Weekly Grammar Tip: Prepositions

Get your preposition on!

A preposition does what it sounds like it does – it positions the noun (or pronoun) in relation to the rest of the sentence, namely in relation to the subject. For example:

  • The dog sat on the mat.
  • Magnus ate his dinner at the table.
  • I looked in the cupboard but could not find the chocolate.
  • Fern kept the coffee beside the machine for quick access.

Prepositions help the reader understand the position of the noun and the subject. When breaking up a sentence we look at how the noun and subject are interacting, for example:

  • The cat sat on the mat.

The cat [subject] is sitting on the mat – the preposition indicates that the cat is doing something to the mat. The cat is focalised because it is acting out the verb.

  • The mat is beneath the cat.

The mat is the subject of the sentence, which makes the reader’s attention focus on the mat and what it is doing beneath the cat. This can change the meaning of the sentence as different subjects are made the focus of the action. Look at the difference between these sentences, describing the same incident but using a variation of prepositions and verbs to change the subject and the noun:

  • The plate landed in the King’s lap.
  • The King’s lap caught the plate.

or

  • Fergal sat his weary bones on the chair.
  • Fergal nestled his weary bones in the chair.

or

  • I stroked the cat behind her ears.
  • The cat rubbed her ears against my hand.

The prepositions change the placement of subject and noun, as well as the action of the verb. Prepositions add precision to your writing – there is a difference between scratching the cat behind the ears or on the ears, and there is a difference between being in a chair or on a chair. I often sit at my desk on my chair, but I like to lay in my bed beneath the covers! This is quite different to sitting on my bed or beneath my desk!

What’s your favourite preposition?

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10 comments on “Weekly Grammar Tip: Prepositions

  1. Nah – it just sounds wrong to me. Although I don’t mind “That’s what the little red button is for”. Nor do I mind “Who are you going with?”, because “With whom are you going?” is pretty dated, n’est-ce pas? It sounds poncey, much like twits who show their knowledge of foreign languages by writing “n’est-ce pas?”, as if EVERYONE should know what it means …

    • I have absolutely no problem about ending a sentence with a preposition. As long as the sentence is grammatically correct, the location of the preposition within the sentence is fine. I’ve read a lot of arguments about this and the general “rule” seems to be that it was a never a rule at all, just a preference in formal language. Would love to know the results of the poll!

  2. Now I’m seriously wondering if I’m sitting on my chair or in it. Does it have anything to do with how cushy a chair is or how I position myself in it? (I feel like a student right now, heh, but I need to know.)

    • WELL! I actually love prepositions for this very reason – how they are used can change the meaning of the sentence. ON the chair sounds much more formal than being comfy IN the chair. I don’t know the “strict” rules around prepositions, but playing with them can really change the way you write. I imagine that sitting ON a bed means you’re on top of the covers, but IN means you’re under them. Does that make sense?

  3. di, a, da, in, con, su, per, tra/fra

    My Italian instructor taught us to say those as fast as we can, to remember the prepositions and to train our mouths to pronounce the sounds better. 😉

    • Haha! My Italian teacher used to make us sit and just roll our tongues! My host mother would sit me up at the kitchen table and make me repeat “Castello Sforzesco” and “formaggio” so I would master my “rrrrrrrrr”s. Mmmm, languages!

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