Prepositions and Prepositional Phrases

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Phrases

A phrase is a group of two or more words that does not contain a subject and a verb working together. There are many types of phrases, including verb phrases, adverb phrases, and adjective phrases. Each of these groups of words acts together as a single part of speech.

Prepositions

A preposition is a word that shows the relationship between a noun or pronoun and another word. Common prepositions are shown in the table below:

Prepositions A-At Prepositions B-Bu Prepositions By-In Prepositions In-Ov Prepositions P-Un Prepositions Un-Z

about

above

across

after

against

along

among

around

at

before

behind

below

beneath

beside

besides

between

beyond

but*

by

concerning

down

during

except

for

from

in

inside

into

like

near

of

off

on

out

outside

over

past

since

through

throughout

to

toward

under

underneath

until

unto

up

upon

with

within

without

* “but” is only a preposition when it means “except”

Note: Some of these listed prepositions (like “after” and “before”) can also act as adverbs or subordinating conjunctions. Look for the object of a preposition to determine if the word is acting as an adverb or a preposition.

Prepositional Phrases

The prepositional phrase consists of a preposition, the object of a preposition, and all its modifiers. A prepositional phrase may be used as an adjective or an adverb.

Examples:

The preposition is “on”; the object of the preposition is “tablecloth”; “flowered” modifies “tablecloth.” The entire prepositional phrase is therefore “on the flowered tablecloth.” This phrase answers the question “where”—I placed it where? On the tablecloth—making “on the tablecloth” an adverb prepositional phrase.

“Without a label” is an adjectival prepositional phrase, describing (modifying) the box. “Label” is still the object of the preposition “without.” “At our house” is an adverbial prepositional phrase, answering the question where and modifying “arrived.” “House” is the object of the preposition.

This sentence has two prepositional phrases. The first, “in the drawer with the scissors,” is an adverb, modifying the verb “look.” The phrase answers the adverb question where: Where should I look? In the drawer. “Drawer” (and its modifying phrase “with the scissors”) is the object of the preposition “in.” The second prepositional phrase, “with the scissors” is an adjectival phrase, modifying the noun “drawer.” (To repeat, since “with the scissors” modifies “drawer,” it is part of the prepositional phrase that begins “in”).

Adapted from Lydia Fash, University Writing Program, 2008, 2021.