• Pay attention to prepositions such as the following: to, with, by, for, in, and on.

    These words have different meanings. Often, an incorrect preposition reads well, and the reader understands the writer's intent. Due to this, errors with prepositions may be difficult to recognize. Most sentence problems with prepositions are coded "medium" or "difficult."

    Below, please find an overview for the correct use of prepositional phrases provided by Purdue University's English Department, followed by a series of problems involving prepositions taken from released SAT/PSAT's.

    The following analysis of prepositions is taken from Purdue University's English Department: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/594/01/


    Prepositions for Time, Place, and Introducing Objects

    One point in time

    On is used with days:

    • I will see you on Monday.
    • The week begins on Sunday.

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

    • My plane leaves at noon.
    • The movie starts at 6 p.m.

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

    • He likes to read in the afternoon.
    • The days are long in August.
    • The book was published in 1999.
    • The flowers will bloom in spring.

    Extended time

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

    • She has been gone since yesterday. (She left yesterday and has not returned.)
    • I'm going to Paris for two weeks. (I will spend two weeks there.)
    • The movie showed from August to October. (Beginning in August and ending in October.)
    • The decorations were up from spring until fall. (Beginning in spring and ending in fall.)
    • I watch TV during the evening. (For some period of time in the evening.)
    • We must finish the project within a year. (No longer than a year.)


    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.

    • There is a wasp in the room.
    • Put the present inside the box.
    • I left your keys on the table.
    • She was waiting at the corner.

    Higher than a point

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

    • He threw the ball over the roof.
    • Hang that picture above the couch.

    Lower than a point

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

    • The rabbit burrowed under the ground.
    • The child hid underneath the blanket.
    • We relaxed in the shade beneath the branches.
    • The valley is below sea-level.

    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.

    • She lives near the school.
    • There is an ice cream shop by the store.
    • An oak tree grows next to my house
    • The house is between Elm Street and Maple Street.
    • I found my pen lying among the books.
    • The bathroom is opposite that room.

    To introduce objects of verbs

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

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

    • She took a quick glance at her reflection.
      (exception with mirror: She took a quick glance in the mirror.)
    • You didn't laugh at his joke.
    • I'm looking at the computer monitor.
    • We rejoiced at his safe rescue.
    • That pretty girl smiled at you.
    • Stop staring at me.

    Of: approve, consist, smell

    • I don't approve of his speech.
    • My contribution to the article consists of many pages.
    • He came home smelling of alcohol.

    Of (or about): dream, think

    • I dream of finishing college in four years.
    • Can you think of a number between one and ten?
    • I am thinking about this problem.

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

    • Did someone call for a taxi?
    • He hopes for a raise in salary next year.
    • I'm looking for my keys.
    • We'll wait for her here.
    • You go buy the tickets and I'll watch for the train.
    • If you wish for an "A" in this class, you must work hard.


    Examples taken from various PSAT/SAT's:

    NOTE: There are not many questions involving prepositions, but--when there are--they are usually coded medium or hard.

    Intense preoccupation on technique appears to be the one trait that great pianists have in common.  (with technique, not on technique)

    Quick to take advantage of Melanie Johnson's preoccupation in the history of the Johnson family, the genealogist proposed investigating that history--for a large fee. (preoccupation with, not preoccupation in)

    In the opinion of this lecturer, a background in the history of the Middle Ages is not a condition necessary in the enjoyment of medieval literature. (for the enjoyment, not in the enjoyment)

    Given her strong sense of social justice, Burns vehemently protested over her party's failure to support a tax decrease for senior citizens. (protested about, not protested over)

    The new system, which uses remote cameras in the catching of speeding motorists, may undermine the police department's authority. (to catch, not in the catching of)