Most people falter on prepositions when they face a situation where they can’t decide between two (or even more) prepositions that both seem to be the correct answer. Few examples of such commonly-confused prepositions: (1) over and above; (2) at, in, and on. And there are plenty more.
Prepositions are best learnt when you learn them in groups of such commonly-confused prepositions and not as individual prepositions. After all, that’s where you make most mistakes.
In this post, you’ll learn prepositions in such groups – 12 of them covered here.
Before we jump into the first group of prepositions, let me briefly explain how this post is organized:
- Each group starts with explanation – and plenty of examples – of how the prepositions are used and ends with a short quiz for you to practice what you learnt in that group.
- Most prepositions are used in ways other than their most common use. In this post, in each group, I’ve first covered the main use, followed by other usages.
- Many times, prepositions have been presented in tabular form for easy comprehension.
- Comments are in blue font in square brackets (just like this) so that you can easily spot them.
- Examples find place in the tables as well as bullet points (outside the table).
- Prepositions can be broadly classified as prepositions of time and place. Wherever applicable, each group heading contains this information in square brackets.
Without further ado, let’s start with the most common group.
1. From…to, until (till), by, since, for, and within [Time]
|It is used to indicate time elapsed between two fixed times. [A simple representation: from + time A + to + time B]||‘By’ is used when you mean that something happens by a time in the future. [A simple representation: by + time A]||‘Until’ is used to show a situation that continues up to a particular time in the future. [A simple representation: until + time A or a condition]|
|I studied in the boarding school from 1999 to 2007. [Shows time elapsed between 1999 and 2007]||I’m going outstation and I’ll be back by Monday. [I’ll be back at or before Monday but not later]||I’m going outstation and won’t be back until Monday. [My outstation visit continues until Monday. I’ll be back on Monday.]|
|I’ll be in my office from 10 AM to 6 PM.||I dispatched the packet yesterday. You should receive it by Wednesday. [On or before Wednesday, but no later than Wednesday]||The crowd gathered outside won’t go until the minister meets them. [Here a condition – minister meeting them – is met]|
|I work from 9 AM to 6 PM on weekdays.||I have to be home by 7 PM today. [No later than 7 PM]||I’ll be in my office until 6 PM.|
|The movie ran in the theaters from the first week of August to the end of October.||Tell me by Sunday whether you can join us for the weekend trip next month. [And not ‘tell me until Sunday…’]||Wait here until I come back. [Here again a condition – my coming back – is met]|
|‘Since’ is used to describe continuation of time from a fixed point in the past to present. [A simple representation: since + a specific time in the past]||‘For’ is used to describe a period of time without a fixed beginning or end point. [A simple representation: for + a period of time]||‘Within’ is used to describe time period that has to be finished earlier than an end point. [A simple representation: within + a period of time]|
|I’ve been waiting for my turn since 2 PM. [From 2 PM to now]||I’ve been waiting for my turn for three hours. [Unlike 2 PM on the left, there is no beginning point here]||The court has directed to wrap up investigation within 3 months. [To be completed in the next 3 months]|
|I haven’t seen him since August.||I haven’t seen him for six months. [Not ‘since six days’]||If he is not found within next six months, he’ll be presumed dead under the law.|
|It has been raining since the match started.||I’ll be in Singapore for a week.||I’ve to complete my assignment within this week.|
1. I lived in Singapore ___ March 2011 ___ July 2014.
2. I have been living in New York City ___ 2013.
3. The war went on ___ two years.
4. I felt tired in the morning. So I didn’t get out of bed ___ 10 AM.
5. I haven’t visited my hometown ___ August 2014.
6. X: Where are your children? Y: They’re at school and should be back ___ 2 PM.
7. X: How long have you known Jim? Y: ___ fifth grade in the school.
8. A: How long will you be away? B: ___ Friday.
9. He has been traveling ___ Monday.
10. I usually finish my work ___ 6:30 PM, but sometimes I stay ___ 7:30 PM.
1. from…to 2. since 3. for 4. until 5. since 6. by 7. since 8. until 9. since 10. by, until
2. On, at, by, and with
- The manager won’t be in office this week. He is on holiday.
- News on television has turned into eye-grabbing through whatever means possible.
On the radio
- We listened to the news on the radio.
On the phone
- I spoke to him on the phone yesterday.
- The shop was set on fire by the miscreants.
- The train is on time.
On a bus/ on a train/ on a plane/ on a ship [However, we use in a car/ in a taxi]
- People came on bus to attend the political rally.
- He arrived in a taxi.
On a bicycle/ on a motorcycle/ on a horse
- A rider on his motorcycle passed by me.
At 24 (age)/ At 70 kilometers per hour/ At 40 degrees
- Boris Becker had a spectacular start to his career when he won Wimbledon singles title at 17.
- The car was traveling at 80 kilometers per hour, clearly above the speed limit.
- The water is too hot at 70 degrees Celsius.
By car/ by bus/ by plane (by air)/ by train etc.
