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Figure of Speech

Prepositional Phrases List

Known as the father of phrases, prepositional phrases are words which are extensively used, but rarely explored, in English vocabulary. Starting with a preposition and ending with a noun, pronoun, gerund or clause – the object of the preposition, they create a relationship between subject and verb by modifying the verb and noun. The significance of prepositional phrases arises from the fact that they provide details on location, things and people, time, relationship and ideas. They colour and uniform the sentences in powerful ways. They have two parts viz., preposition and an object of preposition, as you can see in the example ‘behind the couch’. In this phrase, ‘behind’ is the preposition and ‘the couch’ is the object of preposition. Prepositional phrases are widely used in English and, while starting a sentence with a prepositional phrase, it is advisable to put a comma after that to separate it from rest of the sentence. But there are also cases when prepositional phrases are unnecessarily used in a single sentence. This can obscure the main subject and the action of the sentence. You can master the English language if you can identify and use these in your writing. It provides more information to a sentence that otherwise would have ended as a dull one.

Prepositional Phrase

Using Prepositional Phrases

Prepositional phrases are words which begin with a preposition and end with a noun, pronoun, gerund or clause. Here are some examples of prepositional phrases:

  • By the ocean
  • Near the window
  • Over the cabinet
  • With us
  • In your ear
  • Under your hat
  • After several minutes, we located the key for the door.
  • The flock of tiny swallows flew over the trees near the lake.
  • The curtains in the bedroom need changing.
  • The house near the park needs painting.
  • A large fire was burning near the outskirts of the city.
  • An old woman with white hair and blue eyes sat at the front of the bus.
  • The small children listened carefully to their mother.

There are cases when prepositional phrases act as either adverb (adverbial phrase) or adjective (adjectival phrase) as in these sentences. In this, adverbs describe verbs and adjectives describe nouns and pronouns.

Prepositional phrase as an adverbial phrase

  • The children crossed the street with caution. In this sentence, ‘with caution’ describes the way children crossed the street.
  • The book on the bathroom floor is swollen from shower steam. In this sentence, ‘on the bathroom floor’ tells more about the book.

Prepositional phrase as an adjectival phrase

  • He lives in the house with the red roof. In this sentence, the prepositional phrase ‘with the red roof’ explains the house in a specific way.

As an adverb, prepositional phrase will answer questions such as where, when and how!

  • Freddy is stiff from yesterday’s long football practice.
  • Before class, Josh begged his friends for a pencil.
  • Feeling brave, we tried the Dragon Breath Burritos at Tito’s Taco Palace.

Always remember that prepositional phrases will not have the subject of the sentence.

  • Neither of these cookbooks contains the recipe for Manhattan-style squid eyeball stew.

You can connect two or more prepositional phrases with a coordinating conjunction such as, for, and, but, yet, nor and so.

  • The resort is beside the mountain and by the lake.
  • You can usually find Macho Marvin in the steam room, on the exercise bike, or under the barbells.

Prepositional phrases do more than just adding minor details to a sentence. In fact, you can notice how vague a sentence becomes without a prepositional phrase.

  • The workers gather a rich variety and distribute it.

After adding prepositional phrases, the sentence becomes,

  • From many sources, the workers at the Community Food Bank gather a rich variety of surplus food and distribute it to soup kitchens, day-care centres and homes for the elderly.

Common Examples Of Prepositional Phrases

Prepositional phrases are so common in conversational language that it is very difficult to distinguish them. Here are some of the examples:

  • over the hill
  • behind the door
  • at Mary’s house
  • without your coat
  • during lunch
  • atop Mount Everest
  • (a)t high speed
  • at (the) risk (of)
  • at/by one’s side
  • at/for a fraction of
  • at/from the outset
  • at/in the end
  • at/on sight
  • at/on the double
  • at a/one time
  • by heart
  • by law
  • by marriage
  • by means of
  • by mistake
  • by my watch
  • by nature
  • by no means
  • by oneself
  • by order of
  • by process of

Identifying Prepositional Phrases

The clue to recognising prepositional phrases is that neither the subject nor the verb will be part of these prepositional phrases. This can be understood from the following sentence: ‘The coat on the chair is mine’. Once we eliminate ‘on the chair’, we can easily identify that ‘coat’ is the subject and ‘is’ is the verb.Prepositional phrases generally act as complements and adjuncts of noun phrases and verb phrases as in these sentences:

  • The man from China was enjoying his noodles. (Adjunct of a noun phrase)
  • She ran under him. (Adjunct of a verb phrase)
  • He gave money to the cause. (Oblique complement of a verb phrase)
  • A student of physics (Complement of a noun phrase)
  • She argued with him. (Complement of a verb phrase)

A prepositional phrase must not be confused with the series formed by the particle and the direct object of a phrasal verb, as in the phrase, ‘turn on the light’. This sequence is structurally different from a prepositional phrase. In this case, “on” and “the light” will not form a unit -‘on’ here is not a position- instead they unite independently with the verb “turn”.

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