Creating an Annotated Bibliography


To understand how to create an annotated bibliography, let’s start with defining a working bibliography. As you begin to locate and compile source material for your project, you’ll want to record the information for the sources you think you might use. It’s important to remember that in the early stages of constructing a research paper, you are discovering source material that may or may not go in the finished project, but to be efficient and not lose valuable materials (and time!) we compile a working bibliography to keep track of our research. It’s referred to as a “working” bibliography, as we are still working on the project, so all of the sources we find may or may not go in the final project.

An annotated bibliography is taking the working bibliography one step further. By annotating, or taking notes, on the source material you find, you will have an overview of the source, such as the type of source it is, a brief summary of the source, and how you might use it in your paper. Often, annotated bibliographies are a separate assignment of a research project, as your instructor wants you to demonstrate your understanding of the source and consider exactly how you intend to use it in your paper. Seasoned researchers often keep an annotated bibliography of their project, recording their thoughts on each source as they build their paper.

If your instructor has assigned an annotated bibliography, he or she most likely wants you to briefly summarize the source material, describe the purpose it will serve in your paper, for instance, if it will support or oppose your arguments, and may even ask you to explain why you chose the source. It’s not enough simply to collect random sources; as you compile your source list, it’s important to be able to synthesize the material and critically consider how you will incorporate it into your project. An annotated bibliography shows your instructor you have evaluated your source material carefully.

Below are examples of both MLA and APA annotated bibliography entries.

Example of Annotated Bibliography Entry


Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. New York: Anchor Books, 1995. Print.

Lamott’s book offers honest advice on the nature of a writing life, complete with its insecurities   and failures. Taking a humorous approach to the realities of being a writer, the chapters in Lamott’s book are wry and anecdotal and offer advice on everything from plot development to jealousy, from perfectionism to struggling with one’s own internal critic. In the process, Lamott includes writing exercises designed to be both productive and fun.

Lamott offers sane advice for those struggling with the anxieties of writing, but her main project seems to be offering the reader a reality check regarding writing, publishing, and struggling with one’s own imperfect humanity in the process. Rather than a practical handbook to producing and/or publishing, this text is indispensable because of its honest perspective, its down-to-earth humor, and its encouraging approach.

Chapters in this text could easily be included in the curriculum for a writing class. Several of the chapters in Part 1 address the writing process and would serve to generate discussion on students’ own drafting and revising processes. Some of the writing exercises would also be appropriate for generating classroom writing exercises. Students should find Lamott’s style both engaging and enjoyable.

(Example from Purdue Owl Online).

This example shows a typical annotated bibliography assignment, with one brief paragraph of summary, one paragraph of evaluation, and a final paragraph explain how the writer will utilize it.

The example below shows a shorter, one paragraph entry:

Example 2

Waite, Linda J., Frances Kobrin Goldscheider, and Christina Witsberger. “Nonfamily Living and the Erosion of Traditional Family Orientations Among Young Adults.” American Sociological Review 51.4 (1986): 541-554. Print.

The authors, researchers at the Rand Corporation and Brown University, use data from the National Longitudinal Surveys of Young Women and Young Men to test their hypothesis that nonfamily living by young adults alters their attitudes, values, plans, and expectations, moving them away from their belief in traditional sex roles. They find their hypothesis strongly supported in young females, while the effects were fewer in studies of young males. Increasing the time away from parents before marrying increased individualism, self-sufficiency, and changes in attitudes about families. In contrast, an earlier study by Williams cited below shows no significant gender differences in sex role attitudes as a result of nonfamily living.

(Example from Cornell U Library)


Example 1

Ehrenreich, B. (2001). Nickel and dimed: On (not) getting by in America. New York: Henry Holt and Company.

In this book of nonfiction based on the journalist’s experiential research, Ehrenreich attempts to ascertain whether it is currently possible for an individual to live on a minimum-wage in America. Taking jobs as a waitress, a maid in a cleaning service, and a Walmart sales employee, the author summarizes and reflects on her work, her relationships with fellow workers, and her financial struggles in each situation.