- I’m coming to Mumbai by train.
- I go to office by bike. [We, however, say ‘on foot’: I go to office on foot.]
A book by/ a painting by/ music by etc.
- I’m currently reading David and Goliath, a book by Malcolm Gladwell.
- Music for this movie has been composed by Elton John.
- In badminton, you strike the shuttle with a racket. [Not ‘by a racket’]
- You can cut open the packet with a pair of scissors.
- It might rain today. You shouldn’t venture out without an umbrella.
1. It’s cold outside. Don’t go out ___ a coat.
2. Hamlet and Macbeth are plays ___ William Shakespeare.
3. My grandfather died ___ the age of 78.
4. This item is fragile. Please handle it ___ care.
5. How long does it take from New Delhi to Singapore ___ plane?
6. They set up their business ___ the help of venture capital money.
7. Bullet trains can travel ___ 300 kilometers per hour.
8. If I’ve to go out during rush hours, I go ___ my bike.
9. She goes to office ___ car.
10. I was stopped ___ the robbers, who took away all the money I had.
1. without 2. by 3. at 4. with 5. by 6. with 7. at 8. on 9. by 10. by
3. Across, along, over, and through [Place]
‘Across’ is used to depict position on the other side of a flat surface or area (examples: land, sea, road, and field):
- I saw a wolf across the field.
- The scenes moved rapidly across the screen.
- The closing ceremony of Commonwealth Games was broadcast across many countries.
- He threw a stone across the river.
‘Over’ is used to depict position on the other side of something that is higher than it is wide:
- The thief crossed over the wall in the pitch dark night.
We use ‘all over’, but not ‘all across’. Instead, we use ‘right across’:
- The news of the politician’s conviction on the charge of financial impropriety has spread all over the country.
- The news of the politician’s conviction on the charge of financial impropriety has spread right across the country. [Not ‘all across’]
‘Through’ is used when you move in a three-dimensional space:
- I had to wade through knee-deep water to cross the river.
- The road goes through the mountains.
- The police forced its way through the crowd to reach the crime scene.
- We had to walk through the forest to reach to reach the nearest town.
‘Along’ is used when you move on a linear path (examples: road, river, canal, beach, shoreline, and riverfront):
- Let’s walk along the road to avoid losing direction.
- The tiger’s pug marks were found along the canal.
1. I lost the key to the front door and, therefore, had no option but to enter the house ___ the window.
2. The miscreants jumped ___ the wall and made a quick escape.
3. Shanties came up all ___ the road to act as temporary accommodation for the workers at the nearby construction site.
4. The dog went ___ the road safely despite heavy traffic.
5. The hair dresser sprinkled some water on my head and ran the comb ___ my hair.
6. She made her way up the hill ___ a narrow path.
7. He skied ___ Greenland in just three weeks.
8. The fog was so thick that it felt walking ___ the clouds.
9. As part of the plantation drive, the city council is planting trees ___ the river.
10. The plane flew ___ the mountains.
1. through 2. over 3 along 4. across/ over 5. through 6. along 7. across 8. through 9. along 10. over
4. Above and over [Place]
Both ‘above’ and ‘over’ are used when we show one thing to be at a level higher than the other.
|‘Above’ is preferred when one thing is not directly over the other.||‘Over’ is preferred when one thing covers or touches the other. It is also used when we talk about horizontal movement.|
|He was gliding 1,200 feet above the ground.||The snowfall lay a blanket of white over the ground.|
|The old, dilapidated fort was nestled in the mountain above the lake.||A hazy winter fog hung over the city.|
|The pictures are above the shelves. [Pictures are fixed on the wall]||The helicopter flew over the lake. [Horizontal movement]|
Above – other usages
‘Above’ is used in the measurement of temperature and height:
- The temperature on Monday rose above 35 degrees Celsius.
Over – other usages
‘Over’ is used in the measurement of age and speed:
- You need to be over 18 years to vote in the general elections.
- He was driving over 90 kilometers per hour when he was intercepted by the traffic police.
1. There was seepage in the wall ___ the window.
2. In the brawl, he suffered a small cut ___ his left eye.
3. He pulled his hat ___ his ears and went out.
4. ___ the screen is a small camera that records you as you speak.
5. She put her hands ___ her eyes in disbelief. [Over]
1. above 2. above 3. over 4. above 5. over
5. Below and under [Place]
‘Below’ and ‘under’ are direct opposites of ‘above’ and ‘over’, respectively, and they’re used the same way as ‘above’ and ‘over’.
|The water level in the river is just two feet below the danger mark.||The thief hid himself under the blanket.|
|The shelves are below the picture.||There is an underground metro line under the ground.|
1. ___ the screen is a small microphone that records your voice.
