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As studied in the first article / lesson on Prepositions, prepositions play a very important role in every sentence. We learnt that Prepositions are words or phrases that create relationships between two things in a sentence. In English Grammar, prepositions give information to the reader about where, when and how something takes place, and also give general description.

Most prepositions have several definitions as their meanings change in different contexts. In the previous article we also learnt that prepositions are grouped according to the words they contain and according to their functionalities. The former was dealt with in that article. This article will be about the types of preposition based on their functionalities. There are as many as eleven types of prepositions based on their functions.

The first type of Functional Prepositions is the Prepositions of place. Place prepositions are used to indicate position or where something is in a sentence. The most common prepositions of place are on, at and in. There are other less confused ones like under, over, across, inside, towards and below. When used in a sentence they refer to more exact positions. Examples include:

‘The parcel was left outside the door.’

‘The toy is under the baby’s cot.’

Meanwhile, on, at and in are easily used when some guidelines are followed. ‘On’ can be used when referring to surfaces of things.


'Write on the blackboard / on the page.'

'The book is on the table.'

On can also be used when travelling on public transport.

Eg. We are on the bus / on the train.

He joined us on the boat / on the plain.

On can also be used to refer to things like information, news or activities that are ongoing, such as:

‘The news is on TV / on radio’; ‘It is on the map’; and

‘We are going on holidays’.

The place preposition, at, is used to refer to specific and / or small locations.

Eg. I am at home / at the entrance of the school.

She lives at this address / at the end of the road.

I’m at the salon.

At is also used with events; as in ‘We are at a conference / at a seminar / at a party / at a wedding.’

In is however used to relate to enclosed spaces as well as large locations.

Eg. ‘The cat is hidden in the box / in the room / in the car / in the building.’

For a large location we can have;

‘The show is taking place in London / in France.’

We also use in to show things that are indefinite or abstract: as in;

‘There was an interesting image in the book / in the photograph.’

The exact point of the image is not defined or obvious but somewhere in the whole book or photograph.

There are some differences between the use of ‘in’ and 'at' and they cannot be used interchangeably.

When referring to a place based on what happens there, we use at.

Eg. They are at work / at school / at the cinema.

In is used when referring to an actual location or thinking of the location itself.

Eg. There was a riot in the cinema / in work / in school.

So in is used here because the issue is about the location ( school, cinema or work ) itself.

One exception to the use of in and at is that : We use in, when the person is lodging at a place, and at, when the person is visiting.

Eg. ‘He’s in the hospital / in prison ’(meaning he is there as a patient / as a prisoner) ; ‘She is at the hospital / at the prison’ ( implying she is there as a visitor).

Preposition of Time is the second type of preposition. They are used to help in discussing a specific time period such as a date, day of a week or the actual time something takes place in a sentence. Just like place prepositions many different prepositions can be used to show time. These include at, on, in, till, before, around, about, since, within, during and for.

At as a time preposition is used to refer to clock ( precise) times as in:

‘The meeting is at 2 o’clock / at noon; and

for holidays and festivals, as in:

‘We will sing at Christmas / at the musical festival’.

At is also used with other specific time frames such as:

‘I am busy at the moment (this present time); at night ( during the night); at the weekend (during the weekend); or at that moment (during that time).

On is used to discuss certain days of the week, specific dates and special days.

Such as;

‘They will meet on thursday / on the 7th of November / on New Year’s day.’

In is used to discuss months, seasons, years, centuries, general times of the day and longer periods of time. We can have:

‘In the year 1901 / In the past there was no internet.’

‘In August / In Summer the weather was mild.’

Time prepositions of ‘on’ and 'in' used before the word time can be confusing.

On time means punctual and not late. We can have:

‘The 11:45 train left on time ( it left at 11:45 as scheduled ).’

In a dialogue between two people, Person A said, ‘I’ll meet you at 7:30.’

Person B replied, ‘Okay, but please be on time (don’t be late / be there at exactly 7:30).’

‘In time for something / to do something’ means soon enough and not too late for something / to do something.

Eg. ‘Will you be home in time for dinner (meaning soon enough and not late for dinner)?’

We got to the station just in time to catch the train. (we were soon enough to catch the train and not late to miss it).

In and within also portray some differences in meaning. In refers to exact location or time as in:

‘Submit the work in two days (meaning at the end of the two days).

Within refers to any point or spot inside the boundaries of the location or time. So: ‘Submit the work within two days (you can submit anytime before the end of the two days or between now and the two days).’

Anytime after the two days has broken the boundary or limit.

The prepositions since and for show the duration of an action. However, they differ. Since is used to denote the beginning of a period in the past, as in:

‘I’ve been waiting since 8’clock / since Monday / since 12th May / since 1977 / since christmas / since lunchtime / since we arrived.

