Prepositions: A Candid Look

Full MoonWhat is a preposition?

As revealed in my post about the Eight Parts of Speech, a preposition is the part of speech that connects a noun, pronoun or a phrase, to the rest of a sentence. Normally, a preposition describes the temporal, spatial or logical relationship between its object and the rest of the sentence. For example:

  • Marius transformed under the full moon.
  • The townspeople cowered fearfully throughout his change.

As we learned with predicates, there are also simple and compound prepositions.

Simple prepositions are single syllable words, such as: at, by, for, off, on, through, up and with.

Compound prepositions have two or more syllables and may be made up of two or more words. For example: above, after, alongside, between, throughout, underneath and without.

In addition, there are phrasal prepositions, which are also known as complex prepositions. Phrasal prepositions are made up of two or more words that make one preposition. Some examples are: according to, for the sake of, in respect to, instead of and with regard to.

Prepositional phrases

Sometimes, you will hear someone talk about a prepositional phrase, which consists of the preposition, its object and any additional words that modify the object. Prepositional phrases can function as adjectives or adverbs. When functioning as an adverb, the prepositional phrase will answer questions like How? When? or Where? For example:

  • The werewolf stalked his victims silently through the underbrush. (Where did he stalk them?)

When functioning as an adjective, the prepositional phrase will answer question Which one?

  • The clouds parted and Anna stared in horror at the bite on her arm. (Which bite?)

Can I end a sentence with a preposition?

Finally, let’s look at the rule that says you can’t end a sentence with a preposition — unless you wish to be struck by lightning and publicly ridiculed. We’ve all heard it, so you might be surprised to find out it’s not true. In fact, it’s really just a bit of overblown grammatical superstition. While it is true that some sentences sound odd if they end with a preposition, the reality is that most sentences actually sound better — or at least less awkward. Compare the following examples:

  • This is the silver bullet about which Raphael told me.


  • This is the silver bullet Raphael told me about.

So the next time someone chides you for ending a sentence with a preposition, you might want to reply by quoting this famous line, often attributed to Winston Churchill:

“That is the type of arrant pedantry up with which I shall not put.”


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