An experienced journalist, Ehrenreich is aware of the limitations of her experiment and the ethical implications of her experiential research tactics and reflects on these issues in the text. The author is forthcoming about her methods and supplements her experiences with scholarly research on her places of employment, the economy, and the rising cost of living in America. Ehrenreich’s project is timely, descriptive, and well-researched.

(Example from Purdue Owl Online).

In the example above, the entry summarizes the book in the first paragraph, and analyzes and evaluates in the second paragraph.

The entry should be double spaced. Some style books show to break paragraphs, and others show to keep the entire entry in one paragraph with no breaks. Always follow your instructor guidelines.

Example 2

Waite, L. J., Goldschneider, F. K., & Witsberger, C. (1986). Nonfamily living and the erosion of traditional family orientations among young adults. American Sociological Review, 51 (4), 541-554.

The authors, researchers at the Rand Corporation and Brown University, use data from the National Longitudinal Surveys of Young Women and Young Men to test their hypothesis that nonfamily living by young adults alters their attitudes, values, plans, and expectations, moving them away from their belief in traditional sex roles. They find their hypothesis strongly supported in young females, while the effects were fewer in studies of young males. Increasing the time away from parents before marrying increased individualism, self-sufficiency, and changes in attitudes about families. In contrast, an earlier study by Williams cited below shows no significant gender differences in sex role attitudes as a result of nonfamily living.

(Example from Cornell U Library)

NOTE: Standard MLA practice requires double spacing within citations. Both MLA and APA require hanging indent on the first line of each entry, which our blog format does not show.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, annotated bibliographies can be descriptive and critical; they can interpret the author’s point of view, and evaluate the author’s authority and even their style. If you have been assigned an annotated bibliography, take care to follow your instructor guidelines and include the required elements. For your own purposes, briefly summarize the source and note how you will utilize it in your paper. Even though it may seem like a time-consuming step, annotating your sources as you go will save you time in the end, as you’ll not only know exactly where to integrate the source, but you will also have your works cited or reference list complete.

** Note that the first line of all entries should be flush with the left margin, which the screen does not show.


Examples from:

Olin Library Reference
Research & Learning Services
Cornell University Library
Ithaca, NY, USA

Purdue Owl Online Writing Lab


Identifying Phrases and Clauses


Learning the basic rules of sentence construction will help you identify the parts of a sentence that make up the whole. This will help you to avoid punctuation errors like comma splices, as well as give you the knowledge to create more complicated sentence structures, which will improve the style of your writing.


A phrase is a group of words that form a single unit in a sentence, but do not include a subject, or a verb, or both. Since a phrase does not have a subject and/or verb, it does not form a complete idea or thought. Since a phrase does not contain a subject or verb, it cannot stand alone as a sentence, and is considered a fragment.

Examples of phrases:

  • closing the door
  • under the tree
  • because of his illness
  • running past the gate

In the previous examples, you’ll see nouns (door, tree, illness, gate) and verbals – or forms of a verb (closing, running) – but the nouns are not functioning as the subject of a sentence, and the verbals have no subject performing the action.

Types of Phrases:

  • Noun: his brand new bike; the stinky old cat
  • Prepositional: over the wall; in the bedroom
  • Verb: will be done; can swim
  • Verbal: There are 3 types of verbal phrases: participial, gerund, and infinitive.
    Participial: The pond, frozen over since early December, is now safe for ice-skating.
    Gerund: Cramming for tests is not a good study strategy.
    Infinitive: My goal is to be a teacher.
    Absolute: I stood on the dock, the lake breeze chilling me to the bone.
    Appositive: The book, a 600-page biography, received great reviews.


A clause is a group of words that contain a subject and a predicate. A predicate is a word or phrase that describes the action or state of the subject. Predicates always includes verbs.

Unlike a phrase, a clause can be a complete sentence – if it has a subject and a predicate. This type of clause is called an independent clause, as it can stand alone independently, with no other words or phrases needed to make it a complete sentence.

Examples of independent clauses:

  • Fried green tomatoes are popular in the South.
  • The door remained closed.
  • The car sounded noisy.
  • I stood on the shore.

