Bitesize STE – Essentials 7: Prepositions

Bitesize STE is written by Ciaran Dodd, course director for Mekon’s Simplified Technical English (STE) training course. In our latest Bitesize STE Ciaran takes a closer look at prepositions.

As part of our two-day Introduction to STE course, we review some essentials of grammar that you have to know to understand the rules of STE. In the last few issues of Bitesize, we’ve explained the different parts of speech and why you need to know them in order to write well in STE.


What is a preposition?

“A word that shows how a noun, noun phrase or pronoun is related to other parts of the sentence.” (2-0-4, ASD-STE100, 2017) For example: the cup is on the table. Here, the preposition ‘on’ shows where the cup (noun) is in relation to the table.

As always with English grammar, not all prepositions are straightforward. This website helpfully uses these six categories to explain prepositions:

  1. Time
  2. Place
  3. Direction
  4. Agent
  5. Instruments
  6. Prepositional verb


 In standard English, we frequently use ‘on’, ‘in’ and ‘at’ to express time. For example: ‘on Sunday’, ‘in November’, ‘at 1 o’clock’. STE is slightly different. In STE, both ‘at’ and ‘in’ are defined as function words that relate to location, position, direction and time. The definition for ‘on’ is different to standard English because the definition does not include time: “Function word that shows contact, support, direction.” (2-1-O3, ASD-STE100, 2017). Another frequently used preposition for time in STE is ‘during’ meaning: “In or for a specified time.” (2-1-D19, ASD-STE100, 2017)


 As with time, in standard English and in STE, common prepositions used to indicate place are ‘on’, ‘in’ and ‘at’. This is how distinguishes between these three prepositions:

  • ‘in’ is for places with some physical or virtual boundary;
  • ‘on’ relates to the surface of things; and
  • ‘at’ refers to specific places.

These are useful prepositions to use because they help you to avoid more complex (and not permitted structures) like: ‘A is located in Y.’  Instead, write ‘A is in Y.’


In technical writing, we regularly need to express how components or processes relate to each other, particularly in descriptive writing. In STE, ‘to’ is an important preposition and is the approved alternative to ‘toward’. Another example of a preposition of direction is ‘across’. ‘From’ is another useful preposition because it can indicate what STE defines as “a point of departure for movement, time, distance, action or separation.” (2-1-F12, ASD-STE100, 2017)


 These prepositions show a “causal relationship between the noun (the doer) and an action” ( In STE, you can use ‘with’ to show agency, for example: “Remove the valve (2) with the extractor.” (2-1-W5, ASD-STE100, 2017).

However, when you use ‘with’ you must make sure that you do not create ambiguity (general recommendation 2). This example shows the potential ambiguity: “Lift the aircraft at the maximum takeoff weight with passengers.”

Does this mean:

  1. use the passengers to lift the aircraft, or
  2. include the weight of the passengers when you calculate the maximum takeoff weight? (1-9-10, ASD-STE100, 2017).


 These prepositions are useful to indicate how you achieve a task or action with the use of an instrument, device or machine. In STE, ‘with’ would be your main preposition for this function. (Refer to the example in the previous section.)

Prepositional verb

A prepositional verb is a verb + preposition that expresses a single idea. For example: ‘to look after’ meaning to take care of something. Prepositional verbs look the same as phrasal verbs (such as ‘give off’) that also have a verb followed by a preposition. Phrasal verbs are not permitted in STE because they can have two meanings and cause confusion (rule 9.3). Whilst the STE specification does not expressly mention prepositional verbs, I suspect that they are not useful in STE and there were no results for my search for ‘prepositional verbs’ in the specification.

Next month, we finish the basic with conjunctions.

Bitesize STE in 2018

Is there an aspect of STE you would like us to cover in Bitesize STE in 2018?  We would love to hear your thoughts, please share them with us by emailing .

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The course introduces the philosophy of Simplified Technical English, explains the underlying grammatical principles and gives delegates opportunities to use Simplified Technical English in practical exercises. These exercises can be based on your company’s documentation.

Find out more about our Simplified Technical English Specification: ASD-STE100 training delivered by Ciaran or email

About Ciaran

“Who is your audience and what do they need?”

“How do you meet those needs efficiently, cost effectively and to a high standard?”

Ciaran Dodd has been ensuring that clients address both of these questions using ASD Simplified Technical English (ASD-STE100) since 2002, after being trained by the United Kingdom’s ASD-STE100 co-ordinator in 2001. Ciaran started her career in training at Rolls-Royce, which is where she became involved in training all aspects of writing, including ASD-STE100. After leaving the organisation, Ciaran set up an independent consultancy specialising in communication and learning skills. She has extensive experience of working with major names in engineering; particularly in defence aerospace and the automotive industries.

Ciaran is a qualified trainer, teacher and teacher of English as a foreign language. After completing a law degree at Cambridge University, she taught English in a Chinese university for two years. She has taught all aspects of the English language in commercial and public organisations since 1994.