Grammar Tips: What Are Prepositional Phrases?
  • 3-minute read
  • 19th September 2021

Grammar Tips: What Are Prepositional Phrases?

The term “prepositional phrase” describes a group of words that contains a preposition (e.g., on or after) and modifies a noun or a verb. In this post, we explain how to use prepositional phrases correctly in your writing.

What Is a Prepositional Phrase?

A prepositional phrase always contains a preposition and its object. For example:

She is a cat with attitude!

Here, the preposition is “with” and the object is “attitude.” Together, they comprise a prepositional phrase that provides extra information about the cat.

Prepositional phrases may also include modifiers. For example:

The couch with plump cushions was very comfortable.

Here, “with” is the preposition, “cushions” is the object it relates to, and “plump” is the modifier that gives us more information about the cushions. Overall, these come together to tell us something about the couch.

Nor are prepositional phrases limited to a single modifier! For instance:

The couch with the big plump purple cushions was very comfortable.

Here, we’ve added extra modifiers, but it is still a single prepositional phrase.

Prepositional Phrases Modifiers

Prepositional phrases usually modify either a noun or a verb. For example:

The jeans with ripped knees were her favorite pair.

Here, the prepositional phrase “with ripped knees” modifies (tells us more about) the noun “jeans.” It, therefore, acts as an adjective.

For an example of a prepositional phrase that works as an adverb, we can try:

He stood in front of the mirror.

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In this example, the phrase “in front of the mirror” modifies the verb “stood.”

Prepositional Phrases as Noun Substitutes

Sometimes, you can use a prepositional phrase in place of a noun.

One fairly common example of this is when a prepositional phrase works as a subject complement (i.e., a phrase that reidentifies or describes the subject of a sentence after a linking verb, such as “is,” “seems,” or “feels”):

The best time to get a snack is during the interval.

Here, for example, the subject of the sentence is “The best time to get a snack.” We then follow that with the linking verb “is” and the prepositional phrase “during the interval,” which together tell us something about the subject.

More rarely, a prepositional phrase can be the subject of the sentence:

During the interval is the best time to get a snack.

Beyond the fence was out of bounds.

In these cases, the prepositional phrases serve as the subject of each sentence.

Expert Proofreading Services

Prepositional phrases can make your writing more interesting and powerful. However, they are also easy to misuse! One common problem is using too many prepositional phrases in a single sentence, like this:

She kept her jewelry in a wooden box wrapped in a tea towel behind the biscuit tin on a narrow shelf in the back of the cupboard under the kitchen sink.

This sentence is grammatically correct, but the long string of prepositional phrases is a little clumsy. If you want to be sure your writing is easy to read, then, you should try to avoid piling up the prepositional phrases too much!

If you’d like help avoiding this and other errors, our expert proofreaders are available. Submit a free trial document today to find out more. 

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