Prepositions: How to Choose the Right Preposition

How to Choose the Right Preposition

by Owen Fourie

Are there rules that can be learned to help you to choose the right preposition?

No, but this article suggests a solution.

Intelligible English cannot be spoken or written without prepositions.

What are prepositions?

They are those little words that help the connection of thoughts, ideas, and descriptions. They help the listener or the reader to know the direction, movement, condition, purpose, cause, manner, quantity, quality, identity, place, and time in the unfolding of any information or a story.

We all use prepositions whenever we speak or write, but there are no rules to guide us to select the appropriate one for each expression.

Those who study English as a foreign language find this to be a tricky area in their practice. Even amongst native speakers of English, there is misuse.

Unfortunately, such misuse becomes commonplace and almost begins to sound right. Take, for instance, the growing usage of “bored of [something]” instead of “bored with [something].”

Is there any help to choose the right preposition?

It is only by exposure to correctly spoken and written English that you will master the usage of prepositions.

To help you, I have compiled the following listing of correct usage. Obviously, this cannot be regarded as complete, but it does enable you to become more familiar with the use of prepositions.

If you struggle with prepositions, you’ll find this useful.

Do the following to get the best use of this listing:

  1. Read each of the five sections completely and aloud to yourself and emphasize the preposition in boldface. The subheadings for the sections are in blue.
  2. As you read each expression (separated by semicolons), create a picture in your mind of what is being described. Visualize the action, the movement, the situation.
  3. Bookmark this web page and repeat these two steps as often as you can over a period of about three weeks.
  4. Give yourself every opportunity to listen to well-spoken English and to read good English literature.

Here is the listing for your practice:

Appropriate Prepositions

for movement in space

restlessly moving about the house; swam across the river;

ran after the thief; sailed against the tide;

walked along the path; moved slowly around the garden;

ran before the chariot; followed behind the royal coach;

went beyond the border; traveled by train;

they passed by our house; slid down the embankment;

drove for three kilometers beyond the village;

they left for Cape Town;

walked from the mall to their home; walked into the room;

bounced off the wall; jumped onto the chair;

climbed over the fence; walked past the pond;

came round the corner; flew through the clouds;

the smell spread throughout the house; driving to town;

moved the bed toward the window (more common in American English);

moved the bed towards the window (more common in British English);

climbed up the ladder; went to Chicago via Rome;

he went with her; don’t leave without your coat …

for movement in time

looked for shelter during the storm;

worked during the night; walked for many hours;

rained from three o’clock; it took over an hour;

continued past the hour;

stayed awake through the night;

no rain throughout the summer;

worked from nine to five; toward the evening;

towards the evening;

reached her destination within a couple of hours …

for fixed point in space

went aboard the ship; the picture above the fireplace;

leaned against the wall; berthed alongside the wharf;

a cottage amid the forest;

a solitary cedar among the oaks;

a solitary cedar amongst the oaks;

a flag wrapped around a pole;

the old door served as a table for the workmen;

sat at the table; present at school; at work;

stood before the altar; hid behind the shed;

below sea level; the ice beneath the snow;

sat beside the pond; the alley between the two buildings;

the tree growing beyond the fence;

the window by the back door;

the third house on the left, down this road;

all, except that building, were damaged;

the key for the front door; see the lake from the balcony;

logs in the fireplace; live in Tokyo; biscuits inside that tin;

to crackle like the leaves of the Lombardy poplar;

anchored near the shore; on the leeward side of the island;

keep off the grass; grass grew on the path;

parked opposite the coffee shop; slept outside the tent;

hang the picture over the fireplace;

the shop round the corner;

the moon peeking through the trees;

a notice nailed to the door;

somewhere toward the back of the room;

somewhere towards the back of the room;

the puppy slept under the bed;

the puppy slept underneath the bed; the shop up the road;

sat upon the boulder; lives with her grandparents;

a hut stood within the grove; within a mile;

slept without the tent;

a family without a house after the storm …

for fixed point in time

come after lunch; at two o’clock; before breakfast;

will call you between appointments;

stayed awake beyond midnight;

complete your homework by eight o’clock;

will be away from the middle of this month;

born in autumn; in July; in 2001; will arrive in an hour;

the afternoon is the warmest part of the day;

on Tuesday, we’ll swim; fixing the house over the holidays;

