Prepositions are a closed class of items connecting 2 units in a sentence and specifying a relationship between them. The sequence of a preposition and its complement is known as a prepositional phrase and its role may be to act as a postmodifier in noun-phrase structure.
But prepositional phrases can also function as adverbials and the link can be between the prepositional complement and a whole clause.
– In a few minutes, we´ ll know the result of the blood test.
Prepositions may be simple or complex and in either case their complements are usually: noun phrases but they can also be non-finite -ing clauses or nominal wh- clauses.
Though prepositions normally precede their complements, there are circumstances in which this cannot happen.
1. Where the subject of a passive construction corresponds to the prepositional complement in the active analogue.
– We have paid for the car
– The car has been paid for
2. Where the prepositional complement is thematized in sentences with infinitive or -ing clauses
– It is unpleasant to work with that man
– That man is unpleasant to work with
– It is not worth listening to his advice
– His advice is not worth listening to
In addition there are circumstances where deferment is optional, depending on stylistic preference.
1. Where the prepositional complement is an interrogative pronoun, deferment is normal
– What are you looking at?
In such cases, the close relation between the verb and the preposition makes alternative arrangement awkward and rare. So there is a choice.
– Who did you sell your house to?
– To who did you sell your house? (formal)
2. A similar choice is more general where the prepositional complement is a relative pronoun
– The building (that) you´ re standing in front of was designed by him.
– The building in front of which you´ re standing was designed by him.
Simple and complex prepositions:
1. The commonest prepositions are a small number of monosyllabic items such as at, for, in, on to with typically unstressed and often with reduced vowel except when deferred.
– What are you looking at? /aet/
– I´ m looking at /Ət/ his huge telephone bill
2. But in addition there are polysyllabic prepositions, some of them compounds formed from the monosyllabic ones such as: inside, within or derived from participles such as during or adopted from other languages such as despite, except.
Although prepositions are a closed class in comparison with truly open classes like nouns, they are less literally a closed class than determiners or pronouns.
3. The number of prepositions has been increased partly by using still more participles (f.i: barring, concerning, granted) but mainly by combining prepositions with other words to form complex prepositions. These are of 2 main types:
a) A simple preposition preceded by a participle, adjective, adverb or conjunction: because of, owing to, devoid of.
b) A simple preposition followed by a noun and then a further simple preposition: in charge of, by means of, in addition to.
Though the relationship between 2 linguistic units may be wide-ranging in meaning, most of them are either spatial or figuratively derived from notions of physical space.
Prepositions refer to some of the basic spatial dimensions. There are 3 different kinds of distinction:
The prepositions are contrasted as positive or negative (f.i: off means not on). The prepositions distinguish between destination (movement with respect to an intended location) and position (static location). Thirdly, we have 3 dimension types: one which ignores dimension altogether, treating location as a point even if in reality it is a continent.
– They flew to Australia
The second dimension type includes what is either one-dimensional or two-dimensional
– She put her toe on the line
The third dimension type includes 2 dimensions: two-dimensional or three-dimensional space.
– My coat is in the wardrobe
1. Position and direction:
Between the notions of directional movement and static position there is a cause-and-effect relation which applies equally to the positive prepositions and the negative ones.
Where places are regarded as pints on a route or as institution to which ones is attached, we need dimension-type 0
– Does the train stop at Lincoln?
But where that same place is thought of in terms of residence, dimension type 2 or 3 is appropriate.
– I´ ve never lived Lincoln
If the referent is considered as a surface, dimension type 1 or 2 is appropriate, while if it is considered as enclosing dimension type 2 or 3 is needed.
– I was swimming on lake Windermere
– There was a child asleep in the bed.
2. Relative position
Rather than absolute position, many prepositions indicate the position of something relative to the position of something else
– The police station is opposite my house
Some prepositions form antonymic pairs:
Similar to above and below are over and under respectively, though the latter tend to mean “directly above” and “directly below”. Over means covering, on the other side of, across, from one side to the other
– There is a bridge over the river
Under can indicate contact:
– She put the letter under the pillow
And with below there is usually a space between the 2 surfaces
– They live below us.
Similar to in front of and behind are before and after respectively, though the latter tend to imply relative precedence rather than physical position
Like under are the less common beneath (somewhat formal) and underneath.
