What’s a Prepositional Phrase?
- A prepositional phrase is made up of a preposition, the object of the preposition (noun, pronoun, or noun phrase), and any modifying words. A prepositional phrase acts like an adverbial or complement in that it modifies or adds information to a clause.
- ○ Tom drove from New York to Pennsylvania.
What Are Prepositional Phrases?
Before we dive into what prepositional phrases are, let’s first review phrases and prepositions.
In the English grammar world, a phrase is a group of words that act as a single unit but not as a complete sentence because it lacks a subject, predicate, or both. (There are a few types of phrases, but here we’re only focusing on prepositional phrases.)
A preposition connects nouns and pronouns to other words in the sentence by helping express relationships between time, space, and other senses. There are many prepositions. A few examples are: about, above, behind, below, down, during, for, from, inside, into, near, of, off, out, over, past, since, toward, under, until, up, upon, with, without, in, on, at.
Can you place that lamp behind the table?
We left during the first half of the game to avoid traffic.
Lucia found the kitty hiding under the car.
So, now we can deduce that a prepositional phrase is a phrase that begins with a preposition. However, it must also include a noun or pronoun (commonly referred to as the object of the preposition) and any word that modifies said object.
We rented a cabin in beautiful North Carolina!
In the example above, in is the preposition, beautiful is the modifying adjective, and North Carolina is the noun. Therefore, in beautiful North Carolina is a prepositional phrase.
We should note that the object of the preposition can be any type of word or phrase that acts as a noun, including pronouns, gerunds, and noun phrases.
I gave the gift to her.
She is skilled at drawing.
She left the restaurant by crawling under the tables and sneaking out the back door.
A sentence can contain multiple prepositional phrases.
Alex kicked the ball with the strength(1) of a professional soccer player(2).
With the strength is a prepositional phrase that describes the verb “kicked,” while of a professional soccer player modifies “strength.”
Prepositional phrases function like adverbials and complements in that they modify or add more information to a sentence. We’ll elaborate on this below.
Using Prepositional Phrases to Modify Nouns
Prepositional phrases can modify nouns. They answer questions like “which one?” or “what kind of?” These types of prepositional phrases are sometimes referred to as adjectival prepositional phrases. Let’s go over some examples.
A few students from my school are organizing a fundraising event.
The phrase from my school describes or adds more information to the noun students.
Only one of us can go to the party.
Of us modifies the pronoun one.
The shirt on the floor is yellow.
Here, on the floor adds information to the noun shirt.
Let’s make a checklist of everything we need.
And in this last example, of everything we need is an adjectival prepositional phrase that modifies the noun checklist.
As you might have noticed from the examples above, adjectival prepositional phrases are typically found after a noun.
Prepositional Phrases as Adverbials
Prepositional phrases can also function as adverbials by modifying verbs and adjectives. They answer questions like “when” “where” “how” and “why.”
Let’s meet at the mall.
At the mall modifies that verb meet.
My big brother is always nice to me.
Here, nice is an adjective and to me is the prepositional phrase.
Be Careful With Prepositional Phrases
It’s important to note that a misplaced prepositional phrase can create an ambiguous sentence.
Jack and Jill discussed their recent safari trip in the kitchen.
The sentence above can be interpreted in two different ways: Jack and Jill went on a safari in their kitchen, or Jack and Jill went on a safari and then discussed it in their kitchen. To avoid this ambiguity, rewrite the sentence.
While in the kitchen, Jack and Jill discussed their recent safari trip.
In short, prepositional phrases are a group of words that modify or add information within a sentence. To identify them, all you have to do is look for the preposition, the object, and any word that modifies it. If you can find those, then voilà, you can find the prepositional phrases.
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