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Contributors:Chris Berry, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli.
Summary:

This section deals with prepositions and their standard uses.

Prepositions for Time, Place, and Introducing Objects

One point in time

On is used with days:

At is used with noon, night, midnight, and with the time of day:

In is used with other parts of the day, with months, with years, with seasons:

Extended time

To express extended time, English uses the following prepositions: since, for, by, from—to, from-until, during,(with)in

Place

To express notions of place, English uses the following prepositions: to talk about the point itself: in, to express something contained: inside, to talk about the surface: on, to talk about a general vicinity, at.

Higher than a point

To express notions of an object being higher than a point, English uses the following prepositions: over, above.

Lower than a point

To express notions of an object being lower than a point, English uses the following prepositions: under, underneath, beneath, below.

Close to a point

To express notions of an object being close to a point, English uses the following prepositions: near, by, next to, between, among, opposite.

To introduce objects of verbs

English uses the following prepositions to introduce objects of the following verbs.

At: glance, laugh, look, rejoice, smile, stare

Of: approve, consist, smell

Of (or about): dream, think

For: call, hope, look, wait, watch, wish

Contributors:Chris Berry, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli.
Summary:

This section deals with prepositions and their standard uses.

Prepositions of Direction: To, On (to), In (to)

Graphics for this handout were developed by Jordan Golembeski.

This handout explains prepositions that express movement toward something: to, onto, and into. First, the prepositions will be introduced as a group. Then, the special uses of each one will be discussed.

To, into, and onto correspond respectively to the prepositions of location at, in, and on. Each pair can be defined by the same spatial relations of point, line/surface, or area/volume. To learn more about the spatial relationships expressed by these pairs of prepositions, read the first section of "Prepositions of Location: At, On, and In" before you start reading this handout.

Introduction

The basic preposition of a direction is "to."

TO: signifies orientation toward a goal

When the goal is physical, such as a destination, "to" implies movement in the direction of the goal.

This image shows earth in a view from space. The Empire State building (New York) is on one side, and the Eiffel Tower (Paris) is on the other. A plane can be seen flying from the Empire State building to the Eiffel Tower.

Image Caption: We flew from New York to Paris. (OR) We flew to Paris.

When the goal is not a physical place, for instance, an action, "to" marks a verb; it is attached as an infinitive and expresses purpose. The preposition may occur alone or in the phrase in order. The two uses can also occur together in a single sentence:

We flew from New York to Paris to see our father.

The other two prepositions of direction are compounds formed by adding "to" to the corresponding prepositions of location.

The preposition of location determines the meaning of the preposition of direction.

ON + TO = onto: signifies movement toward a surface

IN + TO = into: signifies movement toward the interior of a volume

("To" is part of the directional preposition toward, and the two mean about the same thing.)

This image is of a pond. A frog makes a splash as it jumps out of the water onto a lilly pad.

Image Caption: The frog jumped onto the lilypad.

This image shows a glass sitting on a table and milk is being poured into it.

Image Caption: The milk went into the glass.

With many verbs of motion, "on" and "in" have a directional meaning and can be used along with "onto" and "into."

This is why "to" is inside parentheses in the title of the handout, showing that it is somewhat optional with the compound prepositions. Thus, the following sentences are roughly synonymous:

This image shows a crumpled ball of paper being thrown into a waste basket. There are several balls of paper scattered on the ground from previous failed attempts.

Image Caption: The paper went into the garbage can.

This image is of a beach scene. A crab is being washed onto the beach shore.

Image Caption: The crab washed up onto the shore.

To the extent that these pairs do differ, the compound preposition conveys the completion of an action, while the simple preposition points to the position of the subject as a result of that action. This distinction helps us understand how directional and locational prepositions are related: they stand in the relationship of cause and effect.

The paper went into the garbage can.

Position of subject: the paper is in the garbage can.

The crab washed up onto the shore.

Position of subject: the crab is on the shore.

See the sections below for some exceptions to this rule.

Uses of "To"

"To" occurs with several classes of verbs.

Verb + to + infinitive

Verbs in this group express willingness, desire, intention, or obligation.

Willingness: be willing, consent, refuse

Desire: desire, want, wish, like, ask, request, prefer

Intention: intend, plan, prepare

Obligation: be obligated, have, need

Examples:

I refuse to allow you to intimidate me with your threats.

