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Prepositional Phrases

Add information  within a clause

X structure diagram
walking
We begin our walk at noon.
diagram
► What is a prepositional phrase? ▼ Explanation of term

A prepositional phrase:

  • expressestiming (in the morning), location (on the sidewalk), manner (in a quick manner) possession or source (of ours), person affected by an action (to me, for me) or an expression (in a flash).
    Recent additions to the category Preposition (*see note below) express: reason (because, since, as), concession (though, despite), purpose (in order, so that), timing (after, before, when, while, until), condition (if , unless), purpose, intent (so that).  See Adjunct Prepositional Phrase section of this website.      
  • functions as:
    • the subject of a clause.   In the morning is our walk.
    • a modifier to a noun (noun complement — an element that specifies which noun) Our walk in the morning wakes us up.
    • a complement to the verb (predicate complement — an element required to complete the meaning of the subject and predicate.) We begin in the morning. Our walk is in the morning.
    • an adjunct phrase to the main clause (A phrase that adds information to the clause but is not required to complete the meaning of the subject and predicate.) We walk. / We walk after we finish eating.
  • takes form as a preposition (the head or primary element of the phrase) and its complement (the dependent of the preposition), which is often a noun phrase but may also be a variety of other structures—at home (N), in the house (NP), out of the house (PP), in stead of later (NP+PP), after leaving (Ger), because we left (Cls). A prepositional phrase may include a clause. 

*An important note about the category Preposition

In 2002, The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language published some major changes to the category of Preposition. These changes are based on current linguistic research, which has given us a more accurate and concise description of English than Latin-based analyses of the past.

  1. One result is that the category Preposition has been widened to include words such as—before after, while, because, though, than, and as. Linguistic analysis determined that these words functioned more similarly to prepositions than to conjunctions, adverbs or other categories in which they had previously been placed. See Cambridge Grammar of the English Language.
  2. Another result is that prepositional complements (structures that can follow prepositions) have been widened. No longer is a preposition limited to a noun as its "object". The complement of a preposition could be a word, phrase or clause—at home (N), in the house (NP), out of the house (PP), in stead of later (NP+PP), after leaving (gerund), because we left (clause). See Prepositions–Range of Complements for details and source. See Adjunct Prepositional Phrases.

 

See Connector Overview for full source citations.

Prepositional Phrases

Time (in, on, at)

Place (in, on, at)

Prep Phrase as subject

Prep as modifier

Indirect object (to me)

Indirect object (for me)

Top Search (cont.)

in order to |  so that

in time v. on time

of the chair

on the one hand

rather than

For this reason,

Prepositional Phrases

Summary of Practices

 

 

Diagnostic Quiz

Prep Diagnostic: identify specific points that need review

sports shoe

Quiz 1: beginning – intermediate

Quiz 2: intermediate – advanced

Prepositional Phrase Uses

Preposition Uses: recognize how they function in clauses

Beginning–Advanced ESL, Native Speakers

Canyon explorer

Under the canyon floor is a stream of water.

Jack is in the middle. (location)

Jack climbed down. (location)

Jack explores with enthusiasm. (manner)

Jack gets up early in order to go climbing. (purpose)

Prepositions for Time: relating temporal information—When?

Beginning–Advanced ESL

plants

In the morning is the best time to water plants.

Watering plants was a chore until recently. (Adv)

We water our plants before leaving. (Ger)

We will water them before we leave the house. (clause)

For now, they are fine.

Prepositions for Place: relating locational information—Where?

Beginning–Intermediate ESL

Bambi Airstream trailer

Inside is a kitchen, bathroom and bed.

The table unfolds in the middle.

The bed is in the back of the trailer. 

Bedding storage is overhead.

The mini-trailer can easily move from place to place.

At / In Expressions:  expressing progress within and space within

Beginning–Intermediate ESL

map location / inside location

She is at school. (location)

She is in school. (enrolled in)

Her father is working in the school.(within the space)

He's in hot water.

Duration

For / Since: Indicating a quantity of time vs. a specific time

Beginning–Intermediate ESL

Thin Cover Girls

We have been coming to this beach for fifteen years.

We have been coming to this beach since July, 1995.

During / In: expressing duration vs. exact time

Beginning–Intermediate ESL

beach

We are on vacation during July.
We went to the beach several times in our stay.


They are on vacation in July.
*They stayed there during July, not during May.

Paragraph Practice:  using preposition of time and place

Beginning–Intermediate ESL

gold medalist

Michael Phelps made sports history by winning eight gold medals ___ the 2008 Olympics ___ Beijing, China.