Unlike an independent clause, a dependent clause cannot stand alone as a sentence, even though it has a subject and a verb. A dependent clause is dependent on an independent clause as part of either the subject or the predicate.

Examples of dependent clauses:

  • while the wind was blowing.
  • which I made by hand.
  • although the room was cold.
  • because the pool was deep.

These examples begin with subordinate conjunctions – while, which, although, because – so do not form a complete thought. When we see subordinate conjunctions at the beginning of sentences, we expect extra information to complete the thought. These dependent clauses require other words to make a complete sentence.


Recognizing phrases and clauses will help you to avoid comma splices, fragments and run-on sentences. Look at the sentences below and identify which are complete sentences, and which are incomplete sentences. Can you identify the phrases and clauses?

  1. Driving across town in rush hour traffic.
  2. My head pounding.
  3. I answered the door.
  4. Talking on a cell phone in a restaurant.
  5. Call the babysitter.
  6. Because he wanted to.
  7. I stood silently.
  8. In the darkest corner of the room.
  9. To go to bed after midnight.
  10. Loud singing from the back of the room.

Constructing Arguments


If you have been assigned an argument paper, you will be expected to argue a debatable position with a strong claim, clear reasoning, and logical appeals. But how do you know if your topic will make a good argument? Many topics might be interesting, but not all interesting topics are arguable. When constructing an argument, your topic must be more than a statement of fact; it must be debatable.

What is your purpose?

When we think about arguments, we assume our purpose is to win, though there is no way to determine who really wins. A writer can present his or her position with the best reasoning and evidence available, and hope to successfully rebut opposing arguments.

A writer usually tries to convince the reader that his or her argument is compelling enough to change minds. In proposal arguments, the writer might want to enact a solution to a problem, and to do this, the writer will have to convince a reader to change his or her mind.

Another purpose of an argument is to simply explore an issue. A writer whose intention is to explore will examine an idea in hopes of convincing a reader that the ideas are important and beneficial.

Testing your Topic

To test whether or not a topic will work as an arguable thesis, consider if you can answer “yes” to these basic criteria:

  1. Does it present a position that an audience might have differing opinions on?
  2. Does it attempt to change minds or urge a reader to take some sort of action?
  3. Does it address a problem and offer a solution, or does it present a problem where no easy solutions exist?

Examples of an Unarguable Statement:

Litter creates pollution of the environment.

Using our criteria, the statement isn’t trying to convince, present a problem (although technically, litter is a problem), nor is it a statement that others might disagree with. It’s merely an observation.

Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.

Is there any debate when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed? Is it trying to convince us of anything? This is a statement of fact, and a reader couldn’t debate the statement.

The incidence of breast cancer has risen in the last ten years.

Even though a reader may not know if this is an accurate statement or not, it is easily researchable and not an argument claim.

Examples of an Arguable Statement

Recycling programs, though expensive at first, are ultimately an efficient, cost effective, and environmentally friendly way of reducing waste in our environment.

This statement meets our criteria, as it is presenting a problem and offering a solution. It can be argued, as many opponents believe the cost of implementing a recycling program is too expensive and actually not efficient.
~  ~ ~

Though Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation is believed to have ended slavery, slaves emancipated themselves and forced Lincoln to recognize their de facto freedom.

This is a statement that would illicit disagreement (good!), and is an attempt to change the readers’ minds of a widely held belief, so it definitely meets our criteria.

~ ~ ~

Widely prescribed and highly controversial hormone replacement therapy is the cause of the high rates of breast cancer in women.

This statement is definitely arguable, as many would dispute the cause behind high rates of breast cancer. Others would dispute the assumption that breast cancer rates are any higher than they have always been. This statement addresses a problem that there may be no clear solution to, but it makes an arguable claim.

Formulating a Thesis

Once an arguable claim is made, the next step is to formulate a working thesis. The thesis is a claim with reasons. A reason is often referred to as a “because clause,” as the reason answers the question Why? behind the stated claim.

Reason: Pesticides endanger the lives of farmworkers.

Working thesis (claim with reason): Because they endanger the lives of farmworkers, (reason) pesticides should be banned (claim).