All the above time periods used with since means I’ve been waiting from any of those time periods until now. Meanwhile, for is used to denote the period of time; as in:

I’ve been waiting for two hours /for three days / six months / a week / a long time / ages / 10 minutes / 5 years. Let’s note the structure:

When we say, ‘I’ve been waiting since Monday’, we want to indicate when we started waiting.

On the other hand, we use ‘I’ve been waiting for 3 days’, when we want to indicate period within which I’ve been waiting.

We can also have: ‘It’s two years since I had a holiday’, and this means I haven’t had a holiday for two years.

‘It has been ages since Tom visited us,’ means he hasn’t visited us for ages.

During is another time preposition which is used with a noun

(an activity / time) to imply when an action happens but not how long.

Mary was doing some knitting during the programme / our holiday / the night.

Using during with a specific time period as in;

‘It rained heavily during the night / the week / the month’, means the same as using in as in; in the night / in the week / in the month.

Comparing during with while as a time preposition:

‘We met a lot of interesting people during our holidays in France.’ While is followed by a subject and a verb as in the example below :

‘We met a lot of interesting people while we were on our holidays in France.’

This implies that while (preposition of time) connects the two actions (met and were) in the sentence and so connecting two clauses.

The time preposition until is used to indicate the continuation of a situation to when it ends). For example: ‘Let’s wait until it stops raining (end of action).’

‘He stayed in bed until 10 o’clock (end of time).’

By is another preposition that is used to show action not later than the given time:

‘I should receive the letter by Monday (on or before Monday / latest, Monday).’

Shall we compare until and by in the following sentences.

I’ll be teaching until 11 o’clock. ( I’ll stop teaching at 11o’clock).

I’ll have finished teaching by 11o’clock (I’ll finish teaching at 11 or before 11 or latest,

11 o’clock).

So until and by cannot be used interchangeably unless you change the helping verb and tense of the action to mean the same as previous action in its context.

Prepositions of manner are used to express how or the way something is done or carried out in a sentence. They include by, on, in, like and with and answer the questions where, when or how. They are connecting words in sentences and are sometimes referred to as Prepositions of Method and they are followed by object of the preposition. They seem to be playing the role of adverbs ( because they qualify verbs

Using by as a preposition of manner indicates the action done in order to get results; it is followed by a gerund (verb + -ing) or a noun.


‘We met by chance / we were able to meet by talking on the phone.’

With, as a manner preposition, usually shows what is used to achieve the action in a sentence:

‘We organised the meeting with dedication.’ With is usually followed by a nounand it shows the manner in which the action was done.

Other examples include :

‘The baby looks like his Dad’. ( like, used as a manner preposition, is showing how the subject looks and linking ‘the baby looks’ to ‘his dad’, the object of the sentence; and

‘The tourists arrived in a car / on an aircraft. (showing how or the means by which the tourist arrived).

Prepositions of Direction show where or which direction a movement is taking place in a sentence. They indicate the movement between two nouns in a sentence. Example include; through, along, towards(s), into, and past. These prepositions are most often used with verbs of motion and found after the verb.

Towards is a preposition of direction that indicates movement in a particular direction . It is also a position in relation to the direction from the point of view of the speaker:

‘I saw her walking towards the park.’

Through, as a movement preposition suggests the direction of an entire space to another.

‘The train goes through the city centre.’

Into, as a preposition of direction, refers to the movement from outside to the inside of a three dimensional space:

‘The dog jumped into the caravan.’

Along is also used as a preposition to indicate a movement from one point to another in a line.

For example: ‘Amy was walking along the path.’

Past is used as a preposition to indicate a movement from beyond something and it’s derived from the verb pass.

Example: ‘The soldiers marched past the commander.’

There are some prepositions that show possession in a sentence; that a noun belongs to another noun in the sentence. These are Prepositions of possession and they are of, for and with. They are followed by noun.

Examples include:

‘She is a friend of Hannah.’ (Hannah’s friend):

‘I saw the boy with ginger hair.’ (the boy possesses ginger hair)

‘The book is for Bridget.’ (Bridget possesses the book)

In summary, we have dealt with five different types of Prepositions based on their functionalities. We have learnt:

Prepositions of Place, which are used to indicate the position of something, and include on, at and in;

Prepositions of Time, used to discuss a specific time period and comprise at, on, in as well as, till, before, around, about, since and within;

Prepositions of manner which are used to express how something is done and include by, on, in, like and with;

Prepositions of Direction, which the direction a movement is taking place and examples are along, towards(s) and past; and

Preposition of possession, showing that a noun belongs to another noun in the sentence. The main examples are of, for and with.

Below are links to websites where you can practise the use of prepositions in sentences.

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