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From the

The Great Preposition





A review of prepositions

"The Case of the Record without a Label" :

Chapter One: On the Road

to the Online Materials


Grammar Review for Intermediate/Advanced Students of EFL

 By  Lin Lougheed  

Revised by Shelley Vance Laflin


The Great Preposition Mystery is designed to be used as a review of prepositions in an intermediate/advanced grammar course. The   vocabulary is not graded, and some students may have to use a dictionary more frequently than others.

The student gets practice with prepositions in three ways: by choosing an appropriate preposition in context; by selecting an appropriate preposition in a narrowly defined situation; and by using prepositions in student-generated sentences.

As the students work their way through the mystery story and the exercises in each chapter, they should make fewer and fewer errors. By the time the students solve the mystery, they should have solved the Great Preposition Mystery.

Instructions and Notes to Teacher and Students

1. In every chapter of the mystery story, certain passages contain blanks where prepositions have been deleted. The students should fill in the blank with an appropriate preposition. In some cases, more than one preposition may be correct either because two prepositions have the same meaning (e.g., next to, by) or because there is insufficient context (e.g., He walked along (down) the road.). In some cases, the blank may use more than one word where the appropriate preposition consists of two words (e.g., next to, instead of).

2. In most chapters of the mystery story, certain passages do not contain blanks. In these cases, the students should note all prepositions. However, they should not note words which are particles of two-word verbs or which function as adverbs or conjunctions. Look at the following sentences:

The gasoline tank blew up.

He didn't catch on to the joke.

The teacher kept on talking.

The airplane took off.

The underlined words are particles of two-word verbs and should not be circled as prepositions. Particles of two-word verbs cannot usually be separated from the main verb.

Look at the following sentences:

He fell off the cliff.

She came in the house.

He fell off.

She came in.

He fell off of the cliff.

In the first sentence, the word off functions as a preposition. In the second, the word off functions as an adverb. In the third, off functions as an adverb and of is a preposition. In the fourth sentence, in is a preposition. In the fifth sentence, in is an adverb.

Look at the following sentences:

We started the exam after 9 o'clock.

We started the exam after hearing the bell.

We started the exam after the teacher told us to begin.

Everyone passed the exam but me.

I sat there looking at the exam but not reading it.

I took the exam but (I) didn't pass it.

In the first and second sentences, the word after functions as a preposition. Such words are prepositions when they are followed either by a noun phrase (9 o'clock) or by a gerund (hearing). They function as subordinate conjunctions when followed by a subject + verb (the teacher told). Similarly, the word but functions as a preposition in the fourth and fifth sentences and as a conjunction in the sixth sentence.

3. Answers separated by slash / or given in parentheses are suitable alternatives. Answers separated by a comma, indicate the answers for more than one blank in the item.

A Review of Prepositions

A preposition is used to connect nouns and noun structures to other structures in the sentence. A noun structure following the preposition is called the object of the preposition.

The object of the preposition can be a noun: We gave a present to our secretaries.

a pronoun: We gave a present to them.

a gerund: We thought about giving a present to them.

a noun clause: We thought about giving a present to whoever worked for us.

Placement of Prepositions

The preposition is usually placed before the object. But it may be placed at the end of a sentence in a question: Which country did you go to?

an adjective clause: This map shows the countries which we went to.

a noun clause: We forget which countries we went to.

An adjectival prepositional phrase is placed after the noun it modifies.

The book on the desk is mine.

The dog next door bothers me.

An adverbial prepositional phrase, like any adverb, may be placed anywhere in the sentence. Or it may be placed at the

end: I came at nine o'clock.

middle: He leaves in two hours to visit his friends.

beginning: On Monday, I have my French class.

Types of Prepositions

There are one- and two-word prepositions:

one-word: in, at, over, among

two-word: next to, instead of

There are times when prepositions can be used without objects. At such times, they no longer function as prepositions but become either (1) two-word verbs; (2) adverbs; or (3) conjunctions.

Two-word verbs (verb + particle)

Examples: bring up (raise) find out (discover)

call off (cancel) catch on (understand)

These combinations have idiomatic meanings and therefore are not discussed in this text. Examples, however, will be found in the mystery story.


