The Writer’s Toolbox – Bits and Pieces

Parts of Speech: Prepositions and Objects

Sometimes understanding a grammatical rule requires knowledge of terms you haven’t seen since fourth grade. If You’re shaky on your grammar basics and want to refresh yourself, the occasional “Bits and Pieces” segments in the Toolbox will help jog your memory and make you comfortable with the terms you’ll need to understand some of the more complicated grammar and usage questions. This week we’ll take a brief look at prepositions and objects.

Prepositions and objects
Prepositions establish relationships between words, specifically between a noun or pronoun (which is called the object of the preposition) and another word in the sentence.

Example A: Sarah sat on the chair. The preposition on shows the relationship between the noun object chair and the verb sat.

Example B: Against my advice, she signed the contract. The preposition against shows the relationship between the noun object advice and the verb signed.

Example C: I am asking very little of you. The preposition of shows the relationship between the pronoun object you and the verb asking.

The object rule
Prepositions always, always have an object. This is an important rule because some words can be used as both prepositions and other parts of speech, such as adverbs. The key to remember is this: if the word you may think is a preposition does not have an object, it is not being used as a preposition. Ask the question What? or Whom? after the preposition; if you can’t answer it, there is no object, and the word is not functioning as a preposition.

Example D: I gave those papers to you yesterday. To whom? To you. The word to has an object, so it is being used as a preposition..

Example E: Jason climbed over the pile of dirty socks. Over what? The dirty socks. The word over has an object, so it is being used as a preposition.

Example F: This session is now over. Over what? You can’t answer the question, so there is no object. Therefore over is not being used as a preposition (here, It’s an adverb).

Prepositions and infinitives
One note, however: the word to is often paired with a verb in its infinitive form (to go, to make, to study). Even if you can ask and answer the question What?, the infinitive form of a verb does not use to as a preposition.

Example G: I really need to go to the store. Here, the first to is used as part of the infinitive form of the verb to go; the second appears as a preposition in to the store.

So far, so good. Next week we’ll look a little more closely at prepositions, and discuss prepositional phrases and how they function in a sentence. Then, later this month, we’ll answer this burning question: whether you can end a sentence with a preposition.

Christina M. Frey is a book editor and a lover of great writing. Chat with her on Twitter about all things literary @turntopage2. Or visit her website.