Grammar-QuizzesAdverbials ›  Prepositional Phrases

Prepositional Phrases (complements)

Add modifying information within a clause

X structure diagram
We begin our walk at noon.
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► 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).
    Connective prepositions 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 Connective Prepositions.      
  • functions as:
    • a determiner in a noun phrase   [After sunrise] is the time that we 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. See Connective Prepositions.
  • 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. See Connective Prepositions.

*An important note about the category Preposition

The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (2002) published some major changes to the category of Preposition. While at first look the recategorization of several adverbs and conjunctions as prepositions may upset what we thought we knew about prepositions, on closer look the recategorization makes a lot of sense. Linguistic research has yielded a more logical and concise description of English than traditional 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 Connective Prepositions.


See Connector Overview for full source citations.

Moved to this category are adverbs for time and adverbs for place.

Also see: Connective Preposition—relates additional information to a clause (adjunct information)


Prepositional Phrases (complements)

Summary of Practices



Prepositional Phrases—Diagnostic Quiz

Prep Diagnostic: identify specific points that need review

sports shoe

Quiz 1: beginning – intermediate

Quiz 2: intermediate – advanced

A Preposition: recognize how prepositions 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: relate temporal information—when the activity occurs (temporal modifiers)

Beginning–Advanced ESL


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.

Modifiers to Prepositions: specify more precisely the timing, location or manner of the action (adverb phrases)

Beginning–Advanced ESL


The batter hit the ball right here. 

The player threw the ball over here. 

The player threw the ball straight ahead.

The pitcher threw the ball smack into the batter's head.

He batted the ball clear out of the park. 

He hit the ball way over in the bay. 

Awhile v. A while: is it a short time or something that occurs briefly?

Beginning–Advanced ESL, Native Speakers

Taxis stuck in traffic

We've been stuck here in traffic for a while. (a period of time)

We've been stuck here in traffic awhile. (briefly, for a short period of time)

Prepositions for Place: relate locational information—where the activity occurs    (locational modifiers)

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.

Preposition Paragraph Practice:  use in, on and at for time and place

Beginning–Intermediate ESL

gold medalist

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

At / In Expressions: indicate location, enrollment and other concepts

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.

For / Since: express duration with a quantity of time vs. a starting 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: indicate a period of time vs. a calendar time

Beginning–Intermediate ESL


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.

*The work has lasted during this year. (pres. perf.)
The work has lasted throughout the year.

By vs. With: state means or instrument

Beginning–Intermediate ESL


You can open it by using a knife.

You can cut the string with a knife.

By vs. With Practice: state means, instrument or device

Beginning–Intermediate ESL


You can get there by following a map.

You can find your way with a map.

For + Gerund Clause: state function vs. purpose

Beginning–Intermediate ESL


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.

By the time: view relative progress or completion

Intermediate—Adv ESL, Native Speaker


By the time I leave work, the sun will be setting. (ongoing)

By the time I leave work, the sun will have set. (completed)

Prepositional Phrases as Noun Complements (modifiers)

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.

Adjective + Prep Phrase: describing emotional reactions 

Beginning–Intermediate ESL


Jason is good at many things.

He is anxious about his future.

He would like to be independent of his parents.

He is optimistic about his future.

Verb + Preposition: complete the idea expressed by the subject and predicate

Intermediate–Advanced ESL

He put out the fire.

He put out the cat.

He put out the fire.

The company put out a fine product.

I don't want to put you out.

Verb + Prep + Gerund: express opinion or comment on activities

Beginning–Advanced ESL


He talks about leaving.

He accused us of complaining.

He keeps on making trouble.

He puts off and worries about making deadlines.

Participle + Prep Phrase: describing emotional reactions 

Intermediate–Advanced ESL


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 Practice 1: Stating attitudes, opinions, and intentions about activities

Beginning–Intermediate ESL


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


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: consider 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.

Prepositional Phrases—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.

Place Adverbs: indicating movement in a direction 

Beginning–Advanced ESL    (Note that these adverbs were recategorized as prepositions.)

man entering 

He went inside.
He went inside the house.

He went there.

Verbal Idioms: express activities with verb-prep combinations (phrasal verbs)

Beginning–Advanced ESL

wolf lets out a howl

Look up. 

Look up the word in the dictionary.

The airplane took off.

He took his coat off.

He took off his coat. 

Ditransitive Verbs–Indirect Objects (to me, to you, to him, to her, to us, to them)

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.


For because, though, despite, in spite of, after, before, when, while, if, unless and so, see Connective Prepositions (also called Adjunct Prepositions,Adverbial Prepositions, Subordinating Conjunctions, or just  Adverbials. )