Prepositional Phrases

Using prepositional phrases

So far we’ve figured out that prepositional phrases provide extra information. In fact, a prepositional phrase will never be part of the core of the sentence. When you’re analyzing a sentence, you can take away the prepositional phrases to make it easier to find the subject and verb:

prepositions 2

This sentence also shows how prepositional phrases function in a sentence. They act either as an adverb or an adjective.

  • The phrase in the morning clarifies when I like to eat. In other words, it tells us something about the verb (like) by providing a time frame. When you modify the verb, you’re using an adverb, and that is also the role of the prepositional phrase in the morning.
  • The phrase with cream cheese tells us a bit more about the kind of bagel this is. Since bagel is a noun, the prepositional phrase is acting like an adjective.

If you can tell whether a prepositional phrase is adjectival or adverbial, you can give yourself a pat on the back. For most of us (mere mortals) simply spotting a prepositional phrase is good enough.

Common errors

Don’t automatically assume that you’re dealing with a preposition. Take the following sentence:

I must have left behind my monocle.

The word behind can be a preposition or an adverb, and in this case it’s an adverb. It’s modifying the verb (must have left) rather than relating a noun or pronoun to the rest of the sentence.