Intensive Purposes: Prepositions (Part I)

writing editing essay

“You shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition.”

How many times have you heard that before? Ok, now answer honestly, how many times have you scratched your head in response, thinking What in the world does that even mean?

It’s a commonly quoted rule in the English language that prepositions are taboo. But before you can understand what it means to not end a sentence with a preposition, you first have to understand what a preposition is.

preposition: a word governing, and usually preceding, a noun or pronoun and expressing a relation to another word or element in the clause (Google)

If you made it past that technical garble, you’re probably feeling even more frustrated. Let’s focus in, however, on the phrase “relation to”; a preposition is simply a word that describes a relation to another thing. I remember it by the following: when I was a kid I had a matching game that showed a little lamb flying an airplane in various ways. Really sophisticated, I know. He would fly his plane through the clouds, above the clouds, between the clouds, under the clouds, around the clouds, and so on and so forth. I’ve had students tell me in the past that they use a similar method to identify prepositions by thinking about all of the different ways you can traverse a mountain. Those relationship words? Those are prepositions.

Chocolate Frog
The chocolate frog is in the box. For now.
There are certainly more complicated prepositions, or ones that don’t fit the “mountain” rule (I’ve tried imagining ‘until’ a mountain, but with no luck), but it’s a good place to start if you find yourself having difficulty remembering all of the different prepositions. Wikipedia (gasp!) has a pretty solid list of prepositions as well. With time, you’ll start to recognize the most common prepositions, like ‘with’, ‘of’, and ‘by’ and maybe even start noticing when they creep up in your own writing!

Tune in next time to find out how to avoid ending sentences with prepositions, and whether or not it’s a rule worth following!

A play on the misquoted phrase “for all intents and purposes”, Intensive Purposes tackles one grammar rule or English language tip — from proper punctuation to misused phrases — in an easy-to-understand mini-lesson. 

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  • sarah e

    I love your mini grammar lessons, they make me feel like I’m back in school! “Until a mountain” – I hadn’t tried that before but I feel like there is something vaguely poetic about it. :)

    • / Kristin

      Thank you! I’m glad you enjoy them :)

      Until a mountain does sound pretty poetic!