One of the most difficult aspects of the English language to learn for the non-native English speaker is the proper use of prepositions (1). In a study of Japanese students of English, Izumi et al (2) found that error rates for prepositions were as high as 10%. Prepositions are even tough for native English speakers.

What is a preposition anyway?

A preposition is one of the nine parts of speech in English. The others are verbs, adverbs, adjectives, nouns, pronouns, conjunctions, interjections, and articles. There are about 150 prepositions in the English language. Some are one-word prepositions, such as “on,” “to,” “in,” and others are complex prepositions (prepositional phrases) of two or more words that function like a one-word preposition, such as “according to,” “in spite of,” and “due to.” Most prepositions express direction or location. See (3) below for a list of 150 prepositions and prepositional phrases, and examples showing their proper use.

Types of problems with prepositions


In the book Scientific English A Guide for Scientists and Other Professionals (4), the primary problems with prepositions are the following:


Syntax (word order): A preposition or prepositional phrase should be near the noun it modifies; otherwise the meaning could be misconstrued.

Incorrect: “For sale, car owned by lady with dent in rear.”

Correct: “For sale, car with dent in rear owned by lady.”


Doubling of prepositions: “inside of” and “outside of” are redundant, as “inside” and “outside” are prepositions. Therefore, the “of” is unnecessary.

Incorrect: Children were playing inside of the park.

Correct: Children were playing inside the park.


Case: Objects usually follow prepositions. Therefore, prepositions always take the objective rather than the nominative case.

Incorrect: The disagreement was between he and I. (nominative case)

Correct: The disagreement was between him and me. (objective case)


Linking adjectives rather than nouns and pronouns to another part of the sentence:

Incorrect: She was too good of a person to judge her friend.

Correct: She was too good a person to judge her friend.


If you want to learn more about the correct use of prepositions, see the additional links below:


          1. Joel R. Tetreault and Martin Chodorow. The ups and downs of preposition error detection in ELS writing. COLING 2008: 865-872.
          2. Izumi E, Uchimoto K, Saiga T, Supnithi T, Isahara H. 2003. Automatic error detection in the Japanese leaners’ English spoken data.
          4. Day RA, Sakaduski N. Scientific English A Guide for Scientists and Other Professionals, 3rd ed. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood; 2011.


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