2. X: Where is the key? Y: Please check ___ the mat. I remember placing it there.
3. I looked out from the window. Thirty feet ___ was a trash bin.
4. In the winter, I sometimes study in the open ___ a tree.
5. The sun glowed red as it sank slowly ___ the horizon.
1. below 2. under 3. below 4. under 5. below
6. Before, during, and after
|I was nervous before the exam.||I didn’t take a single break during the exam.||I went straight to my friend’s place after the exam.|
|Close the windows before you go out.||Drive with care during your journey back home.||Give us a call after you reach home.|
|He went through his regular warmup exercises before the match.||He choked at crucial moments during the match.||He gave few interviews immediately after the match.|
|Thousands thronged the site hours before the rocket launch.||There was a massive blast at the tail of the rocket during the launch.||People started dispersing ten minutes after the launch.|
1. I always eat bananas ___ going to the gym.
2. The doctor has advised to wash hands thoroughly ___ eating to avoid falling ill.
3. I’ve an unsaid rule of not talking ___ the lunch.
4. I start my daily routine only ___ checking my inbox.
5. Let’s have lunch ___ stepping out of the office.
1. before 2. before 3. during 4. after 5. before
7. About and on
‘About’ and ‘on’ are used to mean ‘concerning’ or ‘on the subject of’.
(Note that ‘on’ here is used in context different from what we covered in group 1 and 2.)
‘About’ is mainly used after following verbs and nouns:
Argue, complain, find out, joke, know, protest, quarrel, read, teach (someone), tell (someone), worry, ask, enquire/ inquire, learn, think, agree, hear, laugh, care, and wonder.
Argument, chat, fuss, joke, letter, misunderstanding, and quarrel.
- I found about his accident through the newspaper.
- Sir, I want to enquire about your newly-launched product.
- What’s this all fuss about?
- I constantly worry about my final exam.
‘On’ is mainly used after following verbs:
Comment, concentrate, focus, insist, and reflect.
- I can’t concentrate on my work because of the noise from the nearby construction work.
- We would not like to comment on the internal affairs of your country.
Both ‘About’ and ‘on’ can be used with following verbs and nouns:
Advise, agree, decide, disagree, lecture, speak, speculate, talk, and write.
Advice, argument, book/ article/ paper, consultation, decision, idea, information, lecture, opinion, and question.
- Can you send me your opinion about/ on my proposal by tomorrow?
- Why speculate about/ on something that has so many unknowns?
- Argument broke about/ on whose turn is it to park his/ her car in the vacant space.
8. In and into
|‘In’ indicates position without movement.||‘Into’ indicates movement into a particular place.|
|My friend lives in a nineteenth-century house. [There is no movement here]||I entered into my friend’s house from the back door. [It depicts movement from outside to friend’s house]|
|My friend’s car stays mostly in the garage.||I drove the car into the garage.|
1. The diver jumped ___ the water.
2. The robbers rushed out of the bank, got ___ the car, and escaped.
3. I put new batteries ___ the remote control.
4. The pigeon flew ___ the room through the window.
5. I left my luggage ___ the cloak room ___ the station and went to the nearby market to eat something.
6. Stop running around and get ___ bed!
7. What time does this train arrive ___ New Delhi?
8. River Amazon flows ___ Atlantic Ocean.
9. I couldn’t recognize her because she was ___ a speeding car.
10. Without much ado, he disappeared ___ the darkness.
1. into 2. into 3. in 4. into 5. in, at 6. into 7. in 8. into 9. in 10. into
9. On and onto
Their relationship is similar to ‘in’ and ‘into’.
|‘On’ shows that something is in a position above something else and touching it.||‘Onto’ shows movement into or on a particular place.|
|I comfortably walked on the wet floor.||I slipped as I stepped onto the wet floor.|
|Your bag is on the table.||She poured the petrol onto the dying embers, and up went the flames.|
10. In and inside [Place]
|‘In’ is used to express position inside something.|
|There is a table in the room.|
11. On time and in time
|On time||In time|
|‘On time’ means at a particular time – neither late nor early. In other words, it’s the opposite of ‘late’.||‘In time’ means early enough or before a deadline.|
|The flight arrived on time at 09:30 AM. [Arrived dot on time]||I reached in time for the flight. [Reached at or before the mandated time]|
|The event was well organized. Everything began and finished on time.||I submitted the assignment in time.|
|Please be on time for your interview.||Will you be home in time for dinner?|
1. X: Is the flight is ___? Y: Yes, it is?
2. The train was late today, but it’s usually___.
3. My food order will be delivered at home ___ 7 PM. I hope I reach ___ to receive it.
4. I barely caught the train today morning. I got to the railway station just ___.
5. Why are you never ___?
1. on time 2. on time 3. by, in time 4. in time 5. on time
12. At the end and in the end
|At the end||In the end|
|It means at the time when something ends.||You use ‘in the end’ to describe what is the final result of a series of events or what is your final conclusion after considering all the relevant facts.|
|The players shook hands at the end of the match.||In the end, we decided to shutter the business.|
|I’ll file my taxes at the end of the month.||Despite our complaints to the house owner, the noise didn’t stop. In the end, we decided to file a complaint with the police.|