Prepositions

The last section completed "verbs" grouping of the parts of speech. In the next sections are examinations of those (usually) small words that are found in many sentences and which are known collectively as "joining words".

A "preposition" is a word used with a noun or pronoun to show its relation to some other word in the sentence. This definition seems to breakdown when prepositions are seen to govern adverbs, verbs and other parts of speech. In these situations logic demands that these other words are regarded as doing the work of nouns. The preposition is usually placed before the noun but not always. As usual a couple of examples help:

  • Which street do you live in?
  • Saturdays I look forward to.

In the first sentence "street" is the noun and "in" is the preposition. "Saturdays" is the noun and "to" the preposition in the second. It was considered bad form if not actually grammatically incorrect to end a sentence with a preposition. Thus "Your behaviour is of the kind I will not put up with." was considered to be a poorly constructed sentence. To avoid the sentence-ending preposition produces the rather ungainly or inelegant re-arrangement of "Your behaviour is of the kind up with which I will not put."

There is sometimes confusion between prepositions and adverbs. Here are four sentences:

  1. The coat is on the chair.
  2. The train passes near my door.
  3. Put it on.
  4. That came very near.

In the first two cases "on" and "near" are used with the nouns "chair" and "door" and they govern them. The words "on" and "near" are therefore prepositions. The same words are used with the verbs "put" and "came" and they modify the meaning of them in the third and fourth sentences and are thus adverbs. It is the association with a noun or a noun equivalent that determines whether or not a word is a preposition.

There are many "preposition phrases" used often in speech and in writing. A few examples follow:

  • in front of
  • in order to
  • with reference to
  • on behalf of

It should be noted that they all end with a preposition.

Prepositions sometimes govern other parts of speech. Such words or groups of words must then be regarded as noun equivalents.

  1. Adjectives: to the last, of the red.
  2. Adverbs: by now, at once, for ever.
  3. Verbs:
    1. Infinitive: He was about to die. There was nothing left but to confess.
    2. Gerunds: I can get there by running. He was jailed for breaking the law.
  4. Phrases: This was within a week of his death. The matter of when to start is next to be decided.

Prepositions can introduce:

  1. Quotations: He often broke out with, "That's a lie."
  2. Clauses: He raised her from where she knelt. I know nothing of why he does it

In the first situation the whole of the quotation is best regarded as a noun equivalent.

The clauses may be regarded as a single noun governed by a preposition. Alternatively antecedents can be supplied.

  • He raised her from "the place" where she knelt
  • I know nothing of "the reason" why he does it.

In these case the clause qualifying the antecedent is an adjective clause.

This concludes the section on prepositions.

Grammar

Sentences

Nouns

Pronouns

Adjectives

Verbs

Adverbs

Prepositions

Conjunctions

Interjections

Punctuation

A SHORT ENGLISH GRAMMAR

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