no coffee since breakfast; won’t come till three o’clock;

won’t come until three o’clock …

for much else besides movement and fixed points in space and time

about seven years old; a story about kangaroos;

knows everything about birds;

a trustworthy person who is above suspicion;

came across a new idea;

number five comes after number four;

stealing is against the law;

shared the fruit among three people; around six feet tall;

nations at war; nations at peace; children at play;

all at rest; look at them;

number four comes before number five;

lagging behind in their work; the genius behind the idea;

temperature dropped below freezing;

learn other parts of speech besides prepositions;

shared the fruit between two people;

expect between ten and twenty people;

beyond my wildest dreams; a note written by the author;

bananas sold by weight;

knows everything concerning birds;

completed the task despite his injury;

seen everyone except him; bought this computer for you;

we are for the new method; she is mature for her age;

suffering from dehydration; heard the news from him;

speak in English; write in pencil; to be in doubt;

to be in debt; always in a hurry; plays in the band;

the girl in the black shorts; not lacking in ideas;

knowledge captured and transformed into software;

it looks like rain; she is a friend of mine;

the sound of thunder; the president of the club;

two meters of cotton fabric; tired of social media;

wrote an essay on self-hypnosis; workers on strike;

going on vacation; spoke over the telephone;

the cost per liter; regarding our discussion;

prefer boxing to wrestling; give it to him;

under a hundred people there;

the matter is under discussion;

depend upon the goalkeeper; he is unlike his brother;

Italy versus Brazil; a book with illustrations;

finished the project with difficulty; paralyzed with fear;

bored with social media (not bored of social media) …

Well done! Repeat this practice as often as you can for about three weeks and observe the improvement in your speaking and writing.


Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome. Are you struggling with prepositions or any other aspect of grammar and correct usage? Ask here for clarification.

Here are more articles to help you with English words, grammar, and essay writing.

Copyright © 2011 by English Essay Writing Tips


Skip to comment form

    • sanjay Baro on March 10, 2018 at 03:28

    Dear sir,
    I feel strong enough myself to learn your technique of preposition use. Hope it will be beneficial for all the interested learners,

    1. Sanjay, I wish you good success as you use this technique. Thanks for commenting.

    • Elidia Pommer on August 13, 2013 at 10:56

    i always consult an online dictionary whenever i need to find the meaning of a certain word. they are really very useful indeed.`..^*

    1. Yes, they are. Thank you for commenting, Elidia.

    • Henri de Feraudy on March 11, 2013 at 09:22

    I have wondered if there could not be a bit of help from a computer program. This program would be given a collection of high quality English texts and go through the texts with techniques that involve parsing but also statistics in order to find the most appropriate prepositions for certain situations.
    This of course is a major undertaking, something that could be attempted in a PhD thesis.

    1. Henri: Thank you for your comment. I do not know of the existence of such a computer program. If it does not exist, your suggestion could trigger some creativity to make this available. Perhaps someone else reading this can enlighten us. In the meantime, here are some links that may be of interest:

    • Hassan Masid on February 7, 2013 at 10:18

    Dear Sir/ Madam
    I am interested in the learning of the proper use of prepositions. Meaning thereby, to know reason for the use of each and every preposition. I’ve studied many books but not found the reasons for the proper reason because the same preposition is used on various occasions without the explanation of any reason.
    Hassan Masid

    1. Hassan Masid: Thank you for your comment.

      To know the reason for the use of each and every preposition is the same as looking for rules that can be learned to help you to choose the right preposition. This article tells you that such rules do not exist.

      What you need is a familiarity with English. This is obtained by practice as you read English and listen to it being spoken. The item at the following link will help you:

      As you become familiar with English usage, you will get the feel for the right preposition, and this in itself will establish the reason for using a particular preposition and not another in any instance.

      It is essential to use a dictionary as you grapple with prepositions. The following link will take you to a useful online dictionary for this purpose:

      Here you will see that I searched for the preposition on. You can use the search field to look for any preposition. This dictionary will list definitions and examples for any preposition and will certainly go a long way to help you to understand the reason for the use of each and every preposition.

      With good wishes for your success in dealing with this matter.

    • Amanda kayyy. on February 2, 2012 at 10:43

    prepositions are easyyyy.(:

    1. Amanda: I’m so pleased. Many students really struggle with prepositions. Thanks for commenting.

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