Grammar 5 min read

What is a Prepositional Phrase and What are Some Examples?

Main Takeaways:

  • Prepositional phrases outline the relationships between a sentence’s nouns, pronouns, and other supporting words.
  • Prepositional phrases contain a preposition, an object, and sometimes a modifier/several modifiers.
  • There are two types of prepositional phrases: adverbial and adjectival.
  • Simple prepositions consist of just one word.
  • Complex prepositions contain two or more words.
  • Some words can be both adverbs and prepositionsprepositions always relate to an object.

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Here’s a look at prepositional phrases, how they work, and the best way to use them.

What is a Prepositional Phrase?

A prepositional phrase helps outline the connection between the noun, pronoun, and supporting words in the same sentence. Each prepositional phrase typically includes at least three elements: a preposition, an object, and any modifiers affecting the object.

In their simplest form, prepositional phrases contain one preposition and one object.

She’s scheduled to leave before noon.

Then, you have the option to add a modifier.

She’s scheduled to leave a bit before noon.

“A bit” modifies or further describes the time of departure.

In most cases, writers use a prepositional phrase to modify a verb or a noun. That looks a little something like this.

Prepositional phrases outline the relationships between a sentence’s nouns, pronouns, and other supporting words.
Prepositional phrases outline the relationships between a sentence’s nouns, pronouns, and other supporting words.

Adverbial Phrases

Adverbial clauses or phrases are so named because they function as adverbs. They’re often used to demonstrate timing or indicate cause and effect. They might tell you when or where something happened. They might also detail how something happened or to what extent.

Because I went to the store early, I was able to get the new video game before it sold out.

In this example, “because I went to the store early” is an adverbial clause. This is because it demonstrates how the action in the second part of the sentence came to be. “Before it sold out” is also an adverbial phrase because it described when that action took place.

Since Marika left her wallet at home, she had to borrow money for the bus.

Here, “Since Marika left her wallet at home” demonstrates what caused her to have to borrow money.

Adjectival Phrases

An adjective phrase modifies the noun or pronoun that comes immediately before.

The man on the island made friends with a volleyball.
Adjectival phrases modify nouns and pronouns. A boy and girl holding hands while pointing in different directions. The girl on the left wants to go somewhere else.
An adjectival phrase modifies the noun or pronoun that comes immediately before it in a sentence.

“On the island” describes the man. The object of the prepositional phrase is the island, and the phrase itself indicates how the island and the man are connected. If this reference is lost on you, watch Castaway.

The slice of cake in the pantry is mine.

In this case, the pantry is the object, and the prepositional phrase is describing the link between the cake and its location.

Examples of Simple and Complex Prepositions

To fully answer the question, “What is a prepositional phrase?” it helps to have some examples.

Let’s start with a list of prepositions:

Common Prepositions

There are also some multi-word prepositions. These contain two or more words that function together to create a complex preposition.

  • According to
  • In spite of
  • Along with
  • On account of

What is an Example of a Prepositional Phrase?

Let’s look at some prepositional phrases in their natural habitat. We’ll give you a sentence, identify the prepositional phrase, and explain how it works.

The Wicked Witch lives somewhere over the rainbow.

Here, we’re demonstrating the connection between the rainbow and where the Wicked Witch lives.

My magazine fell behind the couch.
We use prepositions with nouns to emphasize, connect, or clarify ideas.
We use prepositions with nouns to emphasize, connect, or clarify ideas.

How are the couch and magazine related? One fell behind the other!

Eliza jumped for joy.

Why did Eliza jump? “For joy!”

To make things easier, she reserved a room by the elevator.

“By the elevator” indicates where the room is.

When is a Preposition Not a Preposition?

Sorry to throw a wrench in the works, but it’s time to talk about prepositions vs. adverbs.

There are many words in the English language that pulls double duty as both prepositions and adverbs. To tell the difference between the two, try identifying the object of the sentence. If there is an object, your word is likely a preposition. If there is no object, you’re probably dealing with an adverb.

Adverb: She ran up.
Preposition: She ran up the hill.

There is no object associated with “up” in the first sentence. It’s therefore, an adverb. In the second example, “up” is followed by a noun, so it’s a preposition. Where did she run? She ran up the hill!

Here’s another one:

Adverb: Malik walked across.
Preposition: Malik walked across the courtyard.

In the first example, all we know is that Malik walked across something. We don’t know what that something is, because there is no object. “Across” is an adverb here.

In the second example, we find out that Malik walked across a courtyard. “Courtyard” is the object, and across has gone from being an adverb to becoming a preposition.

Quick Prepositional Phrase Grammar Quiz

Prepositional Phrase Question #1

Select the prepositional phrase in this sentence: The monster under the bed whispers at night.
Correct! Oops! That's incorrect.

The answer is A. Under the bed shows the relationship between the monster and the whispers.

Prepositional Phrase Question #2

A prepositional phrase can function as an adjective or an adverb in a sentence.
Correct! Oops! That's incorrect.

The answer is TRUE. Prepositional phrases can function as either adjective phrases or adverb phrases to modify other words in a sentence. For example, "The girl with him is his daughter."

Prepositional Phrase Question #3

Which of these is not a prepositional phrase?
Correct! Oops! That's incorrect.

The answer is C. A prepositional phrase must include a preposition, its object, and any modifiers of the object.

Prepositional Phrase Question #4

What is the name of the noun that is part of the prepositional phrase?
Correct! Oops! That's incorrect.

The answer is C. The object of the preposition can either be a noun or a pronoun.

Read More: When to Use Comma Before Such As: the Definitive Guide

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Krista Grace Morris

Krista heads up Marketing and Content Creation here at INK. From Linguistics and History to puns and memes, she's interested in the systems we create to share our ideas with each other.

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