: Lack of sex education in public schools leads to high rates of sexually transmitted diseases.

Working Thesis: Because of the high rates of STDs among teens, all public schools should offer sex education.

The cost of a four-year university degree has become unaffordable.

Working Thesis: Because a college degree has become unaffordable for all but the affluent, tuition costs should be lowered.

~ ~ ~

Once you have a working thesis, you may find you’ll need to alter the language or use qualifiers (may cause…; often leads…) to make it more precise or less susceptible to criticism.

Spending time in the planning stages to identify your purpose, test your topic, and formulate an arguable thesis is essential to constructing a successful argument.

Now You Try

For the broad topics below, formulate an arguable statement and working thesis (claim with reason):

  1. Music downloading
  2. Mandatory military service
  3. The effect of texting on youth’s literacy



Considering Pronouns and Antecedents


A pronoun takes the place of a noun, and usually refers to a word used earlier in the text called an antecedent (ante=before).  In the sentence, “The teacher brought her dog to class,” the word her refers back to teacher, so teacher is the antecedent of the pronoun her. It would sound awkward to repeat the noun, “The instructor brought the instructor’s dog to class.” In simple sentences like this, it’s clear what noun the pronoun is replacing.

The pronoun’s antecedent must agree in number, either singular or plural form, with the noun to which it references:

The boy wandered off the path, and he became lost. (singular noun = boy; singular pronoun = he)

The instructors must administer their exams before Friday. (plural noun = instructors; plural pronoun = their)

Of course, the previous examples are simple sentences, and pronoun-antecedent agreement becomes more complicated with more complex sentences.



Effective writing communicates clearly, and the overuse of pronouns can lead to confusing sentences. Beginning writers often overuse pronouns when using the noun would help clarify the sentence, as in the examples below:


CONFUSING            After Dave studied with John, he realized he still did not understand   trigonometry.

CLEAR                      After studying with John, Dave realized he still did not understand trigonometry.

CONFUSING            After Susan bought the flowers and potting soil, she discovered they were full of insects.

CLEAR                      After Susan bought the flowers and potting soil, she discovered that the flowers were full of insects.

CLEAR                      After Susan bought the flowers and potting soil, she discovered that the potting soil was full of insects.

CLEAR                      After Susan bought the flowers and potting soil, she discovered that both were full of insects.


Avoiding Indefinite Use of It and They

Indefinite pronouns refer to a non-specific person, place, or thing. It and they are often used to make reference to people or situations, but in writing, they sound vague and can lead to confusion. To solve this particular error, name who “they” is:


VAGUE                      It is said that the unemployment rate is declining.

CLEAR                      The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the unemployment rate is declining.
VAGUE                      They said that the outcome of their research is inconclusive.

CLEAR                      MIT researchers said the outcome of their research is inconclusive.


As you can see, the revised sentence is much clearer when the noun is used.

Now you try!

Below are some sentences with pronoun-antecedent problems. Correct the underlined error:


______________1. Both the computer monitor and the refrigerator door have its shiny surface smeared with dog snot from our curious puppy Oreo.

______________2. The new and improved laundry detergent restored Hector’s mud-stained pants to its original condition.

______________3. After feeding several quarters into the gumball machine, a person learns that they have little chance of receiving the miniature camera in the display.

______________4. Mrs. Carson, like every other American literature teacher, has their own interpretation of the symbols in Moby-Dick.

______________ 5. A person who eats too many jawbreakers risks loosening their fillings.


(Above quiz courtesy of Grammar Bytes)


What Makes Good Writing and How to Make Your Writing Better


As we embark on a new fall term here at Metro Community College and many students will be taking their first college English class, let’s talk about what actually makes good writing. Of course, there are many variables in effective academic writing, but below, we’ll discuss writing in relation to freshman writing expectations.

First Things First: Follow Assignment Guidelines

Has your instructor given you assignment directions, either in the syllabus, or a separate handout in class? Perhaps your instructor will assign reading from your text, and ask you to follow the guidelines in the assigned chapter. Assignment directions should be read, re-read, and critically analyzed if you expect to meet the instructor’s expectations. We see numerous low marks on well-written essays that fail to follow the assignment guidelines. If your guidelines direct you to write a “critical analysis” of a short story, and you write a “summary,” your grade most likely will reflect this oversight.

