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Resource Summary: This page explains prepositions and their uses. It also addresses common errors in preposition use.
Last Updated: 03/22/11
A preposition is a word that shows a relationship between nouns and pronouns in a sentence. Prepositions can demonstrate direction, time, place, and exclusion.
Some common prepositions are in, on, to, of, from, and with. Combining words with a preposition creates a prepositional phrase. The words that follow these prepositions are often called the objects of the preposition.
Example: We are going to Japan.
To is directional; the object of the preposition is Japan.
Example: The mother has not seen her son since December.
Since indicates time; December is the object of the preposition.
Example: My kite is on the roof.
On indicates location; the roof is the object of the preposition.
Example: I would like my sandwich without bacon.
Without indicates exclusion; bacon is the object of the preposition.
Ending a Sentence with a Preposition
It is generally a good idea to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition, in order to maintain scholarly voice.
Incorrect: My research will focus on the community the students lived in.
Correct: My research will focus on the community in which the students lived.
It is also a good idea to avoid multiple or otherwise unnecessary prepositions, when possible:
Incorrect: I am basing my argument off of my research.
Correct: I am basing my argument on my research
Incorrect: Where are the plates at?
Correct: Where are the plates?
Finally, just like with pronouns, too many prepositional phrases can create ambiguity in a sentence:
Example: The author chose the mixed-method design to explain that the purpose of the study was to explore the leadership qualities of the principals in the schools as a means to gauge teacher satisfaction in the first year of teaching.
This type of sentence could be shortened and condensed to minimize the prepositional phrases and bring clarity to the writer's intent:
Example: The author chose the mixed-method design to explore the principals' leadership qualities and their impact on first-year teachers' satisfaction.