What Is a Prepositional Phrase? A Definition With Examples

by | Feb 9, 2021 | GrammarSpot, Writing Tips | 0 comments

What Is a Prepositional Phrase? A Definition With Examples

by | Feb 9, 2021 | GrammarSpot, Writing Tips | 0 comments

I like to imagine prepositions as little grammatical bridges; they are the structures that connect one element of a sentence to the next. However, they need solid support on either side, or else they slide purposelessly into an infinite abyss of wasted words.

So, the next step is to build a functional unit where the preposition has a destination or a grammatical object to relate to. We do this by combining the preposition with a noun to form a prepositional phrase.

 

prepositional phrase

What Is a Prepositional Phrase Definition?

Let’s start with a simple question and build from there: What is a prepositional phrase definition?

Prepositional phrase (noun): a phrase that starts with a preposition and ends in either a noun, noun phrase, or pronoun.

 

What Is a Prepositional Phrase?

A prepositional phrase, at the very minimum, consists of a preposition and its object and frequently includes a direct or indirect article.

  • at the studio
  • in the car

It can also incorporate modifiers that further define the object. These can be noun adjuncts, adjectives, and even other prepositional phrases.

  • at the television studio
  • in the blue car next to the building

Prepositional phrases then function as either adjectives or adverbs.

Adjectival prepositional phrases provide additional meaning about a noun (or element acting as a noun) such as quantity or amount, attributes or characteristics.

  • Park in the lot with fewer cars.
  • The studio on the east side is where we need to go.
  • My mom said she would bring a bag of snacks for us.

Adverbs modify verbs, as well as adjectives and other adverbs, and so have a broader function than adjectives do. They answer these questions: where, when, for what purpose, in what way, and to what extent?

Like their adjectival counterparts, adverbial prepositional phrases generally follow the adjective or adverb that it modifies. When they are used to modify verbs, however, they may appear several elements away from their target.

  • We got to the studio faster in your car than we would have on the train.
  • I was really happy for the chance to appear on “Jeopardy!”
  • I think we should wait for my mom inside the studio.

 

How Do Prepositional Phrases Express Relationships?

The primary function of a preposition is to form and express a relationship between its object and another word, phrase or clause. Preparing for a round in the “Relationship” category, however, would involve data centers full of electronic literature, a liberal interpretation of the word, and probably several lifetimes.

Fortunately for us, prepositions can be broadly categorized based on the type of relationship they convey:

  • Place
  • Direction or Movement
  • Time
  • Reason or Purpose
  • Agency
  • Origin
  • Connection
  • Instrument or Device

The vast majority of prepositions used in everyday speech and literature fall neatly into one of these categories. There are instances, though, when defining the relationships between abstract concepts and the prepositional phrases that qualify them can present a Double Jeopardy-level challenge. Either way, by breaking down the sentence into its grammatical elements and examining the context, we can usually identify and categorize even the most elusive prepositions.

Place

Once, I had a boss who referred to tangible property as something you could kick. He was talking about classifying business expenses, but all the same; prepositions of place always indicate a physical location that you can see, touch, or kick. They can define a place as compared to a reference point or designate the position of a person, event, or object.

Place Prepositions  Prepositional Phrase Examples
at, in, on
  • I’m standing at my podium on the set of “Jeopardy!”
  • Our guests will be in the studio, sitting on the main floor.
near, by, close to
  • I can see my mom standing by the souvenir shop.
  • They let us park near the studio.
  • Will you stay close to me?
next to, between
  • I really hope my podium is next to yours.
  • There’s an extra set of speakers between the audience and us.
behind, above, under, below
  • My mom is sitting behind a really tall person.
  • Will the lights above the stage make us hot?
  • I’m getting too hot under these lights.
  • Maybe they’ll let me keep a glass of water below my podium.

 

what is a prepositional phrase

Direction or Movement

These prepositions qualify the actual motion between those kickable locations. They include describing the way something moves, how it moves, or where it goes.

Direction Prepositions Prepositional Phrase Examples
to, from
  • We might get there faster if we go to the left here.
  • Let’s wave at my mom when she walks in from the lobby.
under, beneath, above, over
  • I jumped out from under my blankets at 5 a.m.
  • I reached beneath my bed to find my shoe.
  • The sun was just rising above the horizon as we left.
  • We had a great view of it as we drove over the river.
along, around, across
  • As we strode along the side of the studio, we quizzed each other.
  • We walked around the building, searching for an unlocked door.
  • A groundskeeper yelled at us for walking across a manicured lawn.
toward, away from, into, onto, off
  • He stalked toward us waving a rake.
  • We ran away from him and into the studio.
  • We climbed onto a low partition and waited for someone to find us.
  • We jumped off the wall and sat on the benches instead.

