Prepositional Phrases: The Big Daddy of Phrases

You Could Look It Up

A phrase is a group of words, without a subject or a verb, that functions in a sentence as a single part of speech. A phrase cannot stand alone as an independent unit. A phrase can function only as a part of speech.

A prepositional phrase is a group of words that begins with a preposition and ends with a noun or a pronoun.

A prepositional phrase is a group of words that begins with a preposition and ends with a noun or a pronoun. This noun or pronoun is called the “object of the preposition.”

Here are some sample prepositional phrases:

  • By the ocean
  • Near the window
  • Over the cabinet
  • With us
  • In your ear
  • Under your hat

You can connect two or more prepositional phrases with a coordinating conjunction. The seven coordinating conjunctions are for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. For example:

Quoth the Maven

To find out if a prepositional phrase is functioning as an adjectival phrase, see if it answers these questions: “Which one?” or “What kind?”

  • The resort is beside the mountain and by the lake.
  • The coordinating conjunction is and.
  • You can usually find Macho Marvin in the steam room, on the exercise bike, or under the barbells.
  • The coordinating conjunction is or.

Offspring 1: Adjectival Phrases

When a prepositional phrase serves as an adjective, it's called an adjectival phrase. (That was a no-brainer, eh? Who says you don't get a break in this English biz?)

An adjectival phrase, as with an adjective, describes a noun or a pronoun. Here are some examples:

You Could Look It Up

An adverbial phrase is a prepositional phrase that modifies a verb, an adjective, or an adverb.

  • The manager with the pink slips terrorized the employees.
  • The adjectival phrase “with the pink slips” describes the noun “manager.”
  • The price of the promotion was much too steep.
  • The adjectival phrase “of the promotion” describes the noun “price.”
  • Something in the corner of the desk was moving.
  • The adjectival phrase “in the corner” describes the noun “something”; the adjectival phrase “of the desk” describes the noun “corner.”

Offspring 2: Adverbial Phrases

Like Meryl Streep or Kevin Kline, the prepositional phrase is a versatile creature, able to slip into different roles. Depending on how it is used in a sentence, a prepositional phrase can function as an adverbial phrase by modifying a verb, an adjective, or an adverb. For example:

  • She lost her head at the retro love-in.
  • The adverbial phrase “at the retro love-in” describes the verb “lost.”
  • The salesperson skimmed over the product's real cost.
Quoth the Maven

To find out if a prepositional phrase is functioning as an adverbial phrase, see if it answers one of these questions: “Where?” “When?” “In what manner?” “To what extent?”

  • The adverbial phrase “over the product's real cost” modifies the verb “skimmed.”
  • The boss was thrilled at their attitude.
  • The adverbial phrase “at their attitude” modifies the adjective “thrilled.”
  • The rock climbers arrived late at night.
  • The adverbial phrase “at night” modifies the adverb “late.”
book cover

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style © 2003 by Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book direct from the publisher, visit the Penguin USA website or call 1-800-253-6476. You can also purchase this book at and Barnes & Noble.


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