Prepositional Phrases Teaching

The Different Types of Prepositional Phrases in English

There are rules that govern English grammar, and by learning these rules, you can become a better writer and speaker. Correspondingly, becoming a better writer and speaker can help you in numerous ways. For example, if you’re a student, understanding the rules will help you earn better grades; if you’re a working adult, it will help you advance on the job; and if you’re unemployed and seeking a position, understanding the rules of grammar will give you an “edge” over the competition, especially those individuals who possess poor grammar skills.

There are eight parts of speech in the English language, one of which is the preposition, and although people usually tend to select the correct preposition for the occasion, they frequently make mistakes when it comes to using prepositional phrases. This is why learning the different kinds of prepositional phrases and their function can help you avoid the misunderstandings that occur when a prepositional phrase is misplaced. For example:

  • At Tom’s favorite restaurant, there are photographs of famous celebrities who have eaten there on the walls. (Surely, visiting celebrities do not eat on the walls.)

Examples of Prepositions

A preposition is a linking word that precedes a noun or pronoun to create a modifying phrase, and there are quite a few prepositions in the English language. In fact, according to Martha Collin, author of Understanding English Grammar (MacMillan, 1990), “Of our most frequently used words, eight are prepositions: of, to, in, for, on, with, at, and by” (p. 308). In addition to these eight words, the most common simple and two-word (phrasal) prepositions include the following:

  • about, across, according to, above, after, ahead of, along with, around, aside from
  • because of, before, behind, below, beside, besides, between, beyond, but for
  • concerning, considering, contrary to
  • despite, down, during
  • except, except for
  • for, from
  • instead of, into
  • next to
  • off, onto, out, out of, outside, over
  • past, per, prior to
  • regarding
  • since
  • thanks to
  • up to
  • through, throughout, till, toward
  • under, underneath, up, upon
  • within, without

The Role of Prepositional Phrases in the English Language

Prepositional phrases begin with prepositions and normally have an object, which is a noun; for example: Do not judge a book by its cover. (“Cover” is the object of the preposition “by”.) Moreover, a prepositional phrase can function either in an adjectival role or in an adverbial role. As an adjective it modifies a noun or pronoun, but as an adverb it modifies a verb, adjective, or another adverb. Lastly, an adjectival prepositional phrase normally appears immediately after the noun or pronoun it is modifying, while an adverbial prepositional phrase can appear anyplace in a sentence.

Prepositional Phrases as Adjectives

When acting in an adjectival role, a prepositional phrase answers one of two questions: Which one? What kind of?

  • The lamp on Tom’s desk was a Christmas gift. (Which lamp?)
  • For Tom, fame is the only reason for writing. (What kind of reason?)

Prepositional phrases functioning as adjectives can be either restrictive or nonrestrictive, and whereas nonrestrictive phrases are set off by commas, restrictive phrases aren’t. For example:

  • Tom’s renovated 1969 Pontiac GTO, with its four-barrel carburetor and 400-cubic-inch V-8 engine, went from zero to 60 in 5.2 seconds. (Nonrestrictive phrase)
  • One corner of Tom’s office is filled with stacks of manuscripts that remind him he has failed to become a published novelist. (Restrictive)

Prepositional Phrases as Adverbs

Adverbial prepositional phrases, like adjectival phrases, answer certain questions: Where? When? How? Why? Under what condition or conditions? Following are a few examples:

  • Wanting to impress Sue, Tom planned to make reservations at an expensive restaurant. (Where)
  • Tom called on Friday to make the reservations for Saturday. (When)
  • Tom wanted to take Sue someplace nice for their tenth anniversary. (Why)
  • Tom cringed when the preacher said, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” (How)
  • The preacher also said, “A few crumbs of bread are a feast to an ant.” (Under what condition)

Combination Phrases in Sentences

A sentence can contain both adverbial and adjectival prepositional phrase; for example: Tom is going to the game between Georgia and Alabama on Saturday. This sentence contains three prepositional phrases:

Combination Phrases in Sentences

A sentence can contain both adverbial and adjectival prepositional phrase; for example: Tom is going to the game between Georgia and Alabama on Saturday. This sentence contains three prepositional phrases:

  • To the game (Adverbial, telling where)
  • Between Georgia and Alabama (Adjectival, telling which game)
  • On Saturday (Adverbial, telling when)

In closing, remember that modifiers, whether single words, phrases, or clauses, should clearly identify the word or word groups they are modifying, so try to place them as close as possible to what they are modifying. After all, doing so will greatly increase the likelihood of your written and oral messages being delivered clearly and, therefore, interpreted correctly.