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Prepositional Phrases: Showing Relationships with Words

What are prepositional phrases and why should you learn about them? There are two main reasons why you should understand what a prepositional phrase is. The primary reason is to become a better writer and speaker because when you understand different modifying word phrases, you’re able to form complex sentences. More specifically, you can describe something’s position, location, space, and time.

The second reason to understand this group of words is to make fewer English errors. When you’re familiar with connecting words you’re able to identify the correct use of subject-verb agreement. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. Instead, it’s time to define prepositional phrase.

What is a Prepositional Phrase?

A prepositional phrase has two parts that are rather easy to identify. First, it’ll begin with a connecting word that either describes something or explains time, location, or direction. Some common connecting words include simple words like at, for, and to. Indeed, in sentences you’ll also find complicated connecting words such as beneathbecause of, and onto. If a word describes the time, location, or direction of something, then it’s probably a connecting word.

Aside from a connecting word in a prepositional phrase, you’ll also find more words. Sometimes you’ll notice modifying words or phrases, like an adverb or an adjective. In every one of these phrases, you will find an “object,” which often is a noun or pronoun. Furthermore, the object can also be a gerund or clause. Here are some basic examples:

  • At school
  • In town
  • On the table
  • Off the sidewalk
  • To the beach
  • Up the road
  • With Steven

Here are examples that are a bit more complex:

  • About fifteen hours ago
  • Before reading a hilarious book
  • Between the old seat cushions
  • Without getting too upset at herself

Before you move on, check out this helpful grammar checker! If you need citations as well, here’s a tool for citing in MLA format.

Do you notice something missing? Groups of connecting words won’t include a subject. Sometimes, you won’t even find a verb. However, each of the examples above do work as a part of speech, since each one contains an object.

With these two sections of a prepositional phrase in mind, let’s wrap it all together with this prepositional phrase definition:

A prepositional phrase is a group of words that at a minimum contains a connecting word and an object. If you need another explanation, get more info here.

Even though you now understand the various parts of this connecting word group, admittedly, you do not know what their function is. So, what are the functions of prepositional phrases in a sentence? Basically, this group of words answers certain questions for your audience. Without them, you would not be able to answer the questions, “which?” “how?” “when?” “where?” or “who?” Let’s look at the different ways groups of connecting words can function and how each group works.

What is a Prepositional Phrase that Acts Adverbially?

Some groups of words modify verbs. These words will explain how, when, or where something happens. Here are some adverb functioning prepositional phrase examples:

  • Jane is tired from running excessively this morning.
  • After school, Jeremy craved ice cream.
  • I never enjoy the sushi from the grocery store.

What is a Prepositional Phrase that Acts Adjectivally?

Another group of words modifies nouns. These words answer the question “which one?” An adjective acting prepositional phrase example:

  • The slice of pizza with fewer toppings on it looks more appealing.
  • Those unripe bananas on the counter aren’t ready to eat yet.
  • The gift certificate from her students was a great Teacher Appreciation Day gift.

How About Prepositional Phrases that Act Nominally?

In addition to modifying verbs and nouns, connecting word groups also act as nouns. It’s not as common as the previous two uses; however, it is possible to use groups of words in this way.

The Noun Acting as a Prepositional Phrase Definition

  • In class is the wrong time to do yesterday’s homework.
  • With almond milk and sugar is how I take my coffee.
  • On top of the cash register isn’t a safe place to store money.

Want a quick break? Take a few minutes to learn about the APA format and more styles of creating citation.

Prepositional Phrase Examples

Let’s once again look at groups of connecting words. This time, focus on the differences between the two sentences. One will be plain, while the other will include adverbs and adjectives. See how it affects a sentence, and whether you like the plain description, or the one with more information:

We travelled across the bridge.

We travelled across the rickety old wooden bridge.

They stood between the trees.

They stood between the giant rotting trees.

We went up the mountain.

We went up the steep and slippery mountain.

The dogs near the man.

The dogs near the incredibly funny old man.

You can add adjectives and adverbs to groups of words if you want. It gives more detail and draws a clearer picture in the mind of your audience. Do you want to learn more about the different ways that groups of words modify nouns and verbs? Here’s a useful link to review.

Prepositional Phrase Worksheet

Use and create your own connecting word groups in the exercises below.

List of phrases:

  • for a holiday
  • from time to time
  • in a good mood
  • in the dark
  • from memory
  • by the dozen
  • in love
  • in charge of

Section I. Add the Most appropriate phrase from the list above to complete each sentence:

  1. It seems like Tonya is always ____!
  2. One day I’ll travel to Hawaii ____.
  3. I’m leaving Fred ____ things while I’m gone.
  4. He only buys donuts ____.
  5. He checks his cell phone ____.
  6. I’m ____ with your new bunny.
  7. It’s difficult for me to see ____.
  8. Can you recite the ABC’s backwards ____?

Section II. Use the groups of words below to form your own unique sentences.

  1. In exchange for
  2. In moderation
  3. From experience
  4. For a walk
  5. For lunch
  6. In private
  7. In the news
  8. From now on

Section III. Come up with your own examples of prepositional phrases with a partner.

Work with a partner. Individually, Take one minute to write down as many different connecting word groups as you can. After the minute is over, try to create as many sentences as you can using the list your partner created. The person to make the most complete sentences after three minutes is the winner!

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