50 Common Prepositions You Need to Know

February 12, 2024

list of common prepositions

Whether you know it or not, you’re probably peppering your everyday speech and school papers with common prepositions. Still, it can be helpful to brush up on this particular part of speech from time to time. Doing so will improve your writing and sentence structures, while ensuring that you’re not falling for any common preposition mistakes. The following article will give you the lowdown on what a preposition is and how it operates within a sentence. Please read on for our full list of common prepositions (with preposition examples).

What is a Preposition?

 According to Merriam-Webster, a preposition is “a function word that typically combines with a noun phrase to form a phrase which usually expresses a modification or predication.” That’s quite a mouthful, so let’s break this definition down into simpler terms.

First of all, a preposition is one of eight parts of speech. (The other parts of speech include nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, and interjections.) A preposition acts as a link in a sentence. It connects an object (a noun, a pronoun, or a “noun phrase”) to the rest of the sentence with precision. By precision, I mean that the preposition will indicate the object’s precise relationship to the sentence’s subject. This relationship could be temporal, spatial, locational, or directional. It could also be less physically concrete, and more of a conceptual relationship. In the English language, prepositions come before the object of the sentence.

Let’s take a look at some similar preposition examples to better understand a preposition’s function in a sentence.

Preposition Examples

 Take a look at the following incomplete sentence: The cat is ___ the chair. Obviously, cats aren’t chairs. Thus, something needs to be added here to explain the spatial relationship between the cat and the chair. This relationship will depend on the preposition you decide to place between the cat and the chair. Take note that the cat here is the subject. The chair, on the other hand, is the the object of the preposition. In this instance, the object of the preposition is made up of an article and a noun (the + chair). Let’s study several common prepositions that will complete this sentence:

That cat is on the chair.

The cat is under the chair.

The cat is near the chair.

In these preposition examples, the preposition and the object of the preposition form what we call a prepositional phrase. “On the chair,” “under the chair,” and “near the chair” all constitute prepositional phrases. Now, a cat’s exact proximity to a chair probably only matters insofar as the cat doesn’t scratch the furniture. Yet prepositions can matter a great deal in more serious situations. There’s a big difference between driving around a lake and driving into a lake. Or hosing down a fire below the fifth floor instead of above the fifth floor. Prepositions can be crucial to our comprehension!

Spotting a Preposition in the Wild

To recap, a preposition is a connector word—often a short word—that precedes an object. Sometimes the object will contain an article, such as “the chair” or “a lake” in our examples above. Yet a preposition is never followed by a verb. Sometimes you may spot words that look like prepositions, but they’re followed by verbs. In these instances, the words behave as adverbs. Take, for example, the sentence “My cat climbs up palm trees.” Here the word “up” is a preposition. Now look at another sentence: “My cat climbs up.” Here, the word “up” does not connect any sort of object to the rest of the sentence. Rather, “up” acts as an adverb,  modifying the verb “climb.”

For an even trickier situation, let’s take a look at a preposition example with a gerund. A gerund looks like a verb but functions as a noun. In the sentence “The cat catches the mouse,” the word “catches” is a verb. Yet in the sentence “The cat played with the mouse after catching it” the word “catching” is a gerund. This makes “catching” both a noun and a prepositional object. Why? Because the word “after” acts as a preposition. It indicates a temporal relationship between when the cat caught and played with its prey. (If you’re ever unsure, you can replace the gerund with a synonymous noun or noun phrase. Then see if the grammar still checks out. For example, “The cat played with the mouse after its capture.”)

Finally, you may run into complex prepositions from time to time. These are less complex than they sound. To put it simply, they’re multiple words that function together as one preposition. “In spite of,” “along with,” and “except for” are all examples of common complex prepositions.