I'd like to ask her how long she's been skiing.

I plan to graduate this summer.

Henry had to pay his tuition at the Bursar's office.

In other cases, "to" is used as an ordinary preposition.

Verbs of communication: listen, speak (but not tell), relate, appeal (in the sense of 'plead,' not 'be attractive')

Verbs of movement: move, go, transfer, walk/run/swim/ride/drive/ fly, travel

Except for transfer, all the verbs in listed here can take toward as well as to. However, "to" suggests movement toward a specific destination, while "toward" suggests movement in a general direction, without necessarily arriving at a destination:

This image shows a plane flying toward a storm cloud. It is raining and lightning is striking.

Image Caption: The plane was headed toward a storm cloud.

Additional examples:

The plane was headed toward a storm cloud.
(It was headed in the direction of a storm cloud; it may not have reached or flown through the cloud.)
This image shows a golf ball rolling towards the hole of the putting green.

Image Caption: The golf ball rolled toward the hole.

Drive toward the city limits and turn north.
(Drive in the direction of the city limits; turnoff may be before arriving there.)
Take me to the airport, please.
(I actually want to arrive at the airport.)

Uses of "Onto"

"Onto" can generally be replaced by "on" with verbs of motion.

This image shows a hat on a man's head.

Image Caption: The hat went on(to) his head.

Dietrich jumped on(to) the mat.

Huan fell on(to) the floor.

Athena climbed on(to) the back of the truck.

Some verbs of motion express the idea that the subject causes itself or some physical object to be situated in a certain place (compare the three example directly above).

Of these verbs, some take only "on." Others take both "on" and "onto," with the latter being preferred by some speakers.

This image shows socks on a person's feet.

Image Caption: He put the socks on his feet.

The plane landed on the runway. (not "onto" the runway)

Sam hung the decoration on the Christmas tree. (not "onto" the tree)

He placed the package on the table. (not "onto" the table)

Joanna spilled her Coke on the rug. (not "onto" the rug)

Samir moved the chair on(to) the deck.

The crane lowered the roof on(to) the house.

The baby threw the pot on(to) the floor.

Verbs taking only "on" are rare: "set" may be another one, and so perhaps is "put." Other verbs taking both prepositions are "raise," "scatter" (when it takes a direct object), "pour," and "add."

The farmer scattered seed on(to) the fertile ground.
We're adding on a wing at the back of the building.
We're adding a porch onto the house.

In "We're adding on a wing at the back of the building," "on" is really part of the verb, while in "We're adding a porch onto the house," "onto" is a simple preposition. This contrast points to a fairly important and general rule:

Simple prepositions can combine with verbs, but compound prepositions cannot.

Note also that in "The farmer scattered seed on(to) the fertile ground", the word "on" has its ordinary meaning of a position on a surface, but in this case the surface is vertical rather than horizontal— the side of a building.

There are a number of verb-preposition combinations that are similar to "add on" but have the meaning "of continuing or resuming an action" when used in the imperative mood.

Except for "hang," which takes both "on" and "onto," the following verbs all occur only with "on." The meanings of these combinations, some of which are idiomatic, are given in parentheses. Not all of them have the force of a command.

This image is a picture of a car driving up and down hills to a city in the distance.

Image Caption: Drive on! (Or, Keep driving toward the city).

Uses of "Into"

With verbs of motion, "into" and "in" are interchangeable except when the preposition is the last word or occurs directly before an adverbial of time, manner, or frequency.

In this case, only "in" (or "inside") can be used.

This image shows a dog lying in his doghouse.

Image Caption: Spike is lying in his house. (Not into.)

The patient went into the doctor's office. The patient went in. (not "into")

Our new neighbors moved into the house next door yesterday. ("to take up residence in a new home'")

Our new neighbors moved in yesterday.

In "Our new neighbors move in yesterday," the last word is the time adverbial yesterday, so the object of the preposition in can be omitted. Of course, in an information question, "into" also can be last word except for an adverbial when its object is questioned by a wh- word:

Now what kind of trouble has she gotten herself into?

Now what sort of trouble is she in?

Verbs expressing stationary position take only "on" or "in" with the ordinary meanings of those prepositions.

