What Is A Preposition?

What is a preposition?

Sometimes it helps to start with examples and pictures.

Think of a preposition as any word that describes the relationship between a caterpillar and an apple. In the picture below, all of the prepositions are underlined.

What is a preposition?

It is a word that describes the relationship between this caterpillar and this apple.

Are you ready to hear the definition of a preposition?

Brace yourself. This will sound complicated, but with the help of examples and a little more of an explanation, you will know exactly what these little babies are.

Prepositions are words that show the relationship between a noun or a pronoun and some other word or element in the rest of the sentence.

Order this as a laminated 18" x 24" poster.

After reading that, you know exactly what a preposition is, right? Okay, maybe that is a little much to wrap your head around. Let's break that down with a few examples.

She swam across the lake.

Across connects the noun lake with the verb swam. It tells us where she swam. Do you see how the preposition tells us the relationship between lake and swam?

The cupcake with sprinkles is mine.

In this example, the preposition with is showing the relationship between the noun sprinkles and the noun cupcake. It tells us which cupcake is hers.

Is this still confusing? Are you still asking yourself, "So... what is a preposition?"

Let's look at a sentence diagram, shall we?

Sentence diagrams show us how the parts of sentences are related.

You can see in the sentence diagram above that prepositions hook nouns (called objects of the preposition) to the rest of the sentence.

You'll learn more about this below!


Prepositional Phrases

One ultra-important thing that you need to know about prepositions is that they are always in prepositional phrases.

A phrase is a group of words that lacks either a subject or a verb and functions as a single part of speech.

A prepositional phrase consists of a preposition plus a noun or pronoun (the object of the preposition).

Object of the preposition is just a fancy name for the noun or pronoun that that follows the preposition.

In our apple example above, apple is the object of all of the prepositions. It is the first noun listed after each preposition.

What's in a prepositional phrase?

Just like cheese and a tortilla are the minimum ingredients for a quesadilla, a preposition and an object of the preposition are the minimum ingredients for a prepositional phrase.

And, just as we can jazz up a quesadilla by adding some chicken, salsa, or sour cream, we can jazz up prepositional phrases by adding adjectives and adverbs.

These prepositional phrases include only the necessary ingredients (preposition + object of the preposition).

with nuts, near water, with food

These prepositional phrases start with prepositions and end with nouns, but they also contain adjectives and/or adverbs.

above such foolishness

onto the floor

up the very steep mountain

Check out this sentence diagram! The prepositional phrases are in blue.

The cake with nuts fell onto the floor.

If you're hungry for more information on prepositional phrases (and who isn't?), I wrote this page all about prepositional phrases just for you!


Prepositional Phrases Act As
Adjectives or Adverbs

What is a preposition? Do you remember?

It is a word that shows the relationship between a noun or a pronoun and some other word or element in the rest of the sentence.

Prepositions are always in prepositional phrases.

All of the words in a prepositional phrase come together to function as an adjective or adverb. (Sometimes they do other things, but we won't worry about that here!)

If the prepositional phrase is describing a noun, the phrase is functioning as an adjective. (Adjectives modify nouns and pronouns.)

The table with the broken leg is downstairs.

Since the prepositional phrase with the broken leg is modifying table (a noun), this prepositional phrase is acting as an adjective.

If the prepositional phrase is describing a verb, adverb, or an adjective, then it is acting like an adverb. (Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs.)

The rabbit hopped through the pretty garden.


Through the pretty garden is a prepositional phrase modifying the verb hopped, so it is functioning as an adverb.


Preposition vs. Adverb
* This is important! *

When words from the preposition list are not used in prepositional phrases, they are NOT prepositions.

I bet you can tell me why, right? Because prepositions are ALWAYS in prepositional phrases.

Look at the word down in the following examples. Can you tell why one is a preposition and one is not?

A. The cat ran down the tree.

B. Put the ice cream down!

Will the real preposition please stand up?

I hope you guessed the preposition is in sentence A.

In sentence A, the preposition down is in the prepositional phrase down the tree.

In sentence B, down is not in a prepositional phrase, therefore, it is not a preposition. (In case you're wondering, it is an adverb, but don't worry about that yet.)

Do you know your stuff? Diagramming is the easy way to remember the answer to the question, "What is a preposition?"

If you want to teach or learn grammar the easy way, then follow a step-by-step program that clearly lays everything out for you and allows you to move at your own pace. The Get Smart program is presented in a logical sequence, so it's not an overwhelming mishmash of information. Before you know it, you'll be a grammar and sentence diagramming pro!

The whole program is online, so you have instant access to these lessons and videos. It's easy and fun. You can get it at www.English-Grammar-Revolution.com/daily-diagrams.html
Keep learning and have fun!

Elizabeth O'Brien is the creator of the Grammar Revolution step-by-step grammar and sentence diagramming programs. Her programs are guaranteed not only to teach you grammar, but also to give you more confidence in your communication skills.

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What is a preposition? See this list of prepositions for some extra help.

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