Use Standard Written English

You might think this is obvious, but many beginning writers fall into slang, colloquialisms, and even text-speak when writing. You most likely know and unconsciously follow the rules of standard written English, but it’s easy to fall into ingrained speech patterns when we write. Slang is perfectly acceptable for conversation, but in writing, it can get in the way of the writer’s message and distract the reader. In persuasive writing, falling into an informal tone or slang will lead your reader to conclude your writing shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Write Effective Sentences

What makes an effective sentence? It’s about choosing the best words, understanding parts of speech (noun, pronoun, verb, adverb), and organizing the words in the most logical order.

In contrast, ineffective sentences often utilize poor word choice, confuse parts of speech, and organize the words in illogical and sometimes grammatically incorrect order.

One of the most common punctuation errors made in freshman writing classes is a comma splice. A comma splice is incorrect punctuation created by combining two independent clauses with a comma to separate the two clauses. An independent clause is a full sentence, containing a subject and predicate (ex. noun, verb, object). If you are not able to identify what parts of speech make up a sentence, you will most likely have grammatically incorrect sentences.

To learn more about sentence-level issues, click here to read more.

Write Effective Paragraphs

Effective paragraphs are unified, focusing on one main point. In persuasive writing, the one main point of the paragraph will support one main idea from your thesis.

An effective paragraph is cohesive, each sentence logically flowing from sentence to sentence. In turn, each paragraph should logically flow one to the next with effective transitional sentences.

Effective paragraphs are fully developed, containing enough information to fully convey the main idea of the paragraph in a thorough way. In research papers, direct quotes are smoothly integrated into the text, and contextualized in the writer’s own words. Paragraphs avoid beginning or ending with direct quotes.

Effective paragraphs utilize topic sentences, commonly the first sentence of the paragraph, though it may come later or be implied. To read more about introductory and concluding paragraphs, click here.

Know Your Audience

Effective writers understand who their audience is and what they know about their topic. If you are writing a persuasive essay to lower the drinking age, a reading audience of your state’s alcohol commission would be persuaded with a different line of reasoning than a group of seventeen-year-olds. Effective writing always takes into consideration who the audience is, what they know, and how they feel about their topic.

Writing is a Process

When we write, we do more than sit in front of a blank computer screen and type. Thinking, planning, drafting, and revising are all part of the process of writing effectively. Most college-level writing classes will expect you to write several drafts of your assignment, and may require you to turn in each draft for assessment. Waiting until the night before the due date to begin writing a college-level essay can be a costly mistake.


Final Thoughts

If you feel your writing skills are lacking or need improvement, don’t wait to seek help. Your instructor may be able to offer assistance, or visit your writing center for help. You can visit writing centers at any stage of the writing process, even to brainstorm topic ideas.

If you have questions, ask! Guaranteed, if you have a question, others do as well, but may be too embarrassed to ask.

Below, you’ll find links to more online resources.

Purdue Owl Online Writing Lab – A wonderful resource for anything writing-related.

Bedford St. Martin’s – Tutorials on grammar, punctuation, and other writing-related topics.

Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips – A popular and easy-to-understand website on all things writing.

MCC Writing Center – Our own Writing Center’s website with a link to student resources.

Works Cited: Common Questions Explained

(This post originally appeared Nov. 2013)

Below we’ve compiled a list of the most common student questions related to Works Cited pages, and attempted to clarify what many students find to be the most complicated and perplexing part of the research writing process.

Q  Where do I put the URL in the Works Cited entry?

A  The newest guidelines from the 7th edition of the MLA (Modern Language Association) Handbook have removed the URL from web sources. Now writers will include the medium of publication. For web sources you would simply add “Web” at the end of the entry in place of the URL. Book and other types of print medium, such as newspapers or journals, will add “Print.” Other common sources may be Film or DVD. However, ALWAYS follow instructor guidelines, as many still require the inclusion of URLs.

