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Prepositional Phrase

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English

A prepositional phrase is usually a preposition, followed by an object and often words that modify the object. Any words between the preposition and object are called modifiers. Within these phrases, the preposition gives more information about the object. Prepositional phrases can relate to nouns, pronouns, infinitives, or gerunds.

For example: A dog sits behind the kennel.

The phrase 'behind the kennel' is the prepositional phrase.

Prepositional Phrase, Dog with prepositions, StudySmarterMan's best friend with prepositions, freepik.com

What are the types of prepositional phrases and their function?

There are two different types of prepositional phrases: adjectival and adverbial.

An adjectival prepositional phrase that modifies a noun. On the other hand, an adverbial phrase is a prepositional phrase that modifies a verb.

Adjective prepositional phrases

The server at the restaurant was very helpful.

  • The server = noun
  • At = preposition
  • At the restaurant = adjectival phrase

The adjectival phrase involves 'at' as the preposition, and is giving more information about 'the server', which is the noun.

The extra cash is inside the handbag.

  • The extra cash = noun
  • Inside = preposition
  • Inside the handbag = adjectival phrase

The adjectival phrase features 'inside' as the preposition, providing more information about the extra cash by telling the reader its location.

The salad in the fridge is the most delicious.

  • The salad = noun
  • In = preposition
  • In the fridge = adjectival phrase

The preposition 'in' is part of the adjectival phrase 'in the fridge', telling the reader where 'the salad' is and giving information about it.

He showed us a picture of his new car.

  • A picture = noun
  • Of = preposition
  • Of his new car = adjectival phrase

For this example, 'of' is the preposition that comes in the adjectival phrase 'of his new car'. The noun is 'a picture'.

Adverb prepositional phrases

We always have a family dinner on Saturday nights.

  • Have = verb
  • On = preposition
  • On Saturday nights = adverbial phrase

In this sentence, 'on' is the preposition in an adverbial phrase. The preposition tells us when family dinner happens, giving the reader more insight.

We were cooking dinner at Emily's house.

  • Were cooking = verb
  • At = preposition
  • At Emily's house = adverbial phrase

Here 'at' is a preposition in the adverbial phrase 'at Emily's house'. The phrase tells us where the meal took place.

Sally drove across the country.

  • Drove = verb
  • Across = preposition
  • Across the country = adverbial phrase

In this example, 'across the country' is the adverbial phrase as it gives context about where Sally 'drove'.

She spoke on the phone with frustration.

  • Spoke = verb
  • With = preposition
  • With frustration = adverbial phrase

Here the adverbial phrase includes the preposition “with” to express the way in which the woman “spoke”.

For a change, Lisa was early for school.

  • was early = verb
  • For = preposition
  • For a change = adverbial phrase

In this sentence, the preposition comes at the beginning of the sentence.

Tip: Prepositions can be in different places in the sentence and they still function in the same way.

What is the prepositional phrase 'comma'?

As seen in the final example above, sometimes a comma is used after a prepositional phrase. When writing shorter phrases, the comma is not compulsory. However, when writing longer phrases, the comma is very important. Even if the phrase is not at the beginning of the sentence, think about the grammar and usage of a comma and whether it is needed to make the sentence clear.

In 2020, Darya saw her favorite band play live.

A comma is optional here because the prepositional phrase is not that long. As a result, while the comma works after the phrase, the sentence still makes sense and flows well without it.

In the winter of 2020, Darya saw her favorite band play live.

A comma is necessary here because, unlike the example above, this phrase is longer. The comma is needed to make the sentence flow better and to make it clearer.

What are some examples of prepositional phrases?

Across all of the examples, prepositional phrases are always working to give insight and information to the reader. Most commonly, the type of information they are giving fits into two areas: place and direction, or time. These categories relate to deictic expressions, which you can learn about here. Below we will identify lists of words and phrases that indicate both sets of information types, and then we will provide adjectival and adverbial examples for each.

Place and direction

  • to, into, toward, towards, at, inside, outside, on, onto
  • around, beneath, by, past, close to, near, nearby, through, beside
  • among, behind, below, between, down from, up from, in front of

The dog hides underneath the bed.

The shoes were inside the wardrobe.

Prepositional Phrase, Clothes in Wardrobe, StudySmarterClothes and shoes in wardrobe, freepik.com

Time

These time preposition phrases are useful as they allow the writer/speaker to give more context about when something is taking place. Giving information about the time can range from a specific hour to a time period. They can also refer to the past, present or future.

from, until, at, after, afterwards, before, beforehand, during, on, in

  • The party started at three.
  • Millie promised that afterwards, she would see her friend.

What is a prepositional specifier?

Specifiers are connected to many types of phrases which include prepositional phrases. A specifier brings even more information; it brings specific detail to a sentence. To do this, they quantify what the sentence is about.

To illustrate how prepositional specifiers work, let's look at some examples:

  • The chip shop is just over the street .

In this sentence, 'just' is a specifier because it shows how far it is over the street. 'Just' implies a sense of closeness to the chip shop, showing it isn't a far distance.

  • Melanie gave a fairly nice cake to her friend.

Here, 'fairly' is a specifier because it gives information about the quality of the cake. 'Fairly nice' instead of simply 'nice' illustrates what the cake is like.

