as a conjunction. In the sentence "He came in after the storm had already passed" after is used as a conjunction; in the sentence "He came in after the storm", it is being used as a preposition.
Prepositions are used to indicate relationships of:
- Space/location – on, in, above, below, between, beyond, etc.
- Time – at, before, after, since, until, etc.
- Cause – because of, on account of, etc.
- Means – like, without, by, etc.
- Support and opposition – with, against, for, etc.
- Concession – in spite of, despite, notwithstanding, etc.
- Exception and addition – except, apart from, etc.
What about the admonition that you must never end a sentence with a preposition?
There is a difference here between formal and informal usage, with formal usage preferring to keep the preposition with its complement ("He's the one I was talking to." = informal; "He's the one to whom I was talking." = formal). But there are a number of instances where not ending the sentence with the preposition would simply be nonsensical. Changing "The dinner had not even been paid for" to "Paid for the dinner had not even been", for example, would make you sound like Yoda.
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