Prepare yourself for prepositions.This post has a lot of them.This post also has a lot of music.If you want to speak English well, you need to learn English grammar. So get your headphones or speakers ready, and get ready to start listening!
But Wait, What Is a Preposition?
If you don’t know the answer to that question, don’t worry. It’s OK. I’m a native English speaker, and I often get these grammar words confused, too.I know that when I was about 13 years old, I learned what a preposition was. But then I forgot it until I started learning Spanish. Basically, a preposition is a word that describes the relationship between two nouns. A noun is a person, place, thing or idea. Common prepositions include words like about, for, in, on and at, but there are many more.
What Types of Prepositions Are There?
Generally, they are divided into three categories: prepositions of place, prepositions of time and other prepositions. We’ll see examples of all of these today.
Why Are Prepositions Important?
Well, if you don’t use prepositions when you speak English, people will probably understand you. But they may think you’re talking like Tarzan. Like other parts of grammar, prepositions are very important, but they’re sometimes difficult.English also has hundreds of phrasal verbs. Those are phrases that combine a verb and a preposition, like get out, look after or stand up. Other languages often don’t have as many phrasal verbs. So it’s particularly important to know how they work in English and to use them correctly. If you change one part of the phrasal verb, it can often change the meaning completely.
Why Are Prepositions Difficult to Learn?
These words can be hard to learn because each word can serve many different purposes. Also, prepositions don’t normally translate directly between two languages. I give just one example, in English you can be in love with someone. In Spanish, though, you would express that idea by saying you’re enamorado de someone (or in love “of” someone).In English, you would never say “I’m in love of you.” You would say “I’m in love with you.”Because of this, it’s best to learn prepositions as parts of phrases, because that’s the most natural way to use them in a language.And one of the best places to find natural phrases in English is songs! So this post will look at many different examples of prepositions in English songs. We’ll start out with prepositions of place. Then we’ll move on to prepositions of time. Finally, we’ll check out some examples of other types of prepositions.
Prepositions of Place
These are words that are used to indicate where events happen, or where one noun is in relation to another noun.We’ll start here with a quick review of in, on and at, since those are the three prepositions that cause the most confusion for my students.When you’re talking about location, these three words may seem confusing. But there are some general rules to help you remember when to use each one. Remember that these are general rules, and you can probably find some exceptions.
If you can also say inside, then use the word in. For example, if you’re talking about a bag of rice, you can say “The rice is in the bag”or “The rice is inside the bag” and they will both mean the same thing. If you’re talking about things that are inside “containers” (even large “containers” like houses, cities and countries), then you can probably say in.
If you can say that one noun is touching the surface of another noun (but not contained), then you can probably use the word on. For example, you can say “The glass is on the table” or“The insect is onyour head!” In both of those cases, the first noun (the glass and the insect) is just touching the surface of the second noun (the table and your head), and can easily move.
Finally, you can normally use the word at when you’re talking about an idea or a general area. There are exceptions to this rule, but look at the phrase “I’m at the beach.” If I say this, I’m in the general area of the beach, but not necessarily on the physical, sandy beach. I may be in my hotel room, or sitting next to the pool, or in a city by the beach. So here, “at the beach” just means that you’re somewhere close to the beach, which is more an idea than a physical place.
Other common ideas that can be used with the word at include at work, athome and at school. In each of these examples, you’re referring to an idea (at home) and not the physical place (in the house).I hope those make sense! Now let’s get to the fun part and see how these prepositions are used in some good English songs.
1. “In the Ghetto” by Elvis Presley (song)(lyrics)This is a really clear, easy example to start with. In the song, Elvis is singing about a boy who grows up in the ghetto (a poor neighborhood or a dangerous part of a city). The boy has a difficult life, and eventually starts committing crimes. It’s a sad song, but it sounds good.Here the word in is used because a ghetto is a physical area, and the boy was living inside that area.2. “Love in a Foreign Place” by Gossip (song)(lyrics)This song may be harder to understand than the Elvis song, but it has a lot more energy! The Elvis song is a ballad, which means that it tells a story. This song is not a ballad. Instead, the song’s lyrics communicate a general emotion or feeling, and the lyrics are more poetic.The singer is talking about how she likes larger cities, and she doesn’t like the small town she grew up in. She also sings “All I ever wanted was so much more / than life in a small town.“She needs to use the word in here because “a foreign place” and “a small town” are both physical locations.3. “In God’s Country” by U2 (song)(lyrics)This song is also not a ballad, and the lyrics are even more poetic than the Gossip song. The singer (Bono) is singing about a desert, but it’s hard even for me to understand that from the lyrics.In this song, they say “in God’s country” because you need to use the word in with any country or city. For example, “I live in San Ramon, in Costa Rica.”