With on top of we combine the sense of above with abutment. Abutment is also normally implied with by, beside and with
– She left the keys by/beside/with her purse.
By contrast close to and near (to) exclude actual contact. These prepositions are unique in admitting comparative inflection
– Please move this desk close(r) to and near(er) (to) the wall.
With between we positionally relate 2 objects or groups of objects, whereas with among and amid(st) (more formal) we are dealing with a more general plurality
– There must be space to walk between the chair and the wall.
– I left the letter among my birthday cards.
The converse of between and among is expressed by around.
– There were trees around the house.
The notion combines position and motion, disregarding destination
– I love walking through woods in spring.
Passage and direction are frequently related to conceptual axes, especially the vertical and horizontal.
With (a)round the relation is to a real or fancied point such as a corner or a centre.
Special relations are often expressed by orientation to the speaker:
1. Time position
3 prepositions (at, on, in) are used in expressions answering the question when? And they reflect a concept of time as analogous to space.
AT is used for points of time, where time is conceived as being dimensionless
– The film will begin at 7.20 p.m.
It is only instants that can be so considered (at weekends, at Christmas, at night)
Where time is regarded as a period, the usual preposition is IN, reflecting analogy with 2 or 3 dimensional space (months, years, seasons, centuries, in the morning, in the evening, in the afternoon)
– Where did he live in his childhood?
In expressions referring to days, the preposition is ON and also dates with an interval that is specifically part of a day.
2. Time duration
In answer to how long? We have above all phrases with for
– We stayed in a rented cottage for the summer.
The same meaning with some emphasis on the duration can be expressed with throughout and all through.
By contrast, during indicates a stretch of time within which a more specific duration can be indicated
– During the summer, we stayed in a rented cottage for a month.
Duration expressions with over carry the implication of a period containing some divisions or fences
Duration can be specified by reference to the beginning and ending
– The office will be open from Monday to Friday
While from…..to corresponds to for, between….and can be used in the more general sense of during
Duration specifying only a starting point or a terminal point is expressed by phrases with by, before, from, since, till, until, up to
– She will be here by Friday night.
Cause and purpose:
There is a spectrum of relations extending from cause to purpose.
For the part covering cause, reason and motive, we have prepositional phrases with items such as because of, on account of, for, out of:
– He lost his job because of his laziness
The notion of motive shades into purpose, goal and target for all of which the common preposition is for:
– She is applying for a better job.
Where the complement is animate, the means intended recipient
– He built a play-pen for the little girl.
By contrast to is used with the actual recipient
– She presented a plaque to the retiring supervisor.
With at, the goal or target is viewed with hostility
– The police rushed at the house
From means to stimulus:
Another spectrum of relations expressed by prepositions covers means, instrument, agency and stimulus.
The first 2 respond to the question How? With by used for means and with for instrument
– I go to work by car
– She won the match with her fast service
– He levelled it up with a crowbar.
The corresponding negative of with is without
– He managed to open the car without a key
The agent is animate, in contrast to means and instrument, which instigates or causes sth. It is expressed by the preposition by, the complement of which corresponds to the subject of a transitive verb
– The picture was painted by Degas
Stimulus and reaction are expressed by at
– I´m surprised at her attitude
But also with about, in, of and to
– I think he´s jealous of her.
When the complement is animate with conveys the meaning “in the company of” and without the converse.
– I hope you will come to dinner with your husband
– For once Jill went without her husband
But the complement need not be animate:
– I cannot concentrate without silence
The accompaniment may therefore become a circumstance and the phrase connote manner:
– He set off without a care
Concession and other relations:
Prepositions expressing concession include in spite of, despite, the formal notwithstanding and the informal for all and with all
– The article is being published in spite of her disapproval
For exception the chief prepositions are except for, excepting, with the exception of, excluding, apart from, but, save, bar and barring
– Everyone seemed tired but me.
Addition is expressed by besides, as well as, in addition to
– In addition to his house, he bought an expensive car.
Negative condition is expressed by but for
– But for me, the case would have been lost
For the relationship respect we have the prepositions as for, as to, about, on the matter of, concerning, as regards, with regard to, with reference to and with respect to
– The coat is splendid as to the material, but I´ m less happy as regards the cut
As for and as to tend to introduce a topic transition
Both prepositions and prepositional phrases can be modified in terms of measure and degree by being accompanied by intensifiers:
– She arrived shortly after ten