 

Time

Prepositions of time answer the question “When?” and are used to indicate specific moments or general periods of time in the past, present or future. They can also describe precise or ambiguous lengths of time. Time prepositions are usually specific to the period or interval they describe.

Time Prepositions Prepositional Phrase Examples
at, in, on
  • We need to leave at 6 a.m.
  • We started watching “Jeopardy!” regularly in 2003.
  • Our show will air on a Friday.
for, during, as
  • The drive to the show was short but seemed to last for hours.
  • We discussed our strategies during the drive.
  • You were competitive as a kid.
by, since, until, after, before
  • The producer said that we must arrive by 7 a.m.
  • I haven’t been this nervous since I took my SATs.
  • We’ll probably be there until 8 p.m. or so.
  • Will we see the host at all after Final Jeopardy?
  • I’ve never done anything this cool before now.
past, to
  • We pulled into the parking lot at twenty past six.
  • The filming ran long, and we left at a quarter to nine.

 

Reason, Purpose, or Role

The function of reason and purpose prepositions is to help explain why. They can either describe the cause or nature of an event or state of being or why that event or state is happening.

Reason Prepositions Prepositional Phrase Examples
because of We arrived at the studio early because of light traffic.
as We had special badges that marked us as competitors.
for I’m appearing on “Jeopardy!” for personal satisfaction rather than to win.
from Your drive to succeed stems from sheer determination.
on account of I think you’ll win on account of your dedication to trivia.
through We discovered friendship through our love of “Jeopardy!”

 

Agency

Also known as instrumentality or causation, agency is one of those elusive, abstract relationships I touched on earlier. The concept is the same as that of a real-life agent — you know, the person you hire as the middle-person (the instrument) to “make it all happen” (causation) after your massive “Jeopardy!” winnings render you too important to manage your own schedule. Since prepositions of agency place the emphasis on the happening, the sentence structure naturally utilizes the passive voice.

Agency Prepositions Prepositional Phrase Examples
with My stomach felt like it was filled with butterflies.
by We were inspired by Ken Jennings.

 

Connection

Answer and fill in the blank: Another word for relationship, the primary function of a preposition is to express the ______ between grammatical elements.

If you asked, “What is connection?” you’re correct and probably wondering why this broad brush has its own category.

Prepositions specific to connection are reserved for the most literal interpretations of the concept; that is, physically being in the same place at the same time, having ownership or custody, and attachments to people or objects.

Connection Prepositions Prepositional Phrase Examples
with Come with me and say hi to my mom.
of This section of the studio still boasts the original architecture.
to You have been such a great friend to me.

 

Instrument or Device

The prepositions paired with tools that are used to perform actions are prepositions of instrument or device. These usually refer explicitly to devices, equipment or technology used for transportation or performing tasks, but they can sometimes represent intangible means.

Instrument Prepositions Prepositional Phrase Examples
on We played a lot of trivia games on our cell phones.
with Armed with copious irrelevant knowledge, we marched onto the “Jeopardy!” stage.
by We probably could have gotten to the studio by train.

 

prepositional phrase examples

Origin

Prepositions of origin convey, quite literally, where something came from. This includes the location or entity that designed or manufactured an object, the source of an idea or concept, or the origin of a person, including cultural and ethnic identity, birthplace and area of residence.

Origin Prepositions Prepositional Phrase Examples
of, from “Jeopardy!” was a creation of Merv Griffin, who was from California.
out of We observed a moment of silence for Alex Trebek out of respect.

 

As I’m sure you’ve realized by now, many of the most commonly used prepositions fall into more than one category. If your goal is to avoid grammar and clarity issues in your writing that involve incorrect preposition usage, this will be important to remember.

 

So, What Is a Prepositional Phrase and Its Purpose Again?

We’ve gone into great detail about the types of little grammatical bridges and what kinds of clause elements each preposition can and cannot connect. But, it’s crucial to remember what is a prepositional phrase because without those elements, or prepositional objects, prepositions are a bridge to nowhere. Keep this in mind as you start exploring the purpose of prepositional phrases and the limitless opportunities they provide for added definition and color in speech.

What’s the most creative or abstract connection you’ve made with a prepositional phrase? Give us your example in the comments — the harder it is to define, the better!

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