Parts of Speech: The Preposition


Posted by Jake Magnum | September 21, 2017 | Parts of Speech


What is a preposition?

A preposition is a word which gives spatial meaning to something. Such spatial meanings can be literal (e.g., “I walked through the woods,”) or figurative (e.g., “I have been through a lot.”) Some prepositions have a non-spatial meaning (e.g., “I can do that for you.”) Prepositions also commonly give temporal meanings (e.g., “I will be finished by the end of the day.”)

There are many prepositions in the English language. Some common ones are: about, after, as, at, behind, below, by, down, for, from, in, of, on, over, than, through, to, under, up, when, where, and with.

Transitive and intransitive prepositions

Prepositions can be divided into two main types: transitive prepositions and intransitive prepositions.

Transitive prepositions are prepositions that require a complement to make a complete prepositional phrase; they cannot stand alone as a prepositional phrase.

E.g.: “He walked into the room”

Notice how “He walked into,” is not a complete sentence. Into needs the complement, the room, to make a full prepositional phrase.

Intransitive prepositions can stand on their own as an entire prepositional phrase.

E.g.: “We should go out to the movies tonight.”

“We should go out,” is a complete sentence, and so out is an intransitive preposition in this example.


Other kinds of prepositions

Prepositions can be subdivided further into the following classifications:

Regular prepositions are transitive prepositions which take either a noun phrase, an adjective phrase, an adverb phrase, or another prepositional phrase as a complement.

E.g.: “I locked my keys in my car.”

Conjunctive prepositions are transitive prepositions which, instead of taking a phrase as a complement, take a full clause as a complement.

E.g.: “All of that happened after I left the party.”

Differentiating between a regular preposition and a conjunctive preposition is easy. Look at the words that come after the preposition. If they do not make a full sentence when isolated, the preposition is a regular preposition. If the words following a preposition do make a full sentence when isolated, the preposition is a conjunctive preposition.

Using the examples above, we can see that in is indeed a regular preposition in the example because “My car” is not a full sentence; after is used as a conjunctive preposition in the other example above because “I left the party” is a full sentence.

Complex prepositions are transitive prepositions that consist of two or more words. They can be either regular prepositions or conjunctive prepositions.

E.g.: “Have we run out of money?”

Postpositions are prepositions which, unlike the prepositions that have been discussed so far, come after a complement rather than before it.

E.g.: “My best friend lives just two houses over.”

Deverbal prepositions are prepositions which come in either the -ing or ­-ed form of a verb.

E.g. “All students, excluding those who did not bring a signed permission slip, must be present at 8:30 a.m. to board the bus.”


Aarts, B. (2011). Oxford modern English grammar. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.