By vs. With: state means or instrument

Beginning–Intermediate ESL

Package

You can open it by using a knife.

You can cut the string with a knife.

For + Gerund Clause: state function vs. purpose

Beginning–Intermediate ESL

string

What's it for? for tying boxes.

Why do you use it? to tie boxes.

How do you close boxes? with string / by using string.

Adj + Preposition Complements

Adjective + Prep Phrase: describing emotional reactions 

Beginning–Intermediate ESL

Jason

Jason is anxious about his future.

He would like to be independent of his parents.

He is good at many things.

He is optimistic about his future.

Noun + Prep Phrase: add modifying information before or after a noun

Beginning–Intermediate ESL

House sandwiched between other houses

The house next door belongs to my cousin.

Our next-door neighbor is on vacation.

The man on the street was shouting

The on the street man was shouting.

Participle + Prep Phrase: describing emotional reactions 

Intermediate–Advanced ESL

pleased

The children were interested in hearing his story.

The press was excited about the President's speech.

The President is pleased with the response.

The President is pleased with how the people responded.

Verb + Prep Phrase: commenting on activities

Intermediate–Advanced ESL

overworked man

He talks about leaving.

He accused us of complaining.

He keeps on making trouble.

He worries about making deadlines.

Verb + Prep Phrase Practice 1: Stating attitudes, opinions, and intentions about activities

Beginning–Intermediate ESL

ballet

She dreamed of becoming a ballet dancer.

She dreamed about becoming a ballet dancer.

Verb + Prep Phrase Practice 2: commenting on activities and plans

Beginning–Intermediate ESL

Studying with Children

I put off going to college.

Instead, I took care of raising my two children.

Verb + Prep Phrase Practice 3: commenting on activities and plans

Beginning–Intermediate ESL

school

Most people aren't accustomed to working hard.

If you try, you can succeed in doing anything you want.

Verb/Participle + Prep Phrase Practice 4: pair past-participles with prepositions

Intermediate–Advanced ESL

Paparazzi camera flash

Celebrities are concerned ____ the activities of the Paparazzi.

 

Ending with a Preposition: placement options

Intermediate–Advanced ESL, Native Speaker

A mismatch on a date

Who did you give your number to?

To whom did you give your number?  very formal

Can you tell me — what kind of person you are interested in?

Can you tell me — in what kind of person you are interested?

The word — that you looked up — is not in my dictionary.

The word — up which you looked — is not in my dictionary.

Giving Examples

For Example: add an example or a clarification

Intermediate–Advanced ESL, Native Speakers

e.g. and i.e.

Calcium is in green leafy vegetables, for example, broccoli, kales, arugula, and spinach.

There is calcium in vegetables such as broccoli, kales, arugula, and spinach.

Cruciferous vegetables (i.e., Brassicaceae) have flowers shaped like a cross.

Adverbs

Place Adverbs: indicating movement in a direction  (recategorized as a preposition)

Beginning–Advanced ESL

man entering 

He went inside.
He went inside the house.

He went there.

Rather than: comparative preferences

Intermediate– Advanced ESL, Native Speaker

walk to work

We would rather walk to work than drive. (coordinator: X and not Y)

We walk to work rather than drive. (X and not Y)

We walk to work rather than get caught in traffic.  (subordinator: choosing X to avoid Y)

Phrasal Verbs: using verbal expressions  (verb + particle)

Beginning–Advanced ESL

wolf lets out a howl

A wolf lets out a howl. (out = particle)

Let out the cat. (out = preposition)

Look up. / Look up the word in the dictionary.

He took his coat off. (separable)

He took off his coat. 

The airplane took off. (nonseparable)

Indirect Objects

Ditransitive Verbs–Indirect Objects: indicate the "recipient" or "beneficiary" of the action

Beginning–Intermediate ESL

A letter

My friend is bringing me a letter.

My friend is bringing a letter to me.

My friend is bringing me it.

"So" Uses

So that / so…that: express purpose vs. effect  ("So that" and "in order to" are adjuct prepositional phrases.)

Intermediate– Advanced ESL, Native Speaker

Meteor Shower

We stayed up all night so that we could watch a meteor storm. (prep + content clause)

We stayed up late, so we were able to see the meteor storm pass. (connective adverb + content clause).

We staye up so late that we were able to see the meteor storm pass. (adverb expression + content clause)

 

For because, though, despite, in spite of, after, before, when, while, if, unless and so on, see Adjunct Prepositional Phrase