Prepositions of Place‏‎ in English Grammar

Parts Of Speech

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.

abovehigher thanThere’s a spider dangling above your head!
acrossfrom one side to the otherThe chicken walked across the road.
afterfollowingI ran after the thief but he got away.
againsttouching; alongsideShe came up against a problem.
alongfrom one point to another following a lineWe drove along the highway.
alongsideat the side ofThe police drove up alongside our truck.
surrounded by; in the middle ofShe sat among the flowers and wept.
aroundsurrounded by; encirclingHe put his arms around her.
behindat the back of somethingThe boss was standing behind me while I was complaining about him.
belowlower thanThere was a fifty meter drop below me!
besidenext toCome and stand beside me when I accept the award.
betweenin the middle of two or moreI was stuck between a fire truck and a tractor!
bynext to somebody or somethingStand by my side.
close tonear toShe stood close to the door so she could get away early.
downmoving from higher to lowerThey tripped and fell down the stairs.
fromshowing where something/someone startsThey left from London early this morning.
in front ofopposite of behind; further forward but closeShe stood in front of the fire to get warm.
insidebe on the inner part of something or someoneIt’s cold outside, come inside out the snow!
intomove insideThey came into the room laughing.
nearin close proximity toWe stood close together to keep warm.
next toimmediately adjacent toNumber 7 stands next to number 9 on this street.
offmove away fromGet off me!
ontomove on somethingThe cat climbed onto the table.
oppositeon the other side, often facing the other directionShe stood on the opposite side of the room and smiled at me.
out ofleaving from insideI took the cake out of the box.
outsideexternally; opposite of insideWe stood outside his house and rang the bell.
overcovering something/someone or aboveThe ball flew over my head and only just missed me!
paston or to the other sideI walked past the church but didn’t go in.
roundmove in a circular movementThe dog walked round and round the garden.
throughfrom one side to the other, insideHe climbed in through the open window.
towardsin the direction ofGo towards the shops and turn left at the church.
underbelow or beneathShe stood under the tree to keep out the rain.
uptowards a higher placeThe 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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