4. “On That Stage” by Mike Park (song)(lyrics)For some reason, I had difficulties finding good examples that used on as a preposition of location. But I do like this one. The song is a love song, but the lyrics might be hard to understand for beginners.If you don’t know, a stage is a place where a musician or an actor performs in a theater. Because a singer is just touching the stage (he or she is standing on the stage, but not inside it), it’s correct to say that “the singer is on the stage.”
5. “At Your Side” by The Corrs (song)(lyrics)This is a nice song about friendship and helping our friends when they have problems.Remember that we use the word at when we’re talking about a general location or an idea. In this song, your side is not necessarily a physical place, it’s more of an idea. In the lyrics, the singer says “I’ll be at your side,” which means that she will support her friend and be there to help. She may also physically be at her friend’s side, but in this case it’s more about being at her friend’s side emotionally.Another common phrase is “I’ll be by your side,” but we’ll see that later in our list.Also, there are other songs that start with at in the title, but some of them don’t have as many (or any) lyrics. Some examples include “At the Party” by M83, and “At the River” by Groove Armada. In these, they’re talking about the general location or idea, and not a specific place.
The three words above are commonly confused. Fortunately, the rest of the prepositions of place are usually less confusing for English learners.One example is by, which, like at, can show that two things are close physically. It’s not as exact as other words that we’ll see on this list.6. “Rivers of Babylon” by Boney M. (song)(lyrics)This song seems to be surprisingly popular here in Costa Rica. Maybe you have heard it where you live, also?The lyrics may seem a bit confusing, but there’s a good reason for that. They’re actually based on verses from the Bible, so the English is old-fashioned and uses some words that are more common in religious texts.The song talks about a group of people who were slaves in a strange land, and the difficulties and sadness that they felt.The song uses the word by because they’re sitting “by the rivers of Babylon.” In other words, they’re sitting close to the rivers, but it isn’t exactly clear how close.7. “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” by Paul Simon (song)(lyrics)I’ll be honest here: I’ve read the lyrics to this song a couple of times, but I still have no idea what the song is about. I guess it’s about Paul and his friend Julio? Who knows?The important thing here is the preposition, by. This preposition is used in this song because they’re close to the schoolyard. They probably aren’t inside the schoolyard, because then the lyrics would say “down in the schoolyard.”
The preposition phrase next to is very similar to by. Both indicate that two nouns are physically close, but next to is usually closer than by.You’ll probably hear phrases like “I sit next to Jennifer in math class.” In that example, there is no one sitting between me and Jennifer. If I say “I sit by Jennifer in math class,” though, then there may be other people who are closer to her than I am.
8. “I Can’t Get Next to You” by The Temptations (song)(lyrics)This is a song that you’ll probably have to read the lyrics to understand—I know that I couldn’t understand it just by listening. There is also a later version of the song by Al Green. His version is slower, but it’s quiet and still a little difficult to understand some of the lyrics.Both versions of the song have the same lyrics and idea, though. In the song, the singer(s) are saying that they can do many incredible things, but they can’t get next to the woman they love. In other words, they can’t make the woman accept them.In this case, next to is not 100% a physical location preposition, but it’s close. In this song, “get next to you” basically means “be with you.”
