Prepositions of place, direction, distance


The correct usage of prepositions referring to place, direction and distance depends on how we perceive the thing/object. Basically there are three types of places:

Explanations Examples
1. The place is seen as a simple point in space, but without referring to length, width and height.
simple location We met at the cinema.
They stayed away from the cinema.
destination They went to the cinema.
They ran (away) from the cinema.
2. The place is seen as a line as a length dimension but not as a width and height dimension.
simple location Tim stood on the goal-line.
The battle was fought off the coast of Africa.
destination The car turned off the main road.
They walked along the street.
3. The place is seen as a surface that is as length and width dimensions (without height)
simple location The book was on the shelf.
The book was off the desk.
destination He dropped the book on(to) the table.
Tim took the book off the shelf.
He fell off the chair.
The place is seen as a surface (ground or the terrain within its boundaries)
simple location The tourists were in the square.
The sales representative is out of town today.
destination The path goes through a field.
The soldiers crowded into the market.
The place is seen as a three-dimensional space
simple location He was in the garage.
He was out of the room.
destination He ran into the room.
He ran out of the room.
contrast between 'at' and 'on'
When a place is seen as a simple point The plane stopped at London on its way to New York.
When a place is seen as a closed territory She lives in London.
with parts of towns/cities They lived in Manhattan.
When a building is perceived in institutional categories I saw him at the hospital.
When a building is perceived in physical categories I saw him in the hospital.
Contrast between 'on' and 'in'
When we see the object as a surface Pieces of wood were floating on the water.
When we see the object as space The children were playing in the water.
Prepositions showing location or destination in relation to the landmark
simple location (vertical) The apple is on top of the cupboard.
The apple is below the cupboard.
simple location (horizontal) There are some trees in front of the house.
There are some trees behind the house.
destination When it started to rain, they ran underneath the bridge.
The car sped away from the tunnel.
contrast between 'between' - 'among' - 'amid'
in relation to two objects She is standing between two boys.
in relation to more than two objects She is standing among boys.
The house stands amid trees.
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