My source doesn’t have an author. Should I list it as “Anonymous”?

It’s actually quite common for web sources not to list an author. If the author of the source is unknown, list the source by the first word in the title, disregarding A, An, or The. So as you alphabetize the entries, you would alphabetize by the first word in the title. If the title is more than a few words, use a shortened version of the title in the in-text citation.

My instructor says I need to use a “hanging indent” on my Works Cited page.  What exactly is a hanging indent?

A hanging indent is exactly the opposite of a traditional indent. Instead of indenting the first line, with all subsequent lines flush left, the first line of the entry will be flush left, with all subsequent lines indented, regardless of number. The reason for a hanging indent on a Works Cited page is so a reader can easily find the source’s name or title while scanning the Works Cited page.

To easily format for a hanging indent in MS Word, under the “Home” tab, click on the “Paragraph” arrow to open; on the right of the box, you should see “Special” with “none” as the default. Click the arrow beside “none” and “Hanging” should be the last item. If you format the hanging indent before you enter your sources, it will automatically create a hanging indent for each entry.

Q  I have several quotes by the same author but from different texts. How do I account for this on my Works Cited?

When conducting research, it’s common to find several different articles by the same expert. On your Works Cited, give the author’s name in the first entry only. Every entry after the first one with the full name, type three hyphens, which stand for the name in the preceding entry.  The three hyphens, like the name, will be followed by a period. Alphabetize all entries by title.

I placed quotation marks around the title of the book I referenced, but the instructor said it should be italicized. I then italicized the title of a journal article, but was told that’s incorrect too! Which is it?

This is one of the most confusing rules for most students. If you can just remember that small works – for instance, chapter titles in anthologies – are placed in quotation marks; larger works – like a book or journal – are italicized. So, for instance, the article, “Five Fallacies of Education,” will be in quotation marks, and the journal, Harvard Review will be in italics. A newspaper article will be in quotation marks, and the name of the newspaper italicized. It gets more complicated with websites, but just remember the smaller work is placed in quotations and the larger work in italics.

Other directives from the MLA Handbook:

Italics: books, plays, poems published as books, pamphlets, newspapers, magazines, journals, web sites, online databases, films, television and radio broadcasts, CDs, albums.

Quotation Marks: articles, essays, stories or poems published within larger works, book chapters, pages in web sites, and individual episodes of television and radio broadcasts.

 (for a complete list, see MLA Handbook for writers of Research Papers 7th Edition)

My instructor said it was okay to interview my supervisor as one of my sources. How would I cite my interview?

If you have conducted the interview, begin the entry with the name of the person you have interviewed, the kind of interview, whether it was a Personal interview, Telephone interview, or E-mail interview, and conclude with the date the interview took place.

Ex.:     Karr, John. Personal interview. 14 Oct. 2013.

Final Thoughts

Students often find Works Cited pages to be extremely overwhelming to understand.  Your handbook or Purdue Owl’s website are great resources to utilize as you work through the process. All you need to know is the type of medium you are using, so make sure you have identified the type of source correctly, whether it be a print journal, web site, or library database. It’s always best to compile your Works Cited manually, meaning avoid the automatic citation help in MS Word and NoodleTools Express, which will incorrectly format an entry if the writer fails to insert the correct information.

One last piece of advice: It’s much  easier to compile the Works Cited page as you go, as opposed to waiting until the paper is finished.  Creating the source list as you go will save time in the end, and you’ll have the citation right in front of you for the in-text citations.

To view a sample paper with a Works Cited page, visit Purdue Owl here:  MLA Sample Paper.

Pesky Prepositions

(This post originally appeared Jan. 2014)


Prepositions are important structural words that create a relationship between a noun or pronoun and another part of a sentence, expressing a relationship between time, space, and other senses. Prepositions are one of those parts of speech that garner little attention, but can cause all sorts of trouble, especially for English language learners.  We say we are at a café to visit a friend who was in the hospital. We watch a show on TV but at a movie theater. They sit on the couch, while he sits in the chair, but she lies in bed!

