The Oxbridge Editing Blog 17th September 2011

The Funny Grammar Guide to Prepositions

17th September 2011

Prepositions are those small words like ‘to’, ‘in’, ‘on’, ‘at’, ‘for’, which are used in English grammar to express something about a noun, usually telling us about its relationship to another word or phrase in the same clause or sentence. These tiny words are often thought of as insignificant but they are actually crucial to the correct use of the English language and subject to frequent misuse, as the following funny grammar mistakes show!

Preposition Golden Rule

The one golden rule of a preposition is that it is always used to refer to a noun. Usually it precedes the noun in the sentence, but there are exceptions to this. The preposition tells us something about how another word or phrase interacts with the noun.

For example: The boy sat on the table.

Gerunds

People are sometimes confused that a preposition is in fact being used to govern a verb, when they see it attached to a gerund. A gerund is a verb that is being used, in the ‘ing’ form, as a noun.

For example: The waiting is killing me

So when a preposition is used to refer to a gerund it can seem confusing but remember, in this usage the ‘verb’ is actually a noun.

For example: The best part of running is reaching the finish line!

To

The preposition ‘to’ is usually used in English to indicate movement towards a place.

For example: I am going to Mexico.

Remember, it can also be used in telling the time.

For example: It is five minutes to twelve.

TOP GRAMMAR TIP: The word ‘to’ is also used to make the infinitive form of a verb – in this instance, the ‘to’ is not a preposition.

For example: He loved to sing.

When we use the word ‘welcome’, it is combined with the preposition ‘to’, not ‘in’ as this tourism sign mistakenly supposes. However, we do use the preposition ‘in’ to describe being somewhere or arriving somewhere:

For example: I have just arrived in America, or, I am having a great time in Switzerland.

At

The preposition ‘at’ has several different uses and it is important to be aware of them all. It may mean next to, or in close proximity to an object.

For example: He is at the door

More frequently, it is used to describe being somewhere where you usually do something typical.

For example: At work, at school, at the shops

‘At’ is also used to describe event attendance.

For example: I am at the party, I was at a great play last night, or, he is at the funeral.

Time descriptions often use ‘at’ to describe when something occurs.

For example: I will go out at half past nine, or, owls come out at night.

A more unusual use of the preposition ‘at’ is in the phrase ‘at your own risk’. This is an important one to learn, as it often causes grammar problems

As and For

The prepositions ‘as’ and ‘for’ are frequently confused in English grammar, as this cartoon demonstrates. Remember, ‘as’ is often used to mean replicating or taking the place of something.

For example: he works as an engineer, he dressed up as an astronaut

‘For’, on the other hand, has a wide range of uses, from specific phrases like ‘for example’ and ‘for goodness sake’ to more general functions like describing a period of time.

For example: For two years.

‘For’ is one of the prepositions where confusion most commonly arises because of gerunds, as it is commonly used to describe the function of a thing; a grammatical construct that usually involves a gerund.

For example: The armbands are used for swimming, the oven is great for cooking.