What is the difference between conjunction and prepositional phrases?

A role of conjunctions is to link together words, phrases, clauses and sentences. Some examples of conjunctions are: whether, whoever, which, until, though, supposing, now.

It is common for conjunctions and preposition phrases to be mixed up. Although there is some crossover, they function very differently. For example, conjunctions are there to join together parts of the sentence whereas prepositions are specifically there to point out the relationship between words in the sentence.

Look out for words such as before, while, after, until - they all fit into both conjunction or prepositional phrases.

Can sentences have multiple prepositional phrases?

Sentences often have multiple prepositional phrases. Below is a sentence that includes five prepositional phrases. It is important to realize that sentences can often have many prepositional phrases and make sure you are identifying all of them.

  • During the winter holidays, after he returned home from university, Will started a job at a bar to earn some money.

All of the words in bold are part of the multiple prepositional phrases in this sentence - they are all working to give different kinds of information about Will and his activities.

How can you use prepositional phrases in your writing?

Below are just a few examples of common prepositional phrases. You most likely already use them in everyday conversation and in your writing. It is good to think about which ones you already use, and use this information to deepen your understanding of how prepositional phrases work.

  • Above all
  • On account of
  • Through the looking glass
  • At first glance
  • Between you and me
  • Around the clock
  • At a loss
  • After many tries
  • To a certain degree
  • In common
  • In other words
  • By accident

Keeping prepositional phrases simple

It is possible to have numerous preposition phrases in a single sentence. However, it is important to recognize that using fewer preposition phrases can make your sentences clearer. Your understanding and usage of preposition phrases can affect the quality and readability of your writing.

For example, when we fill out documents, such as job applications that have strict word limits, it is important to make sure sentences are concise by keeping prepositional phrases simple. Similarly, when we send texts or emails, it is crucial to make sure we are using prepositional phrases accurately and concisely because it can confuse the messages we are trying to send otherwise.

We will look at a comedic quotation that emphasizes the importance of being clear when writing prepositional phrases. Groucho Marx says:

“One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I'll never know ”

This highlights how easy it is for unclear prepositional phrases to send completely the wrong message. This is a reminder that we need to ensure sentences are clear and easy to read.

Prepositional Phrase - Key takeaways

  • Prepositional phrases connect a preposition and object to add information.
  • Prepositional phrases can be adjectival or adverbial, depending on the object of the sentence.
  • The type of information that prepositional phrases add ranges from direction and place, to time.
  • Prepositional specifiers add more detail to the sentence by qualifying what, where or how the object is doing something.
  • It is important to be able to recognize common prepositional phrases in everyday speech and literature. In your own writing, you need to be clear and focus on the readability of sentences, especially sentences that include multiple prepositional phrases.

Prepositional Phrase

A prepositional phrase is usually a preposition, followed by an object and often words that modify the object.

If the object in the sentence relates to the preposition is a noun or pronoun then it is an adjectival phrase. On the other hand, if the object is a verb, adjective or adverb then it is an adverbial phrase.

Within these phrases, the preposition gives more information about the object. The prepositional phrase usually relates to two types of objects: nouns / pronouns or verbs.

He showed us a picture of his new car. 
A picture = noun. 
Of = preposition. 
Of his new car = adjectival phrase.

There are common prepositions that will come up repeatedly, such as 'to', 'for', 'with', 'toward', 'beneath', 'near'. Look at the way words like this relate to the object in the sentence, and what extra information they give - this will help you find the prepositional phrase.

Final Prepositional Phrase Quiz

Question

True or false? All prepositional phrases are adjectival.

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Answer

 False, prepositional phrases can be adjectival or adverbial

Show question

Question

True or false? All prepositions come in the middle of a sentence.

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Answer

False, prepositions can come at any part of the sentence.

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Question

True or false? You can have more than one preposition phrase in one sentence. 


Show answer

Answer

 True.

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Question

Where can you find prepositional phrases used? 


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Answer

In everyday phrases as well as in literature.

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Question

What do all prepositional phrases consist of? 


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Answer

 A preposition and an object.

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Question

What kind of information can prepositional phrases give us? 


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Answer

Direction and place or time information.

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Question

 What kind of information would the preposition “underneath” give?


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Answer

Direction and place.

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Question

What kind of information would the preposition “during” give?


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Answer

Time.

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Question

 Which is the correct term: preposition specialists or preposition specifiers?


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Answer

 Preposition specifiers.

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Question

Why is it often good to not use too many prepositional phrases in one sentence? 


Show answer

Answer

To increase the clarity and readability of your writing.

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Question

Which of these is a preposition:    
A. Walk   
B. On  
C. Fun


Show answer

Answer

 B. On.

Show question

Question

What is a conjunction phrase?


Show answer

Answer

A conjunction phrases' role is to link together words, phrases, clauses and sentences.

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Question

True or false? You always need a comma after a prepositional phrase.


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Answer

 False. Sometimes a comma is necessary, depending on the length of the phrase and the overall sentence flow.

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Question

 Is there a cross over between words used in conjunctional and prepositional phrases? 


Show answer

Answer

 Yes there is, but they function differently.

Show question

Question

What are some examples of when keeping prepositional phrases simple in your writing is important?


Show answer

Answer

Writing emails and texts or filling out job applications.

Show question

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