Prepositions are words or groups of words we use before a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase to show time, direction, place or location, spatial relationships, or to introduce an object. Prepositions examples include words like “on,” “in,” “at,” and “to,” but which do we use to refer to a website?
The correct usage is “on the website.” “In the website” is incorrect. The word “on” indicates place, and we use it to refer to the surface of something, and we can conceptualize a website as a “surface” on the Internet. We also use “on” idiomatically to refer to being “on” a particular device like a phone or computer.
As with most matters concerning English grammar, there are usage rules for prepositions, many of which show that fixed expressions dictate this. This article will explore prepositions and the rules for using them in English. It will also help you to understand where and when we use them.
“On the Website” or “In the Website”
When we refer to a location in the English language, using the right prepositions such as “in,” “on,” or “at” is important. “In” indicates an area or volume of something, “on” refers to a surface, and “at” refers to a particular point.
We use the preposition “on” when using a website because we are reading information off the user interface of the World Wide Web (WWW). The Internet or Web is similar to a spider’s web, and we can view this as a “surface.”
The word “on” functions as a preposition of place, so we use it when referring to something on a surface. We can also see a particular website on the Internet as a surface, so we say “on the web page.”
Prepositions of Place
Both “in” and “on” can function as prepositions of place. We use “in” to refer to something “inside” of something else, while we use “on” to refer to something in contact with a surface.
When we refer to using a device or machine, we most often use “on” instead of “in.”
When we stop to think about it, using “on” in this way does not make a lot of sense literally. When we say that we are “on the computer” or “on the phone,” we use the preposition rather idiomatically.
Some may argue that we can see a website as a hierarchical file system and, in that case, the phrase “in the website” would be correct; however, it is better to say, “on the website” as you are reading information off the user interface or “surface” of the Internet.
We use “in” when we’re referring to limited, confined space. Here are a few examples where we use “in” and “on” regarding computer technology and the Internet.
He found all the information he needed on the website.
Look on the company’s website to find their address.
She likes talking to people in a chatroom.
Are you on Facebook?
I logged in to my email account.
I logged on to the computer.
Using “at” and other Prepositions
We might use other prepositions of place such as “at” to refer to the general vicinity of something. For example, we use the @ symbol, which we read aloud as “at,” for websites, url’s, emails, and web addresses.
You can email me at email@example.com.
My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
We can also use the @ symbol for social media platform handles, such as @grammarrules (source).
Other prepositions of place we normally use to refer to spatial relationships include “above,” “against,” “among,” “ahead of,” “along,” “behind,” “below,” “beneath,” “from,” “between,” “in front of,” “near,” “inside,” “through,” “under,” “within,” “toward,” “out of,” and “off.”
Here are a few examples where we might apply some of them to a computer or the Internet.
You must log off before shutting down your computer.
He embedded a webpage within a webpage.
For more on tech terminology and use, read our article “Bug Versus Glitch: Which Tech Issue Is Worse?”
Using the Right Preposition with the Internet and Technology
Many prepositions in the English language are highly idiomatic, meaning they present a figurative, non-literal meaning attached to the phrase that precedes it (source).
Again, a preposition is a word or set of words that indicate a location or place, as in the case of the words “in,” “on,” “near,” “on top of,” and “beside.”
It can also represent a relationship between a noun or pronoun and other parts of the sentence, as in the case of the words “after,” “about,” “instead of,” “in accordance with,” or “besides.”
We always use a preposition with a related noun or pronoun, called the object of the preposition, as in the following example:
You have to sign in to a website.
In the example above, the word “in” is a preposition, and “the website” is the object.
Prepositions of Time
We can also use the prepositions “in,” “on,” and “at” to refer to a specific point in time. English uses the preposition “in” with parts of the day, weeks, months, years, and seasons, but not when stating specific times.
The Internet was invented in 1983.
We use the preposition “on” when talking about days of the week.
The information on the website states that the shop opens on Monday.
John turns on his computer first thing on Saturday morning.
We also use prepositions of time to refer to extended time, such as “since,” “during,” “by,” “for,” “from, to,” “from, until,” “with,” and “within.”
The server has been down since Tuesday.
There is no Internet access during a blackout.
Prepositions of Direction
We can also use “in” and “on” as prepositions of direction, in addition to words like “to,” “into,” and “onto.”
To start, log in to your desktop system.
Click on the start menu to find the file.
They hacked into his computer and stole his banking information.
Plug in your computer to recharge it.
There are 150 prepositions in English, but we commonly use only about 70 of these. The prepositions “to,” “of,” “in,” “for,” “on,” “with,” “at,” “by,” and “from” are among the top 25 words used in the English language (source).
