Rules to Use Prepositions

Rules to Use Prepositions

A Preposition is a word placed before a noun or a pronoun to show the relationship between the person or the thing denoted by it and something else; as:

  1. We saw a horse on the road.
  2. I am fond of ice cream.
  3. The monkey jumped off the table.

In sentence (1), the preposition joins a noun to another noun; in sentence (2), the preposition joins a noun to an adjective; in sentence (3), the preposition joins a noun to a verb.
The noun or pronoun which is used with a preposition is called its object. A preposition may have more than one object, as:

  • They ran across the hill and the plain.

The word, ‘preposition’ means that which is placed before. It is usually placed before its object; but sometimes it is placed after its object; as:

  1. Please give me the book that I asked for.
  2. What are you looking at?
  3. That is the pupil (whom) I was speaking of.

When the object is the relative pronoun that as in sentence (1), the preposition is always placed at the end. The preposition is usually placed at the end when its object is an interrogative pronoun as in sentence (2) or a relative pronoun understood in sentence (3).

Note: Sometimes, the object is placed first for the sake of emphasis; as:

  • Gandhiji is known all the world over.
  • That he insists on.

The best way to learn the correct use of prepositions and adverbial particles is by ample reading, listening, speaking and writing. However, there are certain rules which are worth knowing.

Prepositions of Time

‘for’ and ‘since’

For is followed by a period of time. For is used with all the tenses. Since is followed by a point of time, and is preceded by a verb in some perfect tense; as:

  • We have been living in this town for eight years.
  • We lived in this town for eight years.
  • We have been living in this town since 2000.

From is also used before a noun or a phrase denoting some point of time but unlike since, it is used with all the tenses; as:

  • We shall begin the new project from May.
  • He will come to school from tomorrow.

‘at, ‘in’ and ‘on’

(a) At is used with an exact point of time:

  • The bell rang at two o’clock. (at is also used with festivals: at Christmas, at Easter, etc.)

(b) In is used with periods of time:

  • Our friends arrived in the morning.
  • The museum will be closed in July.

(c) On is used with days and with dates which include the day:

  • We played cricket on Sunday.
  • The battle was fought on 6th October.

(d) In and on are not used before today, yesterday, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, last or next:

  • I am going shopping tomorrow.
  • It rained heavily last Sunday.

(e) Notice the difference between on time and in time. On time means ‘punctually’, in time, ‘before the time appointed’.

  • She got to the cinema on time (i.e., just before the film began).
  • She got to the cinema in time to have a talk with her friends (i.e., before the film began).

(f) In before a noun, denoting a period of time, means at the end of; within means before the end of; as:

  • Tom will arrive in ten minutes time.
  • I shall return within an hour.


When used as a preposition, by has the meaning not later than:

  • The field must be ploughed by the end of this month.

It is, therefore, important to distinguish between by and at. Compare these two commands:

  • Bring the book to the office by ten o’clock.
  • Bring the book to the office at ten o’clock.

Note: the expression by day means during the day.

’till’ and ‘to’

Till is used for time, and to is used for place; as:

  • I rested till five o’clock.
  • We walked to the end of the street.

‘in’ and ‘within’

In implies ‘at the end of some future period’; within denotes ‘before the end of’ as:

  • Mona will return in [= at the close of] a month.
  • Mona will return within [= in less than] a month.

‘in’ and ‘after’

In implies at the end, at a period of time in the future; while after denotes at the end of a period of time in the past; as:

  • Mona will return in a week [= when the week is over]. (Future)
  • Mona returned after a week [= when the week was over]. (Past)

‘before’ and ‘for’

Before is used to denote a point of future time; for is used to show a period of future time.

  • Tapas will be there for an hour. (period of time)
  • Tapas will be there before 6 o’clock. (a point of time in future)

Prepositions of Place

‘in’ and ‘at’

(a) In suggests enclosed, within an area: in a bag, in the room, in Kolkata.

(b) At suggests ‘not enclosed’: at the crossroads, at the end of the road, at the station.

(c) We often use ‘at’ when we want to suggest that some activity is taking place:

  • He is working at his desk.
  • We saw a good film at the cinema.
  • The teacher is standing at the blackboard. (i.e., He is proposing to make use of it.)

Note: We say ‘in the corner of the room’ but ‘at the corner of the road’.

(d) In is used with names of countries and large towns; at is used when speaking of small towns and villages.

  • They live in Japan.
  • We live in Delhi.
  • I live at Shirva in Karnataka.

(e) In and at are used in speaking of things at rest; ‘to’ and ‘into’ are used in speaking of things in motion; as:

  • Anil is at the top of the class.
  • Anu is in bed.
  • He ran to the hospital.
  • He jumped into the lake.

‘on’ and ‘upon’

On is used for referring to things at rest, and upon, for things in motion; as:

  • We sat on a bed.
  • The cat sprang upon the table.

‘beside’ and ‘besides’

Beside means by the side of, while besides means in addition to; as:

  • We sat beside the fireplace.
  • Besides giving him books, I wrote notes for him.

‘between’ and ‘among’

Between is used while referring to two persons or things; among refers to more than two persons or things; as:

  • The property was divided between the two brothers.
  • The thieves quarreled among themselves.

Note: When we speak of clear, exact positions we use between.

  • Kerala lies between Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and the Arabian Sea.

‘in’ and ‘into’

In implies a state of rest or position inside something; into denotes motion towards the inside of something; as:

  • Sonal lives in a rented flat.
  • He jumped into the swimming pool.

‘by’ and ‘with’

By is used after verbs, in the passive to express the agent or doer of the action expressed by the verb; with is used with the instrument with which the action is done; as:

  • The snake was killed by a boy with a stick.
  • The tree was cut by the farmer with an axe.

© rules to use prepositions in English Grammar.

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