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What is a Preposition? - Definition, Uses & Examples

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  • 0:05 Definition of a Preposition
  • 0:25 Examples of Prepositions
  • 0:42 Prepositional Phrases
  • 1:42 Roles of the Prepositions
  • 3:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Debbie Notari
Prepositions are essential to sentences because they provide additional and necessary details. In this lesson, we will explore the definition and roles of the preposition.

Definition of a Preposition

There are approximately 80 to 100 prepositions in the English language. Prepositions are words that introduce information to the reader. This information can include where something takes place (such as 'at' the store), when or why something takes place (such as 'before' dinner), or general descriptive information (such as the girl 'with' the cool tattoo).

Examples of Prepositions

Here are some examples of commonly used prepositions:

about above across after against
along behind below beneath beside
besides between down during except
for from in off on
onto opposite out outside till
to toward under underneath until
with within without

Prepositions don't stand alone. They work in groups of words that we call prepositional phrases. A prepositional phrase begins with a preposition and ends in a noun. That noun is called the object of the preposition.

Prepositional Phrases

Here are some examples of prepositional phrases:

'under' the desk
'during' the lecture
'across' the yard
'after' lunch
'behind' the tree

The word in quotes is the preposition and the words that follow the preposition make up the prepositional phrase. Think about a mountain, for instance. A prepositional phrase is just about anything that we can say in relation to a mountain, like 'to the mountain,' 'over the mountain,' 'under the mountain,' 'toward the mountain.' This is a good way to test a group of words in order to see if they do, indeed, fit the definition of prepositional phrases.

The object of the preposition is the noun that follows the preposition. It is also the stopping point for each prepositional phrase. For instance, we might say, 'to the store.' The word 'to' is the preposition and 'store' is the object of the preposition. Here's another example, 'in the light.' The word 'in' is the preposition and 'light' is the object of the preposition.

Roles of the Prepositions

Now, let's go back to that list of information we saw at the beginning of the lesson. Prepositions, in the form of prepositional phrases, provide specific information in a sentence for the reader. The reader would not know key and necessary facts about a sentence without a prepositional phrase. For instance, here is a barebones sentence:

My mom laughed.

It is a perfectly good sentence, but it doesn't tell us very much. When we add a prepositional phrase, we better understand the situation. Here is the sentence with a prepositional phrase:

My mom laughed 'at the joke'.

Ah ha! Now we know why she laughed!

Now, let's take a look at what prepositions modify. 'To modify' means to give additional information about something. Whole prepositional phrases modify other words in the sentence. For instance, think about the prepositional phrase 'to the zoo.' In a sentence, it might read like this:

My parents went to the zoo.

The prepositional phrase 'to the zoo' modifies the verb 'went' by providing additional information as to where the parents went.

Prepositions also modify nouns. Take a look at this sentence:

Missy chose the couch 'with the leather-like surface'.

The prepositional phrase 'with the leather-like surface' modifies the noun 'couch.'

Prepositional phrases can also line up back-to-back in sentences, much like boxcars on a train. This sentence is extra-long to make the point!

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