Why Technical English

Prepositions in English | January 23, 2009

By Galina Vitkova

Prepositions are another part of English, where students often make mistakes. The helpful method how to cope with the topic is to learn prepositions by heart together with sentences or expression where they occur.

The prepositions cannot be distinguished by any formal features. In English, some prepositions are short, typically containing five letters or fewer. However, a significant number of multi-word prepositions exist in it. Throughout the English language development new prepositions have come into use, old ones have disappeared, and the meaning of existing prepositions has changed. The prepositions constitute a closed word class to which no new items can normally be added, and that usually comprises a relatively small number of items.

The preposition usually precedes the noun. The noun does not necessarily come immediately after the preposition, however, since determiners and adjectives can intervene (e.g. after the storm, on white horses, under the old regime).
If the prepositions are not followed by a noun, they are called “stranded” prepositions, e.g.:

Preposition The presentation is about Internet marketing.

Stranded Preposition This is Internet marketing the presentation is about.

Prepositions are invariable in their form, that is, they do not take any inflections.

Simple and complex prepositions

The prepositions that contain a single word, such as in, of, at, and to, are referred as simple prepositions. Complex prepositions consist of two- or three-word combinations acting as a single unit. Here are some examples:

according to
along with

apart from
because of

contrary to
due to

except for
instead of

prior to
regardless of

These combinations come before a noun, too:

*according to Shakespeare *contrary to my advice *due to illness.

Three-word combinations often have the following pattern:

Simple Preposition + Noun + Simple Preposition, for example:

in aid of
on behalf of

in front of
in accordance with

by means of in line with
in relation to

with reference to
with respect to

Again, the combinations come before a noun:

*in aid of charity *in front of the Windows *in line with inflation.

Marginal prepositions

A number of prepositions have affinities with other word classes. In particular, some prepositions are verbal in form:

Following the rules, they succeeded in online business.
I am writing to you regarding the concepts of my e-book.
The whole team was there, including John

These prepositions are referred as marginal prepositions. Other marginal prepositions include: concerning, considering, excluding, given, granted, pending.

Non-verbal marginal prepositions include worth (it’s worth ten pounds) and minus (ten minus two is eight).

English prepositions and verbs

In technical texts we very often meet verbs, which are always used with certain prepositions. At the site http://www.english-at-home.com/grammar/prepositions-and-verbs/ the list of such verbs and their corresponding prepositions are enumerated. Learn by heart the verbs and the prepositions together. Practise their use as much as possible to feel more confident.

PS: See more information about prepositions of time on Jottings on English Grammar.




  1. Galina, Write anymore, turns out well for you!

    Comment by art-shkola — February 3, 2009 @ 10:28 am

  2. отлично..

    Comment by toy — February 8, 2009 @ 7:31 am

  3. Thank you for the usefull article.

    Comment by Skrabanek Jiri — May 12, 2009 @ 1:31 pm

  4. […] Prepositions in English   […]

    Pingback by Changing the theme of this blog « Why Technical English — August 26, 2010 @ 9:28 am

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