If a verb allows the object of the preposition to be omitted, the construction may have an idiomatic meaning.

The cat sat on the mat.

The doctor is in his office.

The doctor is in. ('available for consultation')

"In(to)" has two special uses with "move."

When "move in" is followed by a purpose clause, it has the sense of "approach."

The lion moved in for the kill.

The police moved in to rescue the hostages inside the building.

In "The lion moved in for the kill" and "The Police moved in to rescue the hostages inside the building," "in" is part of the verb, so "into" cannot be used. We cannot say: "The lion moved into for the kill."

When "into" is used with move, it functions as an ordinary preposition to convey the idea of moving something from one place to another.

We'll move your brother's old bed into your room.
A man is jumping into the pool.

Image Caption: A man is jumping into the pool.

The man is now in the pool in the second picture. His head is sticking out of the water; the rest of his body is submerged.

Image Caption: The man is in the pool.

The person is placing groceries into the shopping bag.   Boxes, cans, and fruits surround the bag and are being placed inside.

Image Caption: The person is placing groceries into the shopping bag.

All of the groceries have now been placed inside of the bag.

Image Caption: The person has completed putting groceries in the bag.

Contributors:Chris Berry, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli.
Summary:

This section deals with prepositions and their standard uses.

Prepositions of Location: At, In, On

Graphics for this handout were developed by Michelle Hansard.

Prepositions expressing spatial relations are of two kinds: prepositions of location and prepositions of direction. Both kinds may be either positive or negative. Prepositions of location appear with verbs describing states or conditions, especially be; prepositions of direction appear with verbs of motion. This handout deals with positive prepositions of location that sometimes cause difficulty: at, on, and in.

The handout is divided into two sections. The first explains the spatial relationships expressed by the three prepositions. The second examines more closely the uses of in and on.

Dimensions and Prepositions

Prepositions differ according to the number of dimensions they refer to. We can group them into three classes using concepts from geometry: point, surface, and area or volume.

Point

Prepositions in this group indicate that the noun that follows them is treated as a point in relation to which another object is positioned.

Surface

Prepositions in this group indicate that the position of an object is defined with respect to a surface on which it rests.

Area/Volume

Prepositions in this group indicate that an object lies within the boundaries of an area or within the confines of a volume.

Notice that although in geometry surface and area go together because both are two-dimensional, in grammar area and volume go together because the same prepositions are used for both.

In light of these descriptions, at, on, and in can be classified as follows:

at .... point

at ... point

on .... surface

on ... surface

in ... area/volume

in ... area/volume

The meanings of the three prepositions can be illustrated with some sample sentences:

1) My car is at the house.
My car is at the house.
2) There is a new roof on the house.
There is a new roof on the house.
3) The house is in Tippecanoe county.
The house is in Tippecanoe county.
4) There are five rooms in the house, which has a lovely fireplace in the living room.
There are five rooms in the house, which has a lovely fireplace in the living room.There are five room in the house, which has a lovely fireplace in the living room.

All of these sentences answer a question of the form, "Where is _______?" but each gives different information. Before going on, explain to yourself the spatial relations shown in each sentence.

1) locates a car in relation to a house, understood as a fixed point.

2) treats the house as a surface upon which another object, the roof, is placed.

3) locates the house within a geographical area.

4) treats the house as a three-dimensional structure that can be divided into smaller volumes, namely, rooms, inside one of which is an object, the fireplace.

Using "At"

At calls for further comment. Because it is the least specific of the prepositions in its spatial orientation, it has a great variety of uses. Here are some of them:

Location

5a) Tom is waiting for his sister at the bank.
Tom is waiting for his sister at the bank.
5b) Sue spent the whole afternoon at the fair.
Sue spent the whole afternoon at the fair.

Destination

6a) We arrived at the house.
We arrived at the house.
6b) The waiter was at our table immediately.
The waiter was at our table immediately.

Direction

7a) The policeman leaped at the assailant.
The policeman leaped at the assailant.
7b) The dog jumped at my face and really scared me.
The dog jumped at my face and really scared me.

In 5a), the bank can be understood as a point defining Tom's location, much as in 1) above. It makes less sense to think of a fair as a point in 5b) since fairs are usually spread out over a fairly large area. Probably at is used in this case just because it is the least specific preposition; it defines Sue's location with respect to the fair rather than some other place.

