Online Writing Lab

Roane State Community College

Prepositions and Idioms

Prepositions express relationships, such as:

Direction--to, into, across, toward
Location--at, in, on, under, over, beside, among, by, between, through
Time--before, after, during, until, since
Figurative Location--for, against, with

A preposition always has an object, which is usually a noun or a pronoun. The preposition with its object (and any modifiers) is called a prepositional phrase.

The preposition may follow rather than precede its object, and it can be placed at the end of the sentence if it falls there naturally: What was she talking about? ("What" is the object of the preposition "about".) Beware of awkward constructions, however. It would be better to write "The beans were planted next to the corn in the field" than "Corn was the crop in the field that the beans were planted by."

Avoid using unnecessary prepositions, such as "off of" or "inside of."

Incorrect--Inside of the cave, the spelunkers turned on their head lamps.
Revised--Inside the cave, the spelunkers turned on their head lamps.

Avoid adding the preposition "up" to verbs unnecessarily.

Incorrect--Call up and see whether she came in today.
Revised--Call and see whether she came in today.

Words commonly used as prepositions

about, above, across, after, against, along, among, around, at, before, behind, beneath, beside, besides, between, beyond, but, by, concerning, despite, down, during, except, excepting, for, from, in, inside, into, like, near, of, off, on, onto, out, outside, over, past, regarding, round, since, through, throughout, till, to, toward, under, underneath, until, up, upon, with, within, without

Prepositional phrases (two or more words):

according to, along with, apart from, as for, as regards, as to, because of, by means of, by reason of, by way of, due to, except for, in addition to, in case of, in front of, in lieu of, in place of, in regard to, in spite of, instead of, on account of, out of, up to, with reference to, with regard to, with respect to, with the exception of

Frequently misused prepositions

In, into--If you're in the lake and feel like jumping, you jump in the lake. If you're in a boat on the lake and feel like jumping overboard, you jump into the lake.

Like, as--Use "as," a conjunction, to introduce a noun or pronoun of comparison; use "like," as a preposition, to introduce a clause or phrase of comparison." You should heed your teacher's advice, as most students do, like good boys and girls." "If you are like me, you will do as I do." "The flower smells like a hyacinth." "She looks as you would like to look."

On, over--A person is hit on the head, not over it; or slapped on the face, not about the face.

Needlessly long prepositional phrases:

At the present time (now)
In order that (so)
In reference to (about, or regarding)
In the interim (meanwhile)
In the near future (soon)
In the event that (if)
At the present time (now)
In the course of (during)
In the process of (during or in)
With the exception of (except for)


Idioms, or language peculiar to a specific people, region, community, or class, often are used incorrectly. "She talked down to him" is idiomatic. "She talked under to him" is not. Occasionally, the idiomatic use of prepositions may prove difficult. If you are uncertain which preposition to use with a given word, check the word in the dictionary. For instance, "agree" may be followed by "about," "on," "to," or "with." The choice depends on the context.

Many idioms, such as "all the same," "put up a fight," and "to mean well," cannot be understood from the individual meanings of their elements. Some are metaphorical: "she turned it over in her mind." Such expressions cannot always be meaningfully translated word for word into another language. Therefore, it is best to avoid them, especially if you must take into consideration an international audience.