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Prepositions of Place‏‎ in English Grammar

Where are you?

Prepositions of Place are used to describe where something or someone is…

Words like:

in, on, at, by, behind, over…

and so on.

Most Common Prepositions of Place

The 3 most commonly used prepositions of place are at, in and on.

For ESL students prepositions of place (in fact, all prepositions) can be awkward to learn because there are no definite patterns or rules telling them which preposition to use under which circumstances. However, as a very general rule, we can use these 3 prepositions thus:

AT is used in relation to a specific place:

I’ll meet you at the cinema.
The car ran out of gas at the intersection.

IN is used in relation to enclosed spaces:

The keys are in my pocket.
Put them in the drawer.

ON is used in relation to surfaces:

Don’t put your feet on the sofa.
I left the paper on the table.

Having said that, there are plenty of exceptions to these vague rules!

The Specifics of Prepositions of Place

This is a list of all other prepositions of place and how they’re used.

Preposition Meaning Examples
above higher than There’s a spider dangling above your head!
across from one side to the other The chicken walked across the road.
after following I ran after the thief but he got away.
against touching; alongside She came up against a problem.
along from one point to another following a line We drove along the highway.
alongside at the side of The police drove up alongside our truck.
surrounded by; in the middle of She sat among the flowers and wept.
around surrounded by; encircling He put his arms around her.
behind at the back of something The boss was standing behind me while I was complaining about him.
below lower than There was a fifty meter drop below me!
beside next to Come and stand beside me when I accept the award.
between in the middle of two or more I was stuck between a fire truck and a tractor!
by next to somebody or something Stand by my side.
close to near to She stood close to the door so she could get away early.
down moving from higher to lower They tripped and fell down the stairs.
from showing where something/someone starts They left from London early this morning.
in front of opposite of behind; further forward but close She stood in front of the fire to get warm.
inside be on the inner part of something or someone It’s cold outside, come inside out the snow!
into move inside They came into the room laughing.
near in close proximity to We stood close together to keep warm.
next to immediately adjacent to Number 7 stands next to number 9 on this street.
off move away from Get off me!
onto move on something The cat climbed onto the table.
opposite on the other side, often facing the other direction She stood on the opposite side of the room and smiled at me.
out of leaving from inside I took the cake out of the box.
outside externally; opposite of inside We stood outside his house and rang the bell.
over covering something/someone or above The ball flew over my head and only just missed me!
past on or to the other side I walked past the church but didn’t go in.
round move in a circular movement The dog walked round and round the garden.
through from one side to the other, inside He climbed in through the open window.
towards in the direction of Go towards the shops and turn left at the church.
under below or beneath She stood under the tree to keep out the rain.
up towards a higher place The rocket went up and out of sight.

Prepositions of Place & TEFL

There are, as you can see, a fair number of prepositions of place so it’s not useful to teach them all in one go. Especially as there are plenty of exceptions to the general rules above.

In class deal with just a couple at a time as they arise. Since prepositions of place are very physical, you can use plenty of diagrams and drawings and, of course, play games with the location of articles in the room itself.

Useful Links

Prepositions‏‎ in English Grammar – a general look at different prepositions in English

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