Below is a list of some of the most commonly used prepositions:

about, above, after, against, along, among, around, as, at, before, behind, below, beneath, beside, between, beyond, by, down, despite, during, except, for, from, in, inside, into, near, of, off, on, onto, out, over, past, since, through, to, toward, under, until, up, upon, with, without.

What makes prepositions so confusing is that many prepositions have a wide range of meaning, depending on how they are used in a sentence. Note in the following example how English uses in and on:

The apples are in the bowl.
The apples are on the table.
I spilled apple juice on my dress.

Many languages don’t use prepositions at all, and some languages, such as Spanish, would use the same preposition (en) in all of the previous examples.

I learned to remember space-related prepositions by thinking about what a squirrel can do to a tree. A squirrel can go
around a tree
behind a tree.
below a tree.
beneath a tree.
in a tree.
onto a tree.
over a tree.
toward a tree.
up a tree.
under a tree.

In the squirrel examples above, the preposition shows the relationship between the squirrel and the tree (object of the preposition).

The squirrel prepositions are, as noted, space-related prepositions, as they show the object (tree) in relation to space. Prepositions can relate to time, place, and movement.

Prepositions for Time:

In                     In January, 1978, the Midwest suffered a terrible blizzard.

On                   On Monday, we’ll begin a new unit.

At                    At midnight, the ball will drop in Times Square.

For                  He waiting in line for two hours.

Since             I haven’t been back home since 2008.

When referring to a month or year, we don’t use “on,” unless the specific day is given:

On January 21, we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Prepositions for Place

In                     We were riding in the car.

On                   Leave the book on the table.

At                    She is waiting at the entrance.
You could also ride on a car, but that means you would literally be on the outside of the car:
The beauty queen rode on the car [in the parade].

You could leave the book in the table, if you are placing it inside a drawer:
Leave the book in the table[’s drawer].

You could be waiting in the entrance, which would mean you are inside:
She is waiting in the [theater’s main] entrance.

Prepositions for Movement

To                   He went to the movie. OR
He came from the movie.

Into                 She stepped into the bathtub. OR
She stepped out of the bathtub.

Toward         The baby crawled toward his mother. OR
The baby crawled away from his mother.

One of the most common problems with prepositions occurs when prepositional phrases are strung together to create an overly complicated sentence:

It is a matter of the gravest possible importance to the health of anyone with a history of a problem with disease of the heart that he or she should avoid the sort of foods with a high percentage of saturated fats (from

Too many prepositional phrases create plodding prose and a confusing sentence. Can you identify the subject and verb in the previous sentence? I’m not sure I can!

Revised: People with heart problems should avoid high fat foods.

The subject (people) and verb (should avoid) are much clearer in the revised example. The best writing is concise writing, and prepositional phrases often are crutches we lean on a bit too heavily that create wordiness and confusion.

Placement of Prepositions

You probably learned in high school that you shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition. This is one of those grammar rules that cause disagreement among grammarians. It’s not always so easy to rearrange the concluding preposition to another place in the sentence. Try rewording the following sentences to move the concluding preposition:

1)    The dress had not been paid for.

2)    Tell him he is taking too much on.

3)    We are such stuff as dreams are made of. (William Shakespeare)

4)    All words are pegs to hang ideas on. (Henry Ward Beecher)

5)    That is nonsense up with which I shall not put. (Winston Churchill)

As you can see, even some of our great writers break the rule. Consider this rule a writer’s choice. Whether one considers it right or wrong is a debate we won’t go into. (!)

This is only a tiny bit of all there is to know about prepositions and their uses. As you can see, it takes patience and practice.

Fill-in each sentence with a preposition from the list.

Along; down; across; beyond; underneath; after; against

1. I looked ______________________ the hill at the many houses below.

2. Make sure to check ______________________ your bed for your shoes.

3. __________________ we go to the movies, we will go eat at a restaurant.

4. I leaned ______________________ the side of the wall.

5. Can you walk ______________________ with me as we go shopping?

6. If you look ______________________ those trees, you will see a cabin.

7. We will walk _______________________ the street when it is safe. (from

Some examples from