What is a Prepositional Phrase?
Prepositional phrases usually tell when or where, as exemplified below.
- “in ten minutes,”
- “under the moon,”
- “in the gym,”
- “against the tree,” etc.
The phrase may also include words that modify the object, and in some cases, the object of a preposition may come in compound form.
- The actor in the movie is being interviewed.
- The debater with a foreign accent won the competition.
- The wreckage was buried under mud and debris.
A prepositional phrase at the beginning of a sentence constitutes an introductory modifierOpens in new window, which is usually a signal for a comma. However, unless an introductory preopositional phrase is unusually long, we rarely need to follow it with a comma.
Types of Prepositional Phrases
In English, prepositional phrases are sub-divided into the following types:
- Adjectival prepositional phrase
A prepositional phrase may be used as an adjective, to modify a substantiveOpens in new window.
- The cloth on the table is linen.
(modifies “cloth,” a noun)
- Everyone on the team will play.
(modifies “Everyon,”a pronoun)
- Adverbial Prepositional Phrase
- The French Revolution ended in 1799.
(modifies the verb “ended”)
- They came late in the summer.
(modifies the adverb “late”)
- I feel sick in my stomach.
(modifies the adjective “sick”)
- Nounal Prepositional Phrase
A prepositional phrase may occasionally be used as a nounOpens in new window.
- In the box was a surprise present.
(used as subject)
- The best time to visit would be after lunch.
(used as predicate nominative)
- The most logical place, in his desk, was the last place he looked for a pen.
(used as appositive)
Some commonly used prepositional phrases
Within the remainder of this entry, we'll take a close look at other prepositional phrases of a different kind, such phrases like:
- “because of,”
- “on account of,”
- “owing to,”
- “for the sake of,”
- “in spite of,”
- “in the event of,” etc.
Each of these group of words cited above is by itself a prepositional phrase, that is, a group of words doing the work of a preposition. These phrases are followed by nouns or noun–equivalents like gerunds. These prepositional phrases are different in a way: they are like adverb clauses in meaning.
They all feature in the following examples:
|Because of his arrogance and high–handed manner, he became most unpopular with his staff.|
|owing to||Whole villages were cut off from the rest of the country owing to heavy floods.|
|on account of||On account of his arrogance and high–handed manner, he became most unpopular with his staff.|
|as a result of||As a result of the pointsman’s mistake, the train was derailed.|
|for want of||negative|
|The army lost the battle for want of timely supplies.|
|for lack of||The army lost the battle for lack of timely supplies.|
The table below shows the prepositional phrase construction which occured in the preceding examples:
|Prep. Phrase||+||Noun/Noun Phrase|
|owing to||+||heavy floods|
|because of||+||His arrogance and high–handed manner|
|on account of|
|as a result of||+||the poinstman's mistake|
|for want of||+||timely supplies|
|for lack of|
If you observe carefully, you will notice that the prepositional phrases in the examples above may be replaced by adverb clauses of reason or result:
|Prep. Phrase||Equivalent Adverb Clause|
|because of his arrogance…manner||because he was arrogant and high–handed in manner|
|he was so arrogant and high–handed in manner that he became most unpopular with the staff.|
|owing to heavy floods||because they were heavily flooded|
|for want of timely supplies||because it did not receive timely supplies|
|as a result… mistake||because the pointsman made a mistake|
|Since reason is always followed by result, the above prepositional phrases express in effect a reason–and–result relationship:||Reason/Cause||Result|
|because of his arrogance…manner||he became most unpopular with his staff|
|owing to heavy floods||whole villages were cut off …|
|for want of timely supplies||the army lost the battle|
|as a result of…mistake||the train was derailed|
Here are some more phrases of the same kind:
|in spite of||concession||He succeeded in life in spite of his physical diabiliities.|
|in case of, or ⇓||condition||In case of rain we will cancel the picnic.|
|in the event of (formal)||In the event of the Prime Minister’s death, his deputy will take his place.|
|but for negative||condition||But for your help, I would never have gone to college.|
|for the purpose of||purpose||He is saving his pocket money for the purpose of buying himself a calculator.|
The phrases above may be replaced by appropriate adverb clauses, as shown below:
|Equivalent Adverb Clause|
|in spite of … disabilities||concession||although he was physically disabled…|
|regardless…friends||though friends warned them against going ahead…|
|in case of rain||condition||in case it rains|
|in the event … death||if the Prime minister dies…|
|but for your help||if you had not helped me…|
|for the purpose of buying … a calculator||purpose||so that he may buy himself a calculator|