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Learn What a Prepositional Phrase is and its Purpose in Grammar

If you've been trying to figure out exactly what a prepositional phrase is and what function it serves in a sentence, then read on to get the answer to this question.
Dr. Sumaiya Khan
Last Updated: Mar 19, 2018
When we speak, we don't even realize how many different words, phrases, figures of speech, and what not we use in our sentences! Yes, we simply tend to blabber on endlessly without stopping to realize that in most probabilities, our sentence contained all eight parts of speech. However, today we will learn about a specific part of grammar and composition called prepositional phrase. Before we go onto learning about prepositional phrases in grammar, let use try and understand what a preposition is first.
What is a Preposition?
So, what is a preposition? Well, a preposition is a word that indicates the location of an object in relation to another object. Thus, it helps to know where the object is. It can also help to know more about the object in relation to its place and direction. The list of prepositions is exhaustive; however, some common prepositions include at, on, in, beside, before, below, beside, during, toward, under, on, off, etc. Given below are some examples of prepositions in statements:
  • The curious incident of the dog in the nighttime.
  • I will come after midnight.
  • She is sitting beside him.
  • I am on the floor.
Prepositional Phrases in Grammar
A prepositional phrase is that phrase which will begin with a preposition and end with a noun or pronoun, a gerund, or a clause. This phrase may or may not have a modifier in between. A basic prepositional phrase will actually have only a preposition and a noun which it is defining. Examples include:
  • I am at Buckingham Palace. In this statement, 'at' is the preposition while 'Buckingham palace' is the noun.
  • We reached with him. In this statement, 'with' is the preposition while 'him' is the pronoun.
  • I am sitting beside him. In this statement, 'beside' is the preposition while 'him' is the pronoun.
Now that we know what a prepositional phrase is, let us get into more details about it. The given prepositional phrase examples given above were quite basic in nature. While speaking, we have a tendency of adding a modifier in between to enhance the effect of our statement. This makes the prepositional phrase longer in nature. A simple example of this would be 'Under the Tuscan sun'. Here 'under' is a preposition and 'Tuscan' tends to elaborate more on the word 'sun'. Another example that would figure in the prepositional phrase list is I got this gift from my girlfriend! In this statement, 'from' is the preposition, 'my' is the modifier, while 'girlfriend' is the noun. Another example would be I found Charles loitering about the corridor at his school. In this statement, 'at' is the preposition, 'his' is the modifier while 'school' is the noun.
Purpose of a Prepositional Phrase
So, now let us see what purpose a prepositional phrase serves in a sentence. A prepositional phrase will act as either an adjective or an adverb. As an adjective, this phrase will help us identify which object we are talking about. For example, The pen on my table is red in color. Here the prepositional phrase tells you which color pen is on the table. A prepositional phrase, when acting as an adverb, will tell you more about the how, when, and where of an object. For example, Before the final exam, Betty had to go around asking for an eraser! In this statement, we get to know when Betty was looking for an eraser. Similarly, in the example, We ate lots of sweets at Sweet Sin Cafe. Here, we come to know where the person ate sweets. Similarly, when we say, Daniel fractured his ankle at cricket practice today, we come to know how Daniel fractured his ankle.
There are so many of such phrases, idioms, and what not, all of which help to make the English language the wonderful and expressive language that it is. I hope this small explanation regarding prepositional phrases, will make it easier for you when it comes to learning English and the intricacies associated with this language.