If you can understand the basics of using the right preposition, you will greatly improve your fluency and knowledge of the language. The following rules will aid your understanding and use of prepositions when speaking and writing in English.
Rule #1: Nouns Follow Prepositions and Never Verbs
Unlike many other grammar rules in the English language, this rule has no exception. We cannot follow a preposition with a verb. If a verb follows a preposition, you must use the noun in the -ing form, which we call a gerund or verb in noun form.
Noun types include:
- Common nouns: computer, keyboard, Internet.
- Proper nouns: URL, World Wide Web.
- Pronouns: you, her, we, us.
- Noun groups: my first laptop, his last program
- Gerunds: coding, typing, searching, running (a program).
|Subject + Verb||Preposition||Noun||Note|
|The cat is||on||the bed.||Noun|
|He lives||in||Greece.||Proper Noun|
|Sally is looking||for||him.||Pronoun|
|The book is||under||your school bag.||Noun group|
|Tom is used||to||Danish food.||Noun group|
|He isn’t used||to||running.||Gerund|
Rule #2: A Preposition Must Have an Object
All prepositions always have objects. If a preposition does not have an object, it’s not a preposition at all but an adverb. An adverb never has an object.
|They are in the house.||“House” is an object, which means that “in” is a preposition.|
|Please come in.||There is no object; therefore, “in” qualifies “come” and is not a preposition but an adverb.|
|There was a gate before me.||“Before” precedes the object “me,” therefore, “before” is a preposition.|
|I had never seen it before.||There is no object in this sentence, but “before” qualifies the word “seen,” therefore, it is an adverb, not a preposition.|
|I will visit you after school.||The word “school” is an object; therefore, the word “after” is a preposition.|
|She called soon after.||The word “after” is an adverb as it has no object but rather qualifies the word “called.”|
Rule # 3: Generally, a Preposition Goes Before a Noun or Pronoun
Generally, but not always, a preposition precedes a noun or a pronoun. You can use a preposition at the end of a sentence, but you shouldn’t use them when the meaning is clear without them.
|Where did he go?||Where did he go to?|
|Where did you get this?||Where did you get this at?|
Rule # 4: Never Use the Preposition “of ” in Place of the Helping Verb “Have”
If English is your second language, it can be difficult to distinguish between words that sound the same when speaking quickly.
However, even though “of” and “have” can sound similar when speaking fast, remember that we cannot ever substitute “of” for the word “have” when used as a helping verb.
|I should have done it.||I should of done it.|
|He should have gone there.||He should of gone there.|
Rule # 5: Follow the Preposition “Like” with Its Object, not by a Subject and Verb
Rule of thumb: Avoid using the preposition “like” when a verb is involved.
|She looks like her mother.She looks similar to her mother.“Mother’ is the object of the preposition “like”||She looks like her mother does.|
You can replace the preposition “like” with “as,” “as if,” “as though,” or “the way” when following your comparison with a subject and verb.
|You look as though you are happy.||You look like you are happy.|
|Do as I ask.||Do like I ask.|
|I, like most people, try to help the needy.||I, as most people, try to help the needy.|
Remember: the word “like” means “similar to,” “similarly to,” or “in the same manner that.” Never use the word “like” unless there is a verb involved (source).
Rule #6: Don’t Confuse the Preposition “to” and the Infinitive Particle “To”
There is a difference between using the word “to” as either a preposition or infinitive particle.
I look forward to seeing you.
He is committed to the project.
I am not used to seeing you like this.
They used to live in London.
They love to dance.
If English is not your first language, you might confuse the preposition “to” with the preposition “for” as in the case of beneficial for or beneficial to.
Remember that each preposition has a distinct meaning that we often cannot easily interchange.
Rule #7: Follow the Word “Different” with the Preposition “From”
Some English speakers place “than” after the word “different,” and while this is not grammatically incorrect, it is better practice to follow with the word “from.”
|You are different from me.||You are different than me.|
|I look different from other girls.||I look different than other girls.|
Rule #8: Use “into” Rather than “in” to Express Motion toward Something
|He walked into the room.||He walked in the room.|
|She dived into the water.||She dived in the water.|
|Throw it into the trash can.||Throw it in the trash can.|
When we consider the phrases “in the website” or “on the website,” we will always settle on using the preposition “on” because you are reading information off the user interface or “surface” of the Internet.
The word “on” serves as a preposition of place in this case, as it refers to something on a surface, i.e., the user interface of the Internet. We typically use “on” when referring to the use of devices, and this usage tends to be idiomatic.
Using the right preposition is essential to speaking, writing, and understanding English correctly. We use prepositions in certain ways to show time, place, direction, agency, causation, and location.