Prepositions - Introduction
In grammar, a preposition is a part of speech that introduces a prepositional phrase. For example, in the sentence "The cat sleeps on the sofa", the word "on" is a preposition, introducing the prepositional phrase "on the sofa". In English, the most used prepositions are "of", "to", "in", "for", "with" and "on". Simply put, a preposition indicates a relation between things mentioned in a sentence.
Linguists sometimes distinguish between a preposition, which precedes its phrase, a postposition, which follows its phrase, and a circumposition, which surrounds its phrase. Taken together, these three parts of speech are called adpositions. In more technical language, an adposition is an element that, prototypically, combines syntactically with a phrase and indicates how that phrase should be interpreted in the surrounding context. Some linguists use the word "preposition" instead of "adposition" for all three cases.
In linguistics, adpositions are considered to be members of the syntactic category "P". "PPs", consisting of an adpositional head and its complement phrase, are used for a wide range of syntactic and semantic functions, most commonly modification and complementation. The following examples illustrate some uses of English prepositional phrases:
This 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: signifies orientation toward a goal
When the goal is physical, such as a destination, "to" implies movement in the direction of the goal.
(1) Sa'id returned to his apartment.
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.
(2) Li Ling washed her dog (in order) to rid it of fleas.
The two uses can also occur together in a single sentence:
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.)
(See the sections below for some exceptions to this rule.) 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:
(4) Tai-shing jumped in/into the pool.
(5) Porfirio fell on/onto the floor.
(6) The crab washed up on/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.
Completion of an Action
Position of Subject
(7) Jean fell on(to) the floor.
Jean is on the floor.
(8) Susumu dived in(to) the water.
Susumu is in the water.
To occurs with several classes of verbs.
Verbs in this group express willingness, desire, intention, or obligation.
(9) I refuse to allow you to intimidate me with your threats.
(10) I'd like to ask her how long she's been skiing.
(11) I plan to graduate this summer.
(12) Henry had to pay his tuition at the Bursar's office.
Except for transfer, all the verbs in (2b) 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:
(13) Drive toward the city limits and turn north.
(Drive in the direction of the city limits; turnoff may be before arriving there.)
(It was headed in the direction of a mountain; it may not have reached or hit the mountain.)
(I actually want to arrive at the airport.)
(16) Dietrich jumped on(to) the mat.
(17) Huan fell on(to) the floor.
Of these verbs, some take only "on". Others take both on and onto, with the latter being preferred by some speakers.
(19) The plane landed on the runway. (not onto the runway)
(20) Sam hung the decoration on the Christmas tree. (not onto the tree)
(21) He placed the package on the table. (not onto the table)
(22) Joanna spilled her Coke on the rug. (not onto the rug)
(23) Samir moved the chair on(to) the deck.
(24) The crane lowered the roof on(to) the house.
(25) 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.
(26) The farmer scattered seed on(to) the fertile ground.
(27) We're adding on a wing at the back of the building.
(28) We're adding a porch onto the house.
In (27), on is really part of the verb, while in (28) 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 (27), 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. The use of "onto" in (28) is like its use in (24) and (25) above.
(Not all of them have the force of a command.) Except for hang, which takes both on and onto, they all occur only with on. The meanings of these combinations, some of which are idiomatic, are given in parentheses.
Hang on(to the rope)! ('continue to grasp tightly')
carry on ('resume what you were doing')
sail on ('resume or continue sailing')
dream on ('continue dreaming'; a humorous way of saying 'that is an unattainable goal')
lead on ('resume or continue leading us')
rock on ('continue playing rock music')
In this case only in (or inside) can be used.
(29) The patient went into the doctor's office.
(30) The patient went in. (not into)
(31) Our new neighbors moved into the house next door yesterday. ('to take up residence in a new home')
(32) Our new neighbors moved in yesterday.
In (32), the last word is the time adverbial yesterday, so the object of the preposition in (32) 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:
(34) Now what kind of trouble has she gotten herself into?
(35) Now what sort of trouble is she in?
If a verb allows the object of the preposition to be omitted, the construction may have an idiomatic meaning.
(36) The cat sat on the mat.
(37) The doctor is in his office.
(38) The doctor is in. ('available for consultation')
In(to) has two special uses with move.
(39) The lion moved in for the kill.
(40) The police moved in to rescue the hostages inside the building.
In (39) and (40) "in" is part of the verb, so "into" cannot be used; We cannot say: "The lion moved into for the kill."
(41) We'll move your brother's old bed into your room.
This use of "into" is like the use of onto illustrated in (24)-(27) and (29).