List of Common Prepositions Related to Time

Now that we’ve covered the meaning and function of prepositions, let’s start reviewing our list of common prepositions. I’ve organized them below by purpose, beginning with temporal prepositions. Next, I’ve lumped spatial, locational, and directional pronouns together, because the difference can often be a matter of opinion.  I’ve also repeated some common prepositions on occasion. You’ll notice that “around” and “at,” for example, can describe both a temporal and spatial relationship. These repeats are intentional. I find that it is helpful to see how prepositions can have various meanings, depending on their context.

  1. after. She went to the movies after lunch.
  2. around. I’ll be over around 2 p.m.
  3. at. The meeting finishes at 1 p.m.
  4. before. Louise always writes before dinner.
  5. during. Many ships sunk during the war.
  6. for. We’ll be in Oaxaca for six days.
  7. in. They like to picnic in the summer.
  8. on. My brother flies in on Friday.
  9. since. You’ve had insomnia since childhood.
  10. until. I never knew what a preposition was until now.

Common Prepositions Related to Place and Direction

  1. above. The bird flew above the roof.
  2. across. Anne’s brother swam across the pond.
  3. against. We must push against the door.
  4. along. The car stopped somewhere along the dirt road.
  5. around. The crowd circled around the pyre.
  6. at. You’ll find Patti at the concert.
  7. behind. Wait right here in the line behind me.
  8. below. We could see all of Missoula below us.
  9. beside. Her cat sat beside her.
  10. between. The wall came down between East and West Berlin.

List of Common Prepositions Related to Place and Direction (Continued)

  1. by. The pickpocket was right by your bag.
  2. from. We just came from the beach.
  3. in. I’m in a meeting.
  4. into. The dog jumped into the puddle.
  5. in front of. We sat three rows in front of you.
  6. near. Don’t get too near the cliff edge.
  7. next to. They put their umbrellas next to the door.
  8. on. She’s on the platform.
  9. onto. The cat jumped onto the carpet.
  10. over. The runner jumped over the hurdle.
  11. through. Elif went through the market.
  12. to. Vladimir flew to Moscow.
  13. toward. The teacher headed toward my desk.
  14. under. I left my preposition worksheet under a stack of folders.
  15. upon. Vita placed the vase upon the mantlepiece.

Common Prepositions Used in Academic Papers

The next 15 prepositions may be used less often in everyday speech compared to the common prepositions above. Yet they’re particularly useful in academic papers and college essays. Many of them work to describe conceptual or interpersonal relationships between the subject and object of the preposition. Using these prepositions will allow you to refine and elevate your writing style.

For example, I recommend developing an instinct for when to include the prepositions “along with” and “in addition to.” These prepositions signify something very similar to the meaning “and.” However, they will force you to rework your sentence structure. This will result in a more nuanced idea. It will also give you a more diversified vocabulary.

  1. about. Many critics today write about the intersection of arts and politics.
  2. according to. Flowers are the reproductive structure of angiosperms, according to Encyclopedia Britannica.
  3. along with. Soon, black rhinos will be gone, along with other endangered species.
  4. apart from. There is no evidence of his participation apart from one witness’s testimony.
  5. aside from. The difference between the two politicians is negligible, aside from the opposing parties they represent.

Common Prepositions Used in Academic Papers (Continued)

  1. because of. His lungs deteriorated because of the smoking.
  2. except for. The park is devoid of human habitation, except for a handful of rangers.
  3. in addition to. Angelina worked as an actress and director, in addition to philanthropist.
  4. in place of. The substitute teacher taught on Wednesday in place of Mrs. Frizzle.
  5. in regard to. The government did not follow international laws in regard to human rights violations.
  6. in spite of. The rocket made it to Mars, in spite of the lack of fuel.
  7. on account of. She gave his speech for him, on account of his laryngitis.
  8. on behalf of. A class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of the union workers.
  9. owing to. The battle ended quickly, owing to the general’s surrender.
  10. prior to. He drank a second coffee prior to finishing his preposition worksheet.

List of Common Prepositions – What’s Next?

After reading this list, do be sure to check out the related article, “What is a Prepositional Phrase?” For additional writing tips and help achieving academic success, look no further than the following College Transition links: