Prepositional Phrase

What is a Prepositional Phrase?

A Prepositional Phrase is a group of words which begins with a prepositionOpens in new window and ends with a substantiveOpens in new window—called the object of the prepositionOpens in new window.

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.

    Examples include:
  • 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:

A prepositional phrase may be used as an adjective, to modify a substantiveOpens in new window.

    Examples include:
  • The cloth on the table is linen.
    (modifies “cloth,” a noun)
  • Everyone on the team will play.
    (modifies “Everyon,”a pronoun)

A prepositional phrase may take the place of an adverbOpens in new window, modifying a verbOpens in new window, adjectiveOpens in new window, or another adverb.

    Examples include:
  • 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”)

A prepositional phrase may occasionally be used as a nounOpens in new window.

    Examples include:
  • 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:

Prepositional PhraseSense/RelationshipExample
because ofreason
for result
Because of his arrogance and high–handed manner, he became most unpopular with his staff.
owing toWhole villages were cut off from the rest of the country owing to heavy floods.
on account ofOn account of his arrogance and high–handed manner, he became most unpopular with his staff.
as a result ofAs a result of the pointsman’s mistake, the train was derailed.
for want ofnegative
The army lost the battle for want of timely supplies.
for lack ofThe 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. PhraseEquivalent Adverb Clause
because of his arrogance…mannerbecause 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:
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:

Prep. PhrasesSense/
in spite of concessionHe 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 conditionBut for your help, I would never have gone to college.
for the purpose of purposeHe 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:

Prep. PhraseSense/
Equivalent Adverb Clause
in spite of … disabilitiesconcessionalthough he was physically disabled…
regardless…friendsthough friends warned them against going ahead…
in case of rainconditionin case it rains
in the event … deathif the Prime minister dies…
but for your helpif you had not helped me…
for the purpose of buying … a calculatorpurposeso that he may buy himself a calculator