English Grammar Review
Prepositions and Conjunctions

Preposition Functions

In English sentences, prepositional phrases are used extensively to put flesh on the bones of the sentence (noun, verb, object). A preposition is a word we "pre-position" in front of a word standing for a person or thing, called the object of the preposition. In the examples that follow, the prepositions are shown in bold and the objects are shown underlined.

at noon . by Thursday . in Stockholm

of our boss . on a computer . to the meeting

There may be more words in the phrase, between the prepositon and its object.

by Thursday
by next Thursday
by the next available Thursday

Some basic prepositions are short words, as shown above. But a list of the most commonly used prepositions includes larger words:

about . above . across . after
against . along . among . around
before . behind . below . beneath
beside . between . beyond
despite . down . during . except
for . from . inside . into . like
near . off . over . past . since
through . toward . under . until
upon . with . within . without

The preposition shows a relationship. A thing may be at the office, in the office, from the office, near the office, within the office, etc.

Prepositional phrases exist to link that relationship to another word in the sentence, usually a verb or a noun. Therefore, prepositional phrases act as adverbs or adjectives. Adverb phrases can often be used anywhere in the sentence.

For_once, Lars arrived at_the_office before_noon.

Here, the prepositional phrases are shown using the underscore character to link the words. All three describe the action, arrived.

An adjective phrase is typically placed close to the thing it describes.

Supervisor for_the_day, Linnea asked everyone at_the_meeting to visit the factory near_the_river.

Toward versus towards

These prepositions are both correct and both mean "in the direction of". In North America, toward is the word people are taught to use in their writing. But when they are purposely trying to sound more colloquial, using towards is acceptable. And towards is used everywhere else.

So, here is a decoder:

United States and Canada - toward is formally correct

United States and Canada - towards is acceptable in informal writing

The rest of the world - towards is much preferred, in all situations

Beside versus besides

These words look similar, but are not. Some grammar authorities disagree about how they should be used. But you can play it safe and use the following decoder:

beside - preposition: "at the side of" or "next to"

besides - preposition: "except" or "in addition to" or "apart from"

besides - adverb: "also" or "moreover" or "furthermore"

Or, more simply:

beside - preposition: "physically next to"

besides - (everything else)

These words are almost antonyms. The word beside has to do with physical closeness; the word besides has to do with conceptual separateness.

Guide: When you write a sentence using either word, in your mind briefly substitute the words "next to". If it sounds okay, use beside. Otherwise, use besides.

Examples:

Sven sat beside Birgitta.

They found a better place to sit besides the uncomfortable bleachers.

Besides, the bleachers were full.

Note: Here is a special case for common usage:

That's besides the point. [wrong]

That's beside the point. [right]

Why? Because in this idiomatic expression:

beside = "not directly relevant to"

Lesson: Preposition Functions
Module: Prepositions and Conjunctions
Course: English Grammar Review