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Rules of Prepositions in English Grammar

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Rules Of Prepositions

A preposition is a word or a set of words that indicates the location or some other relation between a noun or a pronoun and other parts of the sentence. The rules of prepositions and their correct usage go as follows:

Preposition Rules – 1 – Preposition must have an object – a preposition is not a preposition unless it goes with a related noun or a pronoun that is the object of the preposition. A preposition is always with an object  – without an object, it is an adverb that never has an object. Lets us understand with examples – 

  • He is in the kitchen. (preposition ‘in’ has object the kitchen)
  • You may come in. (adverb ‘in’ has no object; it qualifies come)
  • There was a car before me. (preposition ‘before’ has object ‘me’)
  • Ram has never seen it before. (adverb ‘before’ has no object; it qualifies seen)
  • We will catch up after the gym. (preposition ‘after’ has object ‘gym’)
  • They called soon after. (adverb ‘after’ has no object; it qualifies ‘called’)

Preposition Rules – 2- Must be placed before – As the name says ‘Pre-Position’ – it comes before something. Generally, but not always, a preposition goes before a noun or a pronoun. Understand with examples –

  • I put the things in the box. (‘in’ is placed before the noun ‘’box’)

You do not end a sentence with a preposition is one of the undying myths of English Grammar because even when a preposition is not placed before its object, it is closely related to its object. For example – 

  • Whom did you talk to? (Preposition ‘to’ related to the pronoun ‘Whom’)

Preposition Rules – 3 – The Pronoun following the Preposition should be an object form. The noun or pronoun following a preposition forms a prepositional object. If a pronoun is following a preposition, it should be in the objective form ( me, her, them) and not the subjective form like (I, she, they, etc.). See the examples below-

  • The gift was from them. (preposition ‘from’ followed by the objective pronoun ‘them’)
  • The secret is between him and her. (preposition ‘between’ followed by the objective pronoun ‘him’)

Preposition Rules – 4 (A)- Avoid ‘like’ when a verb is involved. The preposition ‘like’ that means “similar to” should be followed by a noun, pronoun, noun phrase as an object of the preposition. A subject or a verb should not follow the preposition ‘like’. For example – 

  • Correct – She looks like her mother. (noun ‘mother’ is the object of the preposition ‘like’)
  • Incorrect – She looks like her mother does. (avoid ‘like’ with noun + verb)

4 (B) – When there is a comparison between a subject or verb, instead of like, use as, as if, as though, or ‘the way’. Taking the same sentence as an example –

  • Incorrect – She looks like her mother does.
  • Correct – She looks the way her mother does.

More examples– 

  • Incorrect  – Do like he asks.
  • Correct – Do as he asks.
  • Incorrect – She looks like she is angry.
  • Correct – She looks as if she is angry.

4(C) – Unless there is a verb involved, do not use ‘as’. ‘As’ means “in the same manner” so avoid using preposition ‘as’ if the verb is not involved. Check the examples – 

  • Incorrect: I, as most people, try to use good words in English.
  • Correct: I, as most people do, try to use good words in English. Or I, like most people, try to use good words in English.

Candidates can also check other articles on English topics that give clarity on basic concepts, rules, list and example sentences:

  1. Tenses rules
  2. Conjunctions rules
  3. Prepositions Rules
  4. Articles Rules
  5. Precis Writing Format

Candidates can check the General English for Competitive Exams page for more articles on rules of English grammar, list of idioms and phrases, synonyms & antonyms, etc.

Preposition Rules – 5 – Do not confuse preposition ‘to’ with infinitive ‘to’. ‘To’ is an infinitive participle (to sing, to dance, etc.) as well as a preposition too like (to me, to Moscow, etc.). Understand the difference between the two with the help of examples –

‘To’ as a preposition-

  • I am used to swimming.
  • I look forward to seeing you. (not ‘see you’)

‘To’ as an infinitive participle –

  • I used to live in Australia.
  • They love to dance.

Preposition Rules – 6 – Some words that look like verbs follow the preposition ‘to’. A Verb cannot be an object of a preposition. This rule of preposition may seem confusing, so let us understand with examples – 

  • I like to swim.
  • These goggles are for swimming.

In these examples, “swim” and “swimming” are not acting as verbs.

In the first example, to swim is part of the infinitive that occurs when a verb is used as a noun, adverb or an adjective. Here, to swim is a thing that the person likes doing, not an action that is being performed. 

In the second example, swimming is a gerund which is a noun though it is formed out of a verb. Here, swimming is a thing to which goggles are related. No one in this sentence is performing the act of swimming.

Preposition Rules – 7 – Do not confuse preposition ‘In’ and ‘Into’. This rule of preposition says, use “into” to express motion toward something and reserve the preposition “in” when you want to indicate a location. See the example for clarity –

  • I swam in the pool. (Indicating location)
  • Look in the almirah. (Indicating location)
  • The cat jumped into the well. (Expressing motion)
  • He drove into the city. (Expressing motion)

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