This is a less common preposition. Beyond means “on the other side of”something. It’s often used in poetry.For example, I could say beyond to mean that something is very far, or to talk about places that aren’t necessarily real. You can find this in songs like “Beyond the 7th Sky” by Lenny Kravitz or “Beyond the Realms of Death” by Judas Priest. In both of these songs, the places they’re talking about don’t actually exist. The singers just use those places to show that something imaginary is very, very far away.9. “Beyond the Sea” by Bobby Darin (song)(lyrics)This song has a very different style than the Judas Priest song above!In this song, Bobby Darin is saying his lover is waiting for him “beyond the sea.” In other words, his lover is on the other side of the sea, and he needs to travel over the entire sea to be with her.The song also uses the phrases “It’s far beyond the stars” and “It’s near beyond the moon.” In both of these cases, he means that his lover is very far away—probably impossibly far.Finally, there’s one more interesting use of the word beyond in this song. Bobby says “I know beyond a doubt / my heart will lead me there soon.” The phrase beyond a doubt means that you have no doubt about something. In other words, you’re completely confident. For example, I could say “I know beyond a doubt that if you study English a lot, you’ll become fluent!”
The preposition beside is very similar to by and next to. It’s probably more like next to, since it means that two nouns are physically very close.10. “Beside You” by 5 Seconds of Summer (song)(lyrics)In this song, the singer says “I wish I was beside you.” In this case, he’s not with the person he wants to be with, and he’s sad about that.The lyrics could say “I wish I was next to you” or “I wish I was by you,” and it would mean basically the same thing.
Over means that one noun is higher than another noun, but they’re usually not touching. For example, you can say that “An airplane is flying over my head,” but you wouldn’t say “My hat is over my head,” because your hat is touching your head. For that, you would say “My hat is on my head.”There are many great songs that use over, so I had trouble choosing just a few.11. “Bridge over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel (song)(lyrics)This is another good song about friendship. The lyrics may be poetic, but the singer is saying that if the friend has problems (“troubled water,”comparing life to a river), then the singer will be a “bridge” that goes overthe water. In other words, he will help his friend.
12. “Over My Head” by The Fray (song)(lyrics)Here’s another song that I don’t really understand, but I do understand part of it. In this song, the singer says “Everyone knows I’m in over my head.” The phrase in over my head is a good idiom to know. It means that you’re in a situation that is too difficult for you. (Here’s a great, short videofrom VOA that explains this phrase.) Just imagine standing in a swimming pool where the water is three meters deep: You would say it’s over your head.There’s a similar use of this phrase in the songs “Over My Head” by Alabama Shakes and “Over My Head” by Fleetwood Mac. All of these songs have the same title and all of them talk about love.You can also use this phrase if you get involved in a difficult problem that you can’t solve:The president promised to eliminate (get rid of) all taxes, but after he tried to eliminate them, he realized he was in over his head.13. “Somewhere over the Rainbow” by Judy Garland (song)(lyrics)I wanted to include this one partly just because it’s a nice song. But in this song, the word over is actually similar to the word beyond, since it’s talking about a place that is imaginary (the land “over the rainbow” that she’s singing about doesn’t actually exist).You may have also heard a version of this song by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole. If you haven’t heard it, listen to it now, because it’s beautiful.
The preposition above is usually a synonym for over. In other words, one noun is physically higher than another, but they’re not touching.14. “Above and Below” by The Bravery (song)(lyrics)In this song, the singer says he wants to “believe there’s more above us and below.” He sounds like he’s unhappy, so maybe he wants to believe in a place like heaven. In many cultures, there is the idea that heaven is above us, somewhere in the air or in space.
Under is basically the opposite of over or above. In other words, it describes one noun that is lower than another noun. In some cases, the two things may be touching, and in other cases, they may not be touching.15. “Under the Boardwalk” by The Drifters (song)(lyrics)This is a good example of how to use the word under. The singer says “Under the boardwalk, down by the sea / On a blanket with my baby is where I’ll be.” If you don’t know it, a boardwalk is like a wood street made for people, and they’re common at beaches.So in this song, the singer is saying that he’ll be under the boardwalk. That doesn’t mean that he’s hiding under the boardwalk. It just means that he would be lower on the beach than the boardwalk.
Below is the opposite of above, which means that it’s also a synonym (a word that means the same) of under. Sometimes, below may mean that the two nouns are touching, but they’re usually not. For example, if I say “My boy is playing below the table,” then he’s not touching the table.16. “Below My Feet” by Mumford and Sons (song)(lyrics)The singer of this song says “Keep the earth below my feet.” That may seem like a strange phrase, since the earth is always under most of our feet.But I think he’s referring to a common idiomatic phrase: to keep your feet on the ground. If a person has his or her feet on the ground, it can mean that the person is authentic or real. He or she is not trying to be someone he or she is not. It can also mean that the person is practical and realistic—not a dreamer, in other words.
