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ENGLISH GRAMMAR - PREPOSITIONS

1. Note that there is a difference between PREPOSITIONS & PARTICLES


2. PREPOSITIONS : meanings –wide range – tied to the meaning of the noun phrases (gen.
noun, pronoun) that they come before. They generally come after a noun phrase, verb,
adjective and before a noun phrase)
3. Meanings include : locations in time and space, movement from and to, connection or
lack of it,
4. What does “LOCATION IN SPACE” mean ?

Examples to consider:
A
a. Go to 100 Queen’s Street
b. Meet me at 9.15 am
c. Sarah moved away from the blackboard
d. He lives in a place that is far away from us.
e. We drove past a little village
B
a. Please put it on (to) the table
b. Driving fast on the A44
c. Please take your laptop off my table.
d. The shot went wide off the mark
e. We drove along the river
C
a. He poured the water into the bottle.
b. They found the dog somewhere in the old part of the city
c. Harry rarely came out of the broom cupboard in which he lived
d. This is out of the question!
e. We drove through the tunnel

5. EXPLANATION : different types of DIMENSIONS envisaged in space and time to


express static position, and position suggesting movement towards or away from an
intended location.

1. NO - dimension – location is seen a point


At 100 Greenway Street / At 9.15 am / to the moon/to Australia

2. ONE or TWO – dimensions- location is seen as a surface/line


On Greenway Street / On Sunday/ off Broadway/

3. TWO or THREE – dimensions- location is seen as an area /volume


In the old part of the city/ in July/ in Australia/

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5. SUMMARY BOX :
Extracted from : A Student’s Grammar of the English Language by S. Greenbaum & R. Quirk (1990) &
Explaining English Grammar, by G. Yule (1998)

Connected Goal of Source of Path of Disconnected


Position movement movement Movement position
Location at to (away) from Past away from
seen as O● ➙ ● ● ➙ ● ● O
POINT
Location on on (to) Off Along Off
seen as O
LINE/ _O______ _______ _______ __➙_____ _______
SURFACE
Location In in (to) out of Through out of
seen as   _______ O
AREA/   ___ ➙__ 
O
VOLUME/
CONTAINER

7. IMPORTANT NOTE : This concept of dimension is CONTEXT RELATED – not FACTUAL.


EG:
1. The University is in Paderborn
2. The sun is shining on Paderborn this morning (Weatherman)
3. Flight 322 stops at Paderborn on its way to London

8. DIRECTIONALITY :
a. Vertical axis : up, down,
b. Horizontal axis : along, across, through,

9. RELATIVE POSITIONS : Prepositions may also indicate position relative to the position of something
else.

The police station is opposite my house


My house is opposite the police station

ABOVE
IN
FRONT X BEHIND
OF
BELOW

Also note : over, under, beneath, underneath, on top of, at the bottom of, opposite to , facing,
beside, close to, near to, between, among, about, around,

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10. METAPHORICAL LOCATIONS (often “container” concept)
a. Tell us in your own words
b. Try putting your feelings into words
c. I can’t make any sense out of what he is saying
d. He communicated his beliefs through words
e. Express yourself in complete sentences.
f. They are in love
g. He is in a bad mood
h. At last we were out of danger
i. They went through many difficult times.

11. What does “LOCATION IN TIME” mean?


In general, there are conceptual similarities between locations in space and in time!

Examples to consider:

a. At six o’clock
b. At noon
c. At that time

a. On Monday
b. On March 20th
c. On Sunday morning

a. In October
b. In 1947
c. In summer

What specific point in time?


Which restricted period of time?
Which extended period of time?

12. TIME DURATION :


(PERIOD) - for, all through, throughout, during, pending
(ONLY STARTING OR ENDING POINT) – by, before, from, after, since, till, until, to
13. FOR COMPARISON :
a. in the room - in this book, in some difficulty
b. out of the bottle – out of the competition
c. beneath the branches – beneath contempt
d. under the floorboards – under suspicion
e. up the hill – up the social ladder
f. downhill – down market
g. beyond the post office – beyond endurance
h. over the mountain – (she is getting) over her illness
i. From London to Paderborn – From generation to generation

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j. Between the trees – between ourselves
k. Through the tunnel – through the ordeal

14. PREPOSITIONS AS PARTICLES (in multi-word verbs, dependent prepositions)

CAUTION : Many multi-word verbs have a unique, idiomatic meaning – so the generalizations here are
NOT to be treated as being always applicable or true!

A. Particles “UP” and “DOWN”:


UP (increase in) DOWN (decrease in)
level Things are heating up Prices have come down
size Fill it up The swelling has gone down
activity Let us stir things up We asked them to quiet down
readiness They are all fired up The troops were told to stand down
completion He cleaned up his room The company shut down

B. Particles “OFF”, “ON” , “OUT”, and “AWAY”

OFF
Signals completion of an action; suggests 'disconnected location' with verbs denoting physical action,
a. He fell off the horse.
b. She jumped off the wall.
c. Get off that chair!
d. I took my coat off.
e. I sent off the parcel yesterday.

In metaphorical use, it is to be interpreted as resulting in completed state.


a. He paid off his debts.
b. They broke off negotiations.
c. Someone cut me off.
d. Turn off that light!
c. The frost killed off many plants.
ON
As the opposite of off, the particle on suggests physical /abstract connection
a. She put some clothes on.
b. He tried the new jacket on.
c. They've added on an extension.
d. I'll call on you for some help.
e. He caught on very quickly.
f. The boys get on well together.

There is also a sense of connection and continuation


a. They kept on working.
b. Could you hold on for a minute?
c. I asked him to stop, but he drove on.
d. Some surrendered, but the others fought on.

OUT
Suggests “towards an exterior location” with action verbs as in
a. Throw him out!
b. We were lucky to get out alive.
c. Are you coming out tonight?

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At a more abstract level, it suggests “removal from interior space / from being unknown and hidden /from
group or enclosure / from obligation
a. We found out the facts
b. The facts came out
c. They picked out the best ones,
d. He washed the dirt out
e. He backed out of the agreement.

In multi-word verbs there is also the sense of “change of state”, often the beginning /end of a new
state,
a. We started out early in the morning.
b. They set out much later.
c. He suddenly broke out in a rash.
d. The fire went out.
e. One punch knocked him out.
f. We finally figured out the solution.

AWAY
The basic sense is of “disconnected location”
a. The girl stayed, but the boy ran away.
b. Someone took the boxes away.
c. We chased him, but he got away.

In MWVs, the sense of 'disconnection' extends to mean “unrestrained” or “without control or direction”
a. The baby was babbling away.
b. He was carried away by the music.
c. The soldiers were firing away all night.
d. The fool was throwing away all his money.

15. Summary Box - The meanings of particles

Particles Conceptual meanings


up increase, completion
down decrease, completion
off disconnection, completion
on connection, continuation
out removal, change of state
away disconnection, unrestrained action

Examples & explanations for 14 & 15 adapted from George Yule, Explaining English Grammar, Cambridge
University Press, Cambridge, 1998.