Grammar-ease: Prepositions

Definition:

The preposition is a word that shows how a noun or pronoun relates to another part of a sentence. A preposition modifies a noun or pronoun by describing the relationship between it and the rest of the sentence.

Examples of prepositions include (this is not a complete list):

  • In
  • Into
  • On
  • Onto
  • Of
  • By
  • For
  • With
  • Between
  • During
  • From
  • About
  • Until
Confusing/misued prepositions:

Among versus between. The difference is purely numerical. If it’s a choice involving more than 2 things, use among. If it’s a choice involving 2 (and only 2) things, use between.

Example:
(3 choices)
She had to choose between going caroling, eating another slice of pie, and taking a shower.  (wrong)
She had to choose among going caroling, eating another slice of pie, and taking a shower.  (right)

(2 choices)
He had to choose among white lined and yellow lined paper.  (wrong)
He had to choose between white lined and yellow lined paper.  (right)

Except versus besides. I look at them as opposites. Except refers to being without, minus an object, or excluding something. Besides refers to being with, plus an object, or including something.

Example:
(he does not want “TV Guide”)
Robert requested all the magazines besides “TV Guide.”  (wrong)
Robert requested all the magazines except “TV Guide.”  (right)

(she plays all three instruments)
Except clarinet, Cherie plays flute and tuba.  (wrong)
Besides clarinet, Cherie plays flute and tuba.  (right)

A rule:
Ever hear never end a sentence with a preposition? It used to be a hard rule, but now the rule has softened its edges a bit. So you can take a breath and relax a bit. If you can reword a sentence to avoid a preposition as the last word, then I’d recommend it. But, if the sentence flows best with a little word at the end, go for it. At least that’s what I do.

A quick example:
I’m the one he is going to ride with.  (this is okay)
He’s going to ride with me.  (this is better)

A caveat:
If you can eliminate the preposition at the end of a sentence and the sentence still makes sense, then it’s cleaner writing to remove the unnecessary word.
For example:

Do you know where my skateboard is at?  (awkward)
Do you know where my skateboard is?  (best)

A couple sentences that make me grind my teeth when I hear them are “What up?” and “Where you at?”
Grammatically correct is:
“What is up?” (Or “What’s up?”)
“Where are you at?” (better, but awkward); “Where are you?” (best)

Another caveat:
If removing the preposition and rewording is awkward, then leave the preposition at the end.

For example:
What did you step on? or What did you step in?
“What did you step?” doesn’t make sense, and, even though grammatically correct, you most likely have never heard “On what did you step?” or “In what did you step?” So it’s best to leave the preposition at the end.

If you have grammar topics you’d like to see covered, please leave a comment about it.

Lisa Jackson is an independent editor, writer, journalist, and chocolate lover. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has an award-winning blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom where she gets to network with writing professionals on a weekly basis. © Lisa J. Jackson, 2011

One thought on “Grammar-ease: Prepositions

  1. Hi Lisa,

    Thanks for this. I always find these posts useful. As much as like to think of myself as a Grammar Nazi, I occasionally question what I’m doing.

    I recently wondered exactly how to use ‘hence’ and ‘therefore’ because they almost felt interchangeable. A quick search turned up this: http://painintheenglish.com/case/4452
    It seemed pretty clear until I reached the part where an example could use either word and I was back to square one! What are your thoughts?

    Thanks,

    R.

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