The preposition towards means going or facing in a direction. It can indicate movement sometimes, also.Sometimes the word is written without an S (toward) and sometimes it’s written with an S (towards). They both mean the same thing.17. “Towards the Sun” by Rihanna (song)(lyrics)Here Rihanna sings “Turn your face towards the sun.” In other words, the listener should look at the sun, or at least point his or her face in that direction.
If you use the preposition across, you generally mean that two nouns are facing each other, but there is something between them. For example, “England is across the English Channel from France.”In some cases, across can also be a synonym of beyond.18. “Across 110th Street” by Bobby Womack (song)(lyrics)This is a great song where Bobby Womack sings about life in a bad part of town. In many ways, it’s similar to #1 (“In the Ghetto” by Elvis), but Bobby Womack is singing about the ghetto from his own perspective (point of view).He says that if you go across 110th Street (which leads into Harlem, which used to be a very dangerous part of New York City), then you’ll start to see lots of bad things.19. “Across the Sea” by Weezer (song)(lyrics)This song has sad lyrics, but I think it’s a great song. Rivers Cuomo, the singer for Weezer, has a letter from a girl in Japan. He becomes sad because he can’t be with her, saying “Why are you so far away from me? / I need help and you’re way across the sea.”
The word through is similar to across, but through almost always includes movement. Usually, a person or thing starts at one side of a place and finishes at the other end of that same place.For example, if you want to go from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, you can go through the Panama Canal.20. “Run Through the Jungle” by Creedence Clearwater Revival (song)(lyrics) In this song, a person is running from the devil, trying to escape. He has to run through the jungle. In other words, he needs to start at one end of the jungle and leave from the other end, so that he can escape the devil—and the dangerous jungle!
Prepositions of Time
Believe it or not, all of those were just prepositions about locations. Now we’ll look at some prepositions that are used to describe different times. These are generally less confusing than prepositions of place (but not always).Notice that many of these prepositions were also in the last section. That’s because many words can be prepositions of place or time. It all depends on how you use them.
We use the time preposition in for different situations. We can say something happens in a longer period of time, like a year, a month, a decade or a longer period. For example, you would say “in 2016,” “inMarch,” “in the 1970s,” etc.You can also use the word in for certain parts of the day, such as in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening. And that brings us to our first song with a time preposition.21. “In the Evening” by Led Zeppelin (song)(lyrics)This song has a wonderful beat, but the lyrics aren’t incredible. I just chose this song to show the use of in with the word evening.By the way, the idea of evening doesn’t exist in some languages. In English, the afternoon goes until the sunset. From the time of the sunset until you go to bed, you can say it’s the evening. When you go to bed, then you can call the time the night. But note that it’s most common to say “at night” (see #23 below).
We generally say on for most time expressions that don’t use in. Time periods that use on are generally more specific. For example, you can say on a day or a date: “on January 1st,” “on Friday,” etc.22. “New Moon on Monday” by Duran Duran (song)(lyrics)I also chose this song only because of the title. Note that the song is called “New Moon on Monday.”As for the lyrics, they seem to be complete nonsense. The video does tell a (confusing) story, but if you read the lyrics, they talk about lizards, “fire dances” and the moon.
There are not many time expressions that use at, but there are a few important ones. The most obvious one is for a specific time (“at 7:15 a.m.,” “at 12:00 noon,” “at 5,” etc.). Another common one we’ve already mentioned: at night.23. “We Only Come Out at Night” by Smashing Pumpkins (song)(lyrics) We’ve already discussed that this is an exception to the rule about periods of the day using in. Don’t forget that, generally, night refers to any time that it’s dark and when most people are sleeping.
When we use the word before as a time preposition, we are giving order to different events. Before is very similar to words like previous andearlier. The opposite of before is after (which we’ll look at next).If I am using before to order events, the event that comes before another is the first one. So for example, I can say “I need to buy a ticket before I can get on the subway.”24. “Wake Me Up Before You Go-go” by Wham! (song)(lyrics)I like this song, but I can understand why a lot of people hate it.In this song, George Michael, the lead singer of Wham!, is asking the listener to wake him up first, and then the listener can leave.
