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Prepositions in English language

Prepositions play a large part in the structure of the English language and, although "prepositions" seems an easy topic at first glance, it causes much difficulty to the ESL/EFL learners. I find this topic extremely difficult (maybe I should say confusing) because there is no logical reason why one preposition is right in a certain context while another is wrong. Take a look at the examples below:

Get on the bike (exactly like a book is on the table, you are on the bike, basically you sit on the bike)
Get on the bus (this one doesn`t make sense for me at all, I am more likely to say Get in the bus, because I consider it a closed space, inside of the bus. Get on the bus makes me believe I have to go somewhere on the top of the bus.

Use on for public transport and in for private transport.

Definition of prepositions

Prepositions are words used with nouns/pronouns to show the relation in which they stand in regard to another word/words in a sentence. Prepositions can be single words or a group of words, and one of their main functions is to make a phrase with the help of the noun or pronoun that follows. Basically, prepositions link nouns, pronouns or phrases to other words in a sentence.

Position of prepositions in sentence

Prepositions are usually placed in front of the noun/pronoun they relate to. Prepositions can be found in questions and in relative and interrogative clauses as well.

This is my friend I was telling you about.

List of prepositions

This is a list of prepositions that are the most commonly used and their usage. There are many other prepositions in the English language.


Preposition at is used with an exact point of time (at 2 o`clock, at that time etc). It can also be used with periods of time, not necessarily so easily defined, such as festivities and weekend (at Christmas/Easter, at the weekend). It also has a third function to denote place, in the meaning near /close to, somewhere within or near this area (at the office, at the bus stops, at home).


Preposition on is used with more general points of time than at, usually with days and dates (on Wednesday, on June 16th, on Saturday afternoon, on his birthday). Preposition on creates big confusion among Vietnamese learners.
It is also used as a place preposition, giving the meaning touching a surface of something but not inside – partially or otherwise – the surface itself (on the wall/floor/ceiling).


Preposition in is used with months, seasons, years, decades and longer periods of time in general, and parts of the day (in winter, in 1995, in December, in the morning). Preposition in is also used to show the total length of time taken for the completion of some activity

An airplane will get you from Vietnam to Romania in 12 hours

Preposition in is also use to state how long the period is for the action to take place

We have to be ready in 3 minutes.

Preposition in is used for places as well (in Vietnam, in Saigon etc) and for closed spaces such as (in the box, in the classroom, in the bag etc). Preposition in is also used with clothes with the meaning wearing (A girl in a red dress)


Preposition by is used to show the latest time at which an action can be finished or was finished.

The action should be done before, or – at the latest – at the time indicated by the time expression after by, not after it.

I have to save $1000 by December.


Preposition for is used with periods of time and it shows how long an action lasts.

I have lived in Vietnam for 3 years).

It can also be used to show that the action is done on behalf of someone else (1), when you are buying a present (2), or to explain the function of something (3).

(1) I have done the shopping for you.
(2) I found a nice present for my mother.
(3) This is used for copying samples.


Preposition during is used to express an idea that a situation persists throughout the whole of a specific period of time (1), when an event took place within a specified period of time (2), or – contrary to the above definition – when the action took place some time within the time period in question, not the whole period(3).

(1) I work during the day, I can meet you only in the evening.
(2) I have learned Vietnamese during my time in Vietnam.
(3) I`ll visit you during the holidays.


Preposition from gives/shows the starting point of an action and is almost always found with to, until or till.

I have English class from 2 o`clock to 4 o`clock.

Don`t confuse from and since. Since is used with a moment of time in past and with an action that continues to the moment of speaking. Naturally, from is also a place preposition, indicating movement away from the place after it (Example: I`ve just come back from London).


Preposition for is used for direction only when the verb indicates the beginning of a movement

I left for Vietnam.

Some other uses of for:


Preposition towards or toward in American English – carries the meaning in the general direction of something/somebody. (Example: They went towards the exit but were stopped by a security guard.)


Preposition to is generally used for movement in the direction of and reaching the destination desired (Example: They run to the exit but were stopped by a security guard.)


Preposition under is a place preposition. It can be a stationary place preposition (Example: The cat is under the table ) or indicate movement (Example: They ran under the bridge and hid in the ruins behind it). Also, compare: under/underneath, below, beneath.

Over vs. Above

Over means vertically above and above means higher than.

Above (adverb)

Above (preposition)

Above (noun)

Above (adjective)



Below vs. Under (under = vertically bellow; below = lower than)


It is preferred when one thing is not directly under another.
When the sun sets, it sinks below the horizon.

Below is used in measurements of temperature and height, and in other cases where we think of a vertical scale.
The temperature is 10 degrees below zero.
The Dead Sea is below sea level.
She is below average in intelligence.
The ankle is below the knee.


Use under when something is covered or hidden by what is directly over it.
I think the cat is under the bed.
The whole village was under water.
The ankle is under the knee. (not directly under it).

We usually use under, not below, to mean less than or younger than.
There were under fifty people at the meeting.
You cannot see this film if you are under 18.


Preposition with is used with anything which is carried (Example: A man with an umbrella). Preposition with can also be used for diseases/deformities (Example: A girl with a limp), and with qualities of character (Example: A man with common sense). Please note the use of with in I am going to cinema with my mother.

Other uses for with:

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