Example: Did you take the elevator? No, we walked up.


Examples: He came before I did. Please come before the meeting starts.


The Case of the Record without a Label

Chapter One

On the Road

Directions: Read the passage and note the prepositions.

Waiting for Sara

I looked around the apartment where I had spent most of my life. The window was open and sounds from the street mixed with the talk show from the radio that my mother always kept on. It seemed that she had even turned the volume up to get her mind off the fact that I was leaving. She sat in her favorite chair, the one I had had to fix at least twice a year for as long as I remember.

Who would fix it now? I wondered absently. The doorbell rang and my sister entered without waiting for someone to let her in.

"You sure picked a good day for going south," she yelled over her shoulder at me as she put the sack of groceries she was carrying on the table. "Arizona couldn't be any hotter than New York today." Nobody replied. The heat and the occasion had made us quiet. Eleanor continued her monologue. "Where's Sara? When is she coming? She should be here by now. Did she talk to you this morning, Mama?"

The direct question forced Mama to look at my sister. At first she just nodded her head, but then added, "She said she'd be here about now."

"Well, I hope she comes soon. We need some life in this place. You two are carrying on as if it were the end of the world. Look at both of you sitting in your chairs waiting for doomsday." She reached out and put her hand on Mama' s shoulder. "Come on now, Mama. He' s only going to Flagstaff. That' s not far away. You can still talk to him on the phone. And he'll come back here and visit, won't you, Dwight?"

She threw a quick sharp look in my direction. I got up from my chair and came over and sat next to Mama. "Of course I will. You'll be seeing me every holiday." "And weekends he'll call you when the rates go down." She put her hand on my elbow and gave it a squeeze. "Mama, I'll call you even if the rates are up."

"Now don't you go wasting your money like that. You've got to learn to save." The idea of encouraging me toward thrift aroused my mother from her sad state. She had a purpose again: looking after me.

Questions about the Story

1. Where had Dwight spent most of his life?

2. At the beginning of the story where did Dwight's mother sit?

3. How often did Dwight have to fix the chair?

4. Where is Dwight going to work?

5. How will Dwight keep in touch with his mother?

Directions: Read the passage and fill in each blank with an appropriate preposition. (Not all of the prepositions have been deleted.) Some blanks may use more than one word.

Sara Arrives

I have always been well taken care of. Since my father died ___ a heart attack, my two older sisters and my mother have been taking care ___ me, their little boy. When my sisters got married and moved out of the apartment, it was just Mama and I sitting alone ___ night listening ___ the neighbors fight ___ door.

When I finished college and went ___ the Police Academy, Mama was really proud. She thought that I would get a job in the city and be able to stay ___ her. But when recruiters came ___ Arizona, I was offered a job ___ Flagstaff.

"Where is that girl?" Eleanor was looking out the window ___ Sara. "She ought to have been here ___ now." "Give her time. You're always after your sister. Let her alone." Mama got up ___ her chair and moved over to the sink and began putting away the dishes she had washed earlier. "She'll come when she can. She has that new baby ___ home, you know. You can't just up and leave a new baby, you know."

"She can get a babysitter." My sister walked over to my mother to help put the dishes ___ the cabinet. "They make enough money to get a babysitter." "You can't trust just anyone to stay ___ your children. You'll find that out."

Mama returned to her chair and began rearranging the things ___ the table. She avoided looking ___ me. "Dwight, come here and help me. You mother's getting lazy in her old age."

"Nothing lazy  ____me. There's just no need to put those dishes away now. I'll have plenty of time when I'm alone." My mother's lack of humor was matched ___ her capability to produce guilt. It was sad to see an independent woman ___ my mother ___ a dependent image ___ herself.

"Mama, how can you say you're going to be all alone? Why, every child ___ this street is in and out ___ your apartment all day long looking ___ treats ___ your cookie Jar. And ___ the evening you play cards and bingo ___ the ladies on the street. How can you say you're going to be alone. You should be happy that you don't have to pick up ___ this boy here." "Who are you calling 'boy'?" "You think just because you're going off to be a police detective in Arizona that you aren't our little boy. Just don't you forget who looked after you..."

"Stop your picking on him; let him have a little peace his last few minutes here." The teasing was interrupted by Sara's coming ___ the room ___ her little daughter Jeannie asleep ___ her arms. The entrance of the grandchild shifted the focus ___ me ___ her, and my mother immediately took charge of the child's welfare. "Sara, what do you mean ___ dressing that child that ___ light outfit?  Why, she'll catch a draft and get sick in that..." "Mama, she's all right. I'll just put her ___ the bedroom where she can sleep." The child shifted in her mother's arms, but did not wake up.

I followed Sara ___ the bedroom and watched her lay my niece ___ the middle  of the old bed. I knew that the next time I saw my niece she would be walking  and talking. My sister put a lightweight sheet over her and holding her fingers ___ her lips, she motioned ___ me to follow her back ___ the kitchen.

Questions about the Story

1. How did Dwight's father die?

2. Why does Mama think Sara is late?

3. Who will keep Mama company after Dwight leaves?

4. How was Sara's daughter dressed?

5. What did Sara do with her baby after she arrived at her


Directions: Read the passage and note the prepositions.

Off to Arizona

In the kitchen she threw her arms around me and gave me a sisterly squeeze. "I'm going to miss you. Who's going to come and look after Jeannie when you go away?" She kissed me and then slipped an envelope into my pocket. I felt the outline of the envelope and knew she had put money in it. I was embarrassed and happy at the same time. It had taken a lot of money to study at the Police Academy, and I knew I would need a lot more to start in Flagstaff.

"Well, you two sure are quiet. Is that how you want Dwight to remember his family when he's off on the other side of the world?" Holding me by my arm she brought me over to the kitchen table where my mother and other sister sat staring into their coffee cups."Let' s have a little laughter. Our boy is going off to be a famous detective." She turned to me suddenly and looked at me as if she were trying to figure something out. She went over to her handbag and pulled out a newspaper with the headline ARIZONA HEIRESS KILLED IN FALL. "This will probably be your first case, Dwight."

"Deaths from falls are all routine police work; it's not work for a detective, and besides it will be all over by the time I arrive."

"When do you leave?"

"What time is it? 5:15?! I'm going to miss my bus. It leaves at 6:00."

My mother started to cry and held me tightly by the hand. Promising again to call when I arrived in Flagstaff, I headed out the door and down the stairs. I ran to the subway but still had to wait for the train. The man on the platform next to me was reading the paper. I looked over his shoulder and read the headline ARIZONA HEIRESS KILLED IN FALL. The train came before I could read more. But my curiosity was aroused.

Questions about the Story

1. What did Sara put in Dwight's pocket?

2. What did Mama take from her handbag?

3. How was the Arizona heiress killed?

4. What time does the bus to Flagstaff leave?

5. Where did Dwight wait for the train?

Prepositions that Identify People and Things

A. Directions: Look at the picture (not shown on web page) and fill in the blanks with one of the following prepositions. More than one answer may be correct.

in    behind     of     next    to     at    on

1. The woman ___ the magazine counter is buying something.

2. The briefcase ___ the floor belongs to the man.

3. The man ___ the train is the conductor.

4. The man ___ the sweater is reading a magazine.

5. One ___ the women is wearing gloves.

6. The clock ___ the wall says 1:30.

7. The man ___ the magazine counter is giving the woman her change.

8. The bags ___ the baggage cart belong to the woman.

9. Two ___ the people are sitting.

10. The man ___ the ticket counter is buying a ticket.

11. The sign ___ the ticket counter is a travel poster.

12. Both ___ the women have short hair.

B. Directions: Look at the picture (not shown on web page) and fill in the blanks with an appropriate preposition. More than one answer may be correct.

1. The room ___ the piano is the living room.

2. The room ___ the living room is the basement.

3. The man ___ the piano is playing.

4. The woman ___ the dining room is setting the table.

5. The small room ___ the living room and dining room is the hall.

6. The lamp ___ the bed is for reading.

7. The room ___ the top of the house is the attic.

8. The furniture ___ the attic is not being used.

9. The room ___ the dining room is the kitchen.

10. The small room ___ the kitchen is the bathroom.

11. All ___ the people are going to eat.

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