What Are the Parts of a Prepositional Phrase?

Expanding the Basic Sentence Unit

prepositional phrases
The two main parts of a prepositional phrase are a preposition and its object. (pearleye/Getty Images)

Like adjectives and adverbