Preposition: A four-syllable word. It sounds intimidating!

But it doesn’t have to be. The simple truth is that you’ve been using prepositions ever since you learned how to speak…and most people (including you!) use them correctly most of the time.

As a serious writer, you need to learn only a few usage rules about prepositions. Why not learn them now? There are only four rules. Make a commitment to learn one rule a week…and you will soon master a big chunk of English grammar.

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What are prepositions? They are small, ordinary words that indicate direction or purpose: in, by, for, with, to, of, on, over, under, beside, near, along…you can probably think of many more.

Prepositional phrases are small word groups that begin with prepositions: in the garden, by the sea, for a year, with my sister, to the store, and so on.

Here are the usage points you need to know:

1.  Most of the time prepositional phrases are extra parts of sentences. When you’re analyzing a sentence, you should usually skip over the prepositional phrase to get to the really important parts.

Here’s what I mean. Can you figure out why this sentence is incorrect?

A change in city policies are causing headaches for police officers. INCORRECT

What is the sentence really about? Answer: A change. “City policies” aren’t causing the headaches: The change is.

So the sentence needs to be corrected:

A change in city policies is causing headaches for police officers. CORRECT

(You can learn more by clicking here and reading about Rule 4.)

2.  You can use a comma when a sentence begins a prepositional phrase. Most good writers omit the comma if the prepositional phrase is short.

On Tuesdays Chief Strong meets with the mayor. [No comma: On Tuesdays is a short prepositional phrase.]

Under the bed in a box tied with string,  I found a Smith-Wesson revolver. [Use a comma: Under the bed in a box tied with string is a long prepositional phrase.]

You can learn more about these commas by clicking here and reading about Comma Rule 1.

3.  Use your ear when a pronoun (he, she, him, her, I, me, etc.) follows a preposition.

I gave the report to her for proofreading. CORRECT  [not “to she”]

I gave the report to her and him before I delivered it to the mayor. CORRECT  [not “to she and he”]

Chief Strong thanked me for my hard work. CORRECT  [not “I”]

Chief Strong thanked Officer Brown and me for my hard work. CORRECT  [not “I”]

You can learn more about sentences like these by clicking here and reading about Pronoun Rule 3. You can watch a video about this rule by clicking here.

4.  Use prepositions with precision. Notice the different meanings in these two sentences:

Officer McCaffrey walked in the room. [He spent time walking around the room.]

Officer McCaffrey walked into the room. [He entered the room.]


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