Preposition Types: Complex Prepositions, Deverbal Prepositions, and More
Updated: Apr 16
What is a Preposition?
Prepositions are primarily used to give spatial meaning to another word or a phrase. There are many prepositions in the English language. Some common ones are about, after, behind, below, down, for, from, of, on, through, to, and with.
The spatial meaning provided by a preposition can be literal (e.g., “I walked through the forest”) or figurative (e.g., “I have been put through hell this week.”) Also, some prepositions give non-spatial meaning (e.g., “I can do that for you”) or temporal meaning (e.g., “I will be there by 2 o’clock.”)
Transitive and Intransitive Prepositions
Prepositions can be divided into two main types: transitive prepositions and intransitive prepositions.
Transitive prepositions are prepositions that require a complement to make a complete phrase. An example is provided below.
He walked into the room.
Notice how “He walked into” is not a complete sentence. Into needs the complement, the room, to make a full phrase. Thus, it is classified as a transitive preposition.
Intransitive prepositions can stand on their own as a full prepositional phrase. An example of this kind of preposition is given below.
We should go out to the movies tonight.
If the sentence were to stop immediately after the preposition (“We should go out“), the result is a complete sentence. Therefore, out is an intransitive preposition in this example.
Other Kinds of Prepositions
Prepositions can be subdivided further into the following groups:
Regular prepositions are transitive prepositions that take either a noun phrase, an adjective phrase, an adverb phrase, or another prepositional phrase as a complement.
I locked my keys in my car.
Conjunctive prepositions are transitive prepositions which, instead of taking any kind of phrase as a complement, take an entire independent clause as a complement.
All of that happened after I left the party.
Differentiating between a regular preposition and a conjunctive preposition is easy. Look at the words that come after the preposition. If they do not make a full sentence when isolated from the rest of the sentence, the preposition is a regular preposition. If the words following a preposition do make a full sentence when isolated, the preposition is a conjunctive preposition.
Using the examples above, we can see that in is indeed a regular preposition in the example because “my car” is not a full sentence. Meanwhile, after is used as a conjunctive preposition in the other example above because “I left the party” is a full sentence.
Complex prepositions are transitive prepositions that consist of two or more words. They can be either regular prepositions or conjunctive prepositions.
Have we run out of mustard?”
Postpositions are prepositions that come after a complement rather than before it.
My best friend lives just two houses over.
Deverbal prepositions are prepositions that are found in either the -ing or -ed form of a verb.
All students, excluding those who did not bring a signed permission slip, must be present at 8:30 a.m. to board the bus.
Aarts, B. (2011). Oxford modern English grammar. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.