In 6a), at exhibits its cause/effect relationship with to, which cannot be used here: arrival at a place is the result of going to it. For more on this relationship, see the handout Prepositions of Direction: To, (On)to, (In)to.

7a) and 7b) show that with certain verbs of motion at may be used with the same meaning as its directional counterpart to, that is, direction toward something.

Choosing Between "In" and "On"

Nouns denoting enclosed spaces, such as a field or a window, take both on and in. The prepositions have their normal meanings with these nouns: on is used when the space is considered as a surface, in when the space is presented as an area:

Three players are practicing on the field. (surface)
Three players are practicing on the field. (surface)

 

Three cows are grazing in the field. (area)
Three cows are grazing in the field. (area)
The frost made patterns on the window. (surface)
The frost made patterns on the window. (surface)
A face appeared in the window. (area)
A face appeared in the window. (area)

Notice that in implies that the field is enclosed, whereas on implies only that the following noun denotes a surface and not necessarily an enclosed area:

The sheep are grazing in the pasture. (enclosed by a fence)
The sheep are grazing in the pasture. (enclosed by a fence)
The cattle are grazing on the open range. (not enclosed by a fence)
The cattle are grazing on the open range. (not enclosed by a fence)
Three players are on the basketball court. (not enclosed)
Three players are on the basketball court. (not enclosed)
Two boxers are in the ring. (enclosed by ropes)
Two boxers are in the ring. (enclosed by ropes)

When the area has metaphorical instead of actual boundaries, such as when field means "academic discipline," in is used:

She is a leading researcher in the bioengineering field.

Several common uses of in and on occur with street. The first two follow the general pattern of in and on usage. The third is an idiom that must be learned as a unit.

 

a) The children are playing in the street.
The children are playing in the street.
b) Our house is on Third Street.
Our house is on Third Street.
c) He declared bankruptcy last week, and now he's out on the street.
(This is an idiom meaning that he's poor.)

In a), the street is understood as an area enclosed by the sidewalks on either side. Compare b) with the discussion of sentence 3) in the first section. Here, on locates the house on either side of Third Street; it doesn't mean that the street is a surface on which the house sits. Because the street is understood as a line next to which the house is situated, on functions much like at in its normal use; in other words, it locates the house in relation to the street but does not specify the exact address. For that purpose, at is used because the address is like a particular point on the line. Compare: "Our house is at 323 Third Street." In c), out on the street is an idiom meaning "poor" or "destitute."

In and on are also used with means of transportation: in is used with a car, on with public or commercial means of transportation:

in the car
on the bus
on the plane
on the train
on the ship

Some speakers of English make a further distinction for public modes of transportation, using in when the carrier is stationary and on when it is in motion.

My wife stayed in/on the bus while I got out at the rest stop.
The passengers sat in/on the plane awaiting takeoff.
Contributors:Chris Berry, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli.
Summary:

This section deals with prepositions and their standard uses.

Prepositions of Spatial Relationship

Above

Write your name above the line.

Write your name above the line.

Across

Draw a line across the page.

Draw a line across the page.

Against

She leans against the tree.

She leans against the tree.

Ahead of

The girl is ahead of the boy.

The girl is ahead of the boy.

Along

There is lace along the edge of the cloth.

There is lace along the edge of the cloth.

Among

He is among the trees.

He is among the trees.

Around

Draw a circle around the answer.

Draw a circle around the answer.

Behind

The boy is behind the girl.

The boy is behind the girl.

Below

Write your name below the line.

Write your name below the line.

Beneath

He sat beneath the tree.

He sat beneath the tree.

Beside

The girl is standing beside the boy.

The girl is standing beside the boy.

Between

She is between two trees.

She is between two trees.

From

He came from the house.

He came from the house.

In front of

The girl is in front of the boy.

The girl is in front of the boy.

Inside

He is inside the house.

He is inside the hourse.

Near

There is a tree near the house.

There is a tree near the house.

Off

His hat is off.

His hat is off.

Out of

He came out of the house.

He came out of the house.

Through

She went through the door.

She went through the door.

Toward

She is walking toward the house

She is walking toward the house.

Under

He is hiding under the table

He is hiding under the table.

Within

Please mark only within the circle.

Please mark only within the circle.