Prepositions show relationships of time, place, direction, and manner.
Think of prepositions as overly territorial boyfriends or girlfriends—you know the kind. A preposition is the big dude that keeps his arm securely around his girlfriend's waist at all times. Or the girl who insists on calling her S.O. "Pookieboo" or "Babyrabbitface" or "HoneyBunchesOfOats" in front of everyone. Loudly. All the time. She might as well have a megaphone and be announcing "Relationship here. Hey. Relationship in progress over here!" Barf.
Translation: prepositions are used to show a noun's or pronoun's relationship to the rest of the sentence. And much like poor Mr. or Ms. Pookieboo Babyrabbitface, a noun or pronoun is an object. The object of the preposition.
Prepositions come in two forms:
But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
Where do the prepositions go?
Well, unless you're asking a question, prepositions usually come before their object. But, when asking a question, the prepositions sometimes come after their objects.
The preposition, its object, and the object's modifiers join forces to create the all-powerful prepositional phrase.
Let's look at a quick example:
"Derek Rose nursed a sore knee throughout the third and fourth quarters of last night's game."
In this example, which hits a little too close to home for Chicago Bulls fans, throughout and of are both prepositions. Each starts its own prepositional phrase: (1) throughout the third and fourth quarters; and (2) of last night's game. These two phrases both relate the object of the prepositions—Rose's wonky knee—to the rest of the sentence, by telling the reader when he was dealing with his injury.
Prepositions Are Hard
You get prepositions in pretty much every language. Regardless of what language you speak, people will always need some way of saying that something is under the table, to the left, at 1:00PM, or around the corner. The tricky thing is remembering which prepositions are used for what in the language you're learning.
What the Shmoop does that mean?
Well, take at for example. The preposition at in English can be used in the following contexts:
"He threw the badger at his face." (direction)
"She waited at home." (location)
"The pajama party starts at 7:00PM." (specific time)
"We prefer to party at night." (general time)
And those are just the more common uses. In Spanish, at can be translated as three different words. Observe:
"Aventó el tejón a su cara."
"Esperaba con paciencia en la casa."
"La fiesta empieza a las 7:00PM."
"Preferimos festejarnos por la tarde."
That's Spanish, ladies and gentlemen: one of the easiest languages to learn if you're a native English speaker. If that doesn't want to make you run over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house, we don't know what will.