What Are the Different Types of Preposition?

G. Wiesen

Different types of preposition are frequently categorized based on the information they provide or on their structure. In terms of information, there are three major types: time, which relays information about when something happens; place, which is used to show where something is; and direction that indicates where something is going or happening. There are other kinds such as manner, which provides information about how something happened, and prepositions that indicate what caused an event. Some kinds of preposition are based on the number of words used to make it; simple ones are only a single word, while compound are two or three words in length.

A dictionary, a thesaurus, and a book on English usage.
A dictionary, a thesaurus, and a book on English usage.

There are three basic types of preposition most commonly used in the English language. Those indicative of time include "by," "on," and "at" and are used with dates and times. For example, the sentence "I met him on Wednesday," uses the preposition "on" to indicate the date the meeting occurred. Specific times can also be indicated in this way, such as "The movie starts at noon."

"Than" can be used as a preposition to show a relationship.
"Than" can be used as a preposition to show a relationship.

Other types of preposition are used to indicate the place of an object or event. For example, in the sentence "My keys are on the table," the word "on" is being used to show "place," even though it previously indicated time. Many words can be used as different kinds of preposition, depending on the context of the sentence. Other ones that indicate place include "in" and "under."

There are also common prepositions that provide information about direction. In the sentence, "I went to the store," the word "to" is used in this way. Common words that indicate direction include "toward" and "into," which frequently provide information about where something is going or heading.

Still other kinds of preposition include ones that indicate manner and cause. The manner or way in which something happens is provided in a sentence like "We traveled here by helicopter," in which "by" shows the way in which the traveling was done. Cause is also frequently illustrated through the preposition "by," such as in "He was hit by the ball," or "This poem was written by my teacher."

There are also different types of preposition based on the structure in which it is formed. Single words are referred to as simple, and the previous examples were all of this type. Compound prepositions are formed by two or three words that are used together as a single idea. For example, the phrase "on top of" is a compound preposition of place that can be used in much the same way as "on."

"By" is a preposition in the sentence, "We traveled by helicopter."
"By" is a preposition in the sentence, "We traveled by helicopter."

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


I never really thought about all the different types of prepositions. I do know that there are just about too many different prepositions to memorize!

In elementary school, I had to memorize a list of them, and it was broken down alphabetically to make this easier. We would memorize them in sets of three, so we had a rhythm going when reciting them.

I don't usually think about their purpose, though. They just come to me naturally, so whatever sounds most logical in a sentence is what I use.


@shell4life – I know what you mean. Yes, if you are writing dialogue, then you should probably stick to how the character would most likely word something. However, if you are writing essays or articles for publication, then there are always ways to reword things so that they adhere to grammatical rules.

So, “That's what I'm talking about,” could become, “I'm referring to that.” “The dog is what she is scared of,” could be, “She is scared of the dog.” And, most obviously, “Turn the television on,” could be, “Turn on the television.”


Does anyone else here have trouble with avoiding the use of prepositions at the end of sentences? Sometimes, it just seems that ending one with a preposition makes more sense than rearranging the words.

Examples are sentences like, “That's what I'm talking about,” “The dog is what she is scared of,” and, “Turn the television on.” I'm sure if I were writing a fancy essay, I would need to word things more formally and rearrange my words, but if I am writing something that includes dialogue or is really informal, sometimes I just need to end my sentences with prepositions.


I didn't know that compound prepositions existed. I thought that the phrase “on top of” would just be one prepositional phrase followed by another one, instead of a combination.

It seems like “on top” would qualify as one prepositional phrase, and “of (insert object here) would be another. I suppose it's just a difference in terminology. After all, “compound” means two merged into one, so it's all in how you look at it.

Post your comments
Forgot password?