Besides English professors and people currently learning the annoyances of English, I have to assume you don’t know what a preposition is. Let’s start there.
: a function word that typically combines with a noun phrase to form a phrase which usually expresses a modification or predication (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/prepositions)
hmm… Let’s try somewhere else’s definition. *nod*
: any member of a class of words found in many languages that are used before nouns, pronouns, or other substantives to form phrases functioning as modifiers of verbs, nouns, or adjectives, and that typically express a spatial, temporal, or other relationship, as in, on, by, to, since. (https://www.dictionary.com/browse/preposition)
That’s a bit better. But…
So the definition is just confusing. It’s easier to see a preposition in action and point it out. I did prepositions automatically in English. There are several rules that a speaker who has always used the language just knows. Prepositions are one of them.
I had to learn the concept when I started working on higher level German. German also use prepositions. And it can easily get confusing there too.
Let’s focus on English, shall we?
Wiki has a complete (massive) list of prepositions in the English language. There’s no way I am going to be able to go over all of them. So we can focus on a few while explaining what a preposition is in a sentence and it’s purpose.
A smaller list of prepositions: [https://www.englishpage.com/prepositions/prepositions_list.htm] [http://guidetogrammar.org/grammar/preposition_list.htm] [https://englishstudyonline.org/common-prepositions/]
The final link has this infograph:
As I said this is a confusing group. But really important to figure out before managing high level editing skills.
Let’s begin with some easy sentences you probably understood within a year of learning the language.
- I am going to the store.
- I went with him.
- We are headed in the right direction.
- Come inside.
Right? Easy sentences. Everyone knows what is going on. That means you get this concept more than you realize.
I am going to the store. ‘To’ is your preposition. It is explaining how the verb is interacting with the object of the sentence.
- I went with him.
- We are headed in the right direction
- Come inside.
The subject does the action. The preposition explains how the action is done to the object. It’s not always needed. Many times the verb fully explains things.
- I catch the ball.
No preposition. We assume I am now in possession of the ball because I managed to catch it.
- I throw the ball to you.
Uh oh. This is more complicated that before. There is more than one object of the sentence. You have a direct object and an indirect object.
What is being thrown would be our direct object and it did not need a preposition. Because like catching we know what’s going on.
The indirect object needs a preposition. I can’t throw you. I can throw to you. I can throw at you. I can throw for you.
(Some people can throw others… I’m weak…)
The ‘to’, ‘at’, and ‘for’ explain how the verb is interacting with the object. ‘To’ would be a knowledgeable throwing to you specifically. If you are expecting the ball that I am planning to throw, it can be ‘to’.
If I am trying to throw the ball at you. I’m annoyed by your actions or words and I’m throwing things probably in anger at you. There is no expectation of you catching the ball. And the annoyance would probably go up if you did.
‘For’ would mean I have taken your place as thrower. You were supposed to be throwing the ball, but I am instead of you.
Prepositions give you an idea how the verb is interacting with the object. And yes it can interact with any object. Even an assumed one.
I used that before. Inside is a preposition, but there is no object. There is also no subject. Both are assumed. The subject when dropped in English is assumed to be ‘you’. It is the only legal subject in English that can be dropped. ‘I’ can be dropped in certain dialects and circumstances, but that’s not formal English.
The assumed object of the sentence is where ever the person speaking from is. If they yelling from inside the house, the assumed ‘inside’ place would be the house. Same would apply if they are in the car or a building or a room specifically. Where ever the speaker is, that would be the assumed place.
English doesn’t allow for a lot of assumptions.
So as a recap: prepositions are modifiers that let us know how the verb is interacting with the object.
Really you never need to know the word preposition. You just need to know how to use them properly. With fluency, prepositions fall into place.
Or really, they’re not truly important enough to learn special. Unless you edit. Just double check to make sure your preposition can make sense. Some can switch.
Like with ‘at’ and ‘to’. They switch often in English. And most would assume the correct meaning even if the word was technically wrong.
Grammar is complicated. It’s fine if you can’t get this lesson. There’s more important parts of English to learn.
Because the only goal of any language is to be understood.
TL;DR: Prepositions are modifiers that let us know how the verb is interacting with the object. But don’t worry about them so much.