As we mentioned, after is the opposite of before. If you’re putting things in order, after indicates that a thing comes later.25. “Walkin’ After Midnight” by Patsy Cline (song)(lyrics)In this song, Patsy Cline says that she does her walking after midnight, so that she can search for someone she cares about. In other words, she has to wait for midnight (12:00 am), and then she can go out walking.
To, Until, Till and ‘Til
These four are usually synonyms, or at least very similar. Technically, tilland ’til could be considered abbreviations (shortened words) of until, but to is a separate word.All of them show that an activity will continue happening, but when it’s a specific time, that activity will stop.For example, I could say “I will keep working on this article until 3 a.m. if necessary.” In this example, I could replace until with ’til, till or to and it would mean the same thing. It might be less common to use to with specific times, though, because it’s pronounced the same as the number two, and it can cause some confusion.26. “2 Minutes to Midnight” by Iron Maiden (song)(lyrics)This song is about the Doomsday Clock, which is a symbol for how close the world is to destroying itself. It’s not a really happy song, but it does show how to use to as a time preposition.27. “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” by Michael Jackson (song)(lyrics)Even after 37 years, this song still sounds great.The idea of this song is that you should continue doing something. If you get to the point when you’re satisfied, then you can stop if you want.If you want to hear some other great songs that use forms of until, I would recommend “Wait Until Tomorrow” by Jimi Hendrix, “Until the End of Time” by Foreigner and “Until It Sleeps” by Metallica.
When you use by as a time preposition, then you’re indicating the final time that something can happen.For example, I may tell my students “Please give me your homework assignment by Tuesday.” That means that they can give me their assignments any time, even right now, but the last day I will accept them is Tuesday.By can also indicate things that can happen before a specific point in time, like in the following song.28. “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” by Glen Campbell (song)(lyrics)This song has some interesting, complex grammar. It has phrases like “Bythe time I get to Phoenix, she’ll be rising.” That means that the song is following two different people and what they’re doing. The singer, Glen Campbell, is arriving in Phoenix (a city in Arizona) at a certain time. At the same time, the other person, the woman, will be rising (waking up).He shows that these two things happen at similar times by using the word by. You can also say “By the time I finish this article, I will have learned a lot of prepositions.”
A Few Other Useful Prepositions
As we have seen, there are many different uses for prepositions. Most people think of time and location prepositions, but there are also some other prepositions that are harder to put in a category.Here are some examples. You’ll probably recognize these.
From and To
The preposition from indicates where a noun begins or its origin. For example, you can say “Ryan is from Colorado.” That indicates that Colorado is a place where I lived before now.The opposite of from is usually to, which you can see in this next song.29. “From Me to You” by The Beatles (song)(lyrics)This is a love song (like many early Beatles songs). In it, they sing about giving love “from me to you.”
The preposition of can be similar to from, but it usually indicates a possession (owning something) or a part of another noun. Some good examples of songs that use this include “Summer of ’69” by Bryan Adams, “Shadows of the Night” by Pat Benatar and “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” by Green Day.
About can have many meanings. It usually means approximately (“I have worked about five hours”) or it can point out a topic (“We are talking about prepositions”). This next song shows a slightly different meaning.
30. “Not About Love” by Fiona Apple (song)(lyrics)First of all, the lyrics to this song are basically poetry, and they’re very difficult and complex, even for native speakers. But the title is clear to me. Fiona Apple is saying the situation is “not about love,” which means that the conversation is not related to or has nothing to do with love.This song also has some other good examples of preposition use, including the phrase (to be) in love, when she says “I am not in love.”
The song also uses an opposite phrase. You can say that you fall in love with someone, which means that you start to love him or her. The opposite of that would be to fall out of love with someone. That means you stop loving that person.
So, we have just looked at a huge number of prepositions in over 30 songs. I hope that you continue to notice them in the English songs you listen to. Remember to always practice using them in conversation, too! If you don't, your English will always sound very broken! Prepositions are confusing, but they are the keys to a well spoken sentence that sounds like a native.
If you have further questions or simply need more advice, please schedule a trial lesson. Good luck!