Prepositional Phrases

What are prepositional phrases? Generally, as its name requires, prepositional phrases are phrases made of prepositions. To get to know them, read the article.

"Prepositional Phrases" in the English Grammar

What Is a Prepositional Phrase?

Prepositional phrases (or postpositional phrases, adpositional phrases) are groups of words that contain a preposition, its object, and any modifying words that follow the preposition. They provide additional information about the relationship between different elements in a sentence.

Prepositional Phrase: Structure

A prepositional phrase consists of a preposition and the object that follows it. This object of a preposition can be:

Prepositions + a Noun Phrase

A large number of prepositions can be followed by a single noun, a noun phrase, or a pronoun.

  1. preposition + noun (phrase)
  2. preposition + pronoun

I'm worried about Margaret.

Preposition + Noun

Have you heard anything from him?

Preposition + Pronoun

With thorough studying, I can manage to pass this exam.

Preposition + Noun Phrase

Prepositions + a Noun Clause

Not all prepositions are followed by noun phrases. Some need a noun clause as their object. These noun clauses can be:

Prepositions + Nominal Relative Clauses

Nominal relative clauses can appear immediately after certain prepositions and act as their object.

I'm not sure about what Tommy said earlier.

From where I stand, things appear pretty good.

Tip!

When a relative pronoun is the object of a preposition, there are two possibilities:

  1. In informal English, the preposition is placed at the end of the relative clause and the relative pronoun can be omitted.
  2. In formal English, the preposition is placed before the relative pronoun, and the relative pronoun cannot be omitted.
Informal English Formal English
Was that the girl (who) he came with? Was that the girl with whom he came?
It is a golf club (which) many collage students belong to. It is a golf club to which many collage students belong.
I love the family (that) I live with. I love the family with whom I live.
Do they know the boy (that) Mary is talking to? Do they know the boy to whom Mary is talking?

Prepositions + Participle Clauses

A noun in the form of the present participle of a verb can also appear after prepositions. Present participles can also be used as an object of prepositions.

In spite of studying, she didn't pass the exams.

After eating breakfast, I waited for Elena.

Certain prepositions require a participle as their object and cannot be used with a bare infinitive. These prepositions are commonly used with:

  • prepositional verbs: interested in, keen on, proud of, sick of, sorry about/for, etc.
  • certain adjectives: advantage of, chance of, choice between, etc.
  • nouns that require prepositions: accuse of, agree with, apologize for, etc.

I'm interested in cooking. (Not 'I'm interested in cook.')

You have a choice between watching the movie with German or Spanish subtitles. (Not 'You have a choice between watch ...')

I apologize for losing my temper. (Not 'I apologize for lose my temper.')

Prepositions + Bare Infinitive Clauses

The object of certain prepositions can only be a bare infinitive, which is the base form of the verb. For example:

In order to win, you have to try your best. (Not 'In order to winning...')

We should all rejoice, rather than complain.

Tip!

A single word in a sentence can be modified by multiple prepositional phrases acting as adjuncts.

cheese from Belgium with live bacteria

Prepositional Phrases: Functions

A prepositional phrase can function as four different types of elements:

Prepositional Phrases as Adjuncts

Prepositional phrases as adjuncts are optional, descriptive elements in a sentence that provide additional information about the manner, time, place, frequency, purpose, or degree of the main action or clause. Here are some examples:

He left after dinner. → modifying when he left (time)

Mason played his guitar with great passion. → modifying how he played (manner)

We walked through the forest. → modifying where we walked (place)

He studied all night for the exam. → modifying the purpose of studying (purpose)

The team won the game by a landslide. → modifying the degree of their victory (degree)

She practices yoga at sunrise. → modifying the the time of her yoga practice (frequency)

'with great passion' is a prepositional phrase acting as an adverb

Prepositional Phrases as Complements

Prepositional phrases can function as complements in sentences when they provide essential information that completes the meaning of a part of the sentence. In this case, prepositional phrases can act as all types of complements which are as follows:

  • Subject complement: a prepositional phrase may function as a subject complement when it provides necessary information about the subject and follows a linking verb. For example:

An ideal time to visit the beach is during the summer.

The idea seems beyond her understanding.

She is in a bad mood.

  • Object complement: When a prepositional phrase provides essential information about the direct object, it is acting as an object complement. For example:

She has a fear of death.

She always puts her family before her own needs.

  • Adjective complement: a prepositional phrase that completes the meaning of an adjective or adjective phrase can function as an object complement. For example:

She is ashamed of her actions.

He is happy with his new job.

  • Noun complement: Quantity words require a prepositional phrase that is usually headed by 'of' to complete their meaning. Take a look at some examples:

She gave me a beautiful pair of shoes.

The tailor measured ten meters of fabric for the dress.

Prepositional Phrases as Noun Modifiers

A noun modifier is a part of the sentence that gives additional information about a noun or noun phrase. Prepositional phrases are often used as noun modifiers when they appear after the noun. Here are some examples:

The notebook with the leather cover is mine.

The preposition phrase 'with the leather jacket' modifies the noun 'notebook'.

That dress next to the black one is the one I want to buy.

The teacher of mathematics is very knowledgeable.

Prepositional Phrases as Indirect Objects

A prepositional phrase can act as an indirect object to indicate the recipient or beneficiary of the action. It usually answers the question "to/for whom" or "to/for what" after the verb. Here are some examples:

He gave a gift to me.

She wrote a letter to her friend.

It depends on you.

In this sentence, no direct object is needed.

Tip!

An adverb can come before a gradable preposition, particularly those indicating time or place, to modify it.

We stayed up talking far into the night.

The antique store you're looking for is just around the corner.

Review

Prepositional phrases are made of a preposition and another term. As a result, they make a phrase. Prepositional phrases are mostly:

  • Adjuncts
  • Complements
  • Noun modifiers
  • Indirect objects

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