Updated: Sep 5, 2022
Recommended level: Intermediate
Note: All of the phrases below are taken from 300 Practical English Words and Phrases.
Prepositions are challenging to learn in any language. That's because prepositions can have literal, logical meanings ("I left my glasses on the kitchen table"), or idiomatic meanings ("You did that on purpose!"). There are many prepositional phrases in English, and common preposition mistakes that many English learners make. This is perfectly normal. In this article, we will study 10 common prepositional phrases that every English learner should know.
Before we begin, I want to stress that there are many prepositional phrases, but that these are 10 of the most common phrases that start with a preposition. Let's take a look, and don't forget to practice by using these phrases in the comments.
at the same time
If you do something at the same time as something else, you do it simultaneously. For example, can you talk on the phone and cook at the same time?
"At the same time" can also be used to introduce a contrasting or contradictory idea, or something else that should be considered in a situation. For example: "Chester wants to make more money. At the same time, he wants to work less." In both usages, "at the same time" means "simultaneously."
“It’s impossible to be in two places at the same time.”
“Xavier can’t handle doing too many things at the same time.”
“Can you pat your head and rub your tummy at the same time?”
“I’d love to have a dog, but at the same time, I’d like to travel without worrying about who would take care of my pet.”
If you do something by accident, you do it accidentally--without intending to do it. You can also say "I didn't mean to do it" or "I didn't do it on purpose." As we'll see later, "on purpose" is the opposite of "by accident." There are some areas in the United States where people use "on accident," but the majority of English-speaking people use "by accident."
“Oops! I dropped my phone by accident.”
“I think you sent me the wrong email by accident.”
“Are you sure he didn’t do it on purpose?” “No, I think it was by accident.”
"Sorry, I think I dialed the wrong number by accident."
by the way
Use this phrase when you want to add something to the conversation that you just remembered, or that you want to say while it's still on your mind. The topic can be related to the conversation, or it can be something unrelated.
“That was a great game. Thanks for paying for the popcorn, by the way.”
“I’m going to the gym tomorrow. Oh! By the way, I got those running shoes you recommended, and I love them!”
“We had a nice time at my cousin’s birthday. By the way, how was your job interview?”
"I saw Denise at the mall yesterday. By the way, did you know she got a new job?"
"For good" means permanently and forever. You can end a relationship for good, live somewhere for good, or leave a company for good. Regarding the first situation, if you tell your friend that you ended a relationship with someone, and your friend says "For good this time?", this means it isn't your first time trying to end the relationship.
“We need to eliminate this policy for good.”
“Do you think it’s possible to end discrimination for good?”
“Gary quit his job. He’s gone for good.”
"She wants to stay in Cairo for good."
Something that is "for now" is temporary. It is not permanent. For example, if you visit a doctor's office, the receptionist might ask you to wait in a specific room until the doctor is ready to see you. For instance: "Dr. Ling will call you when he's ready. For now, please have a seat in the waiting room." ("Have a seat" means "sit.")
“I need a few more minutes. Could you just wait here for now?”
“Do you want something to drink?” “No, thanks. I’m fine for now.”
“For now, the employees are satisfied with their work conditions.”
"I have some pain in my elbow, but I'm not too worried about it for now."
"For sure" is another way to say "Definitely" or "Absolutely." It is commonly used to emphatically say "yes" to a request. For example: "Could you proofread this email for me?" "Yeah, for sure. I'll be there in a minute." You can also use it to express your agreement with someone, as in the second example below.
“Can you help me to clean the bathroom tomorrow?” “For sure.”
“They’re going to win today.” “Oh, for sure!”
“Can she really lift 250 pounds?” “Yes. For sure. I’ve seen her do it.”
"Are you going to her birthday party tomorrow?" "For sure. I just confirmed the details with her yesterday."
in regard to
If you want to introduce and focus the topic of a sentence or conversation, use "in regard to." For example: "I'd like to speak to you in regard to your last email." While this phrase is useful in many settings, it is particularly useful in workplace emails and conversations. Other similar words and phrases include "regarding," "concerning," "with respect to," and "as regards."
"In regard to your request, I would be happy to help!"
“I’d like to speak with you in regard to your most recent email.”
“In regard to your question, the answer is no.”
“Do you have anything to add in regard to this debate?”
in the meantime
"In the meantime" is a useful synonym for "for now." Both refer to the time between two events, decisions, etc. When we are waiting for something, many of us play with our phones in the meantime.
“Don’t worry about me. I’ll just wait here and check my email in the meantime.” (Context: waiting for someone to see you.)
“Lunch will be ready in 20 minutes. I’ll wash the dishes in the meantime.”
“Sorry, I need another 15 minutes to get my kids ready for bed. In the meantime, feel free to relax on the couch and watch some TV.”
"The concert doesn't start for another 3 hours. What are you going to do in the meantime?"
If you do something on purpose, you intend to do it. This is the opposite of doing something accidentally (or, "by accident"). While "on purpose" is a neutral phrase, it is often used to question the motives of someone who has done something bad or hurtful.
“Ouch! Did you just hit me on purpose?”
“I’m sorry! I didn’t do it on purpose! I swear!”
“She did it on purpose.”
"Did you just delete her files?" "Not on purpose. I did it by accident."
If something or someone arrives on time, it or they arrive at the scheduled time. A good synonym for "on time" is "on schedule." Trains and buses can run on time, or they can run late. A person can arrive on time for work or for a dental appointment, or they can arrive late. Basically, if something happens at or before the scheduled time, it happens on time. (For the difference between "on time" and "in time," check out my blog post on this topic.)
“She never arrives on time. She’s always late.”
“We stopped being friends because he was never on time for anything.”
“The concert didn’t start on time because the drummer was late.”
"Your appointment is at 9pm tomorrow. Please arrive on time."
I hope you have found this list useful, and that you practice using these phrases in the comments. And if you would like to learn more common English phrases, you can find over 2,000 examples in my book, 300 Practical English Words and Phrases.
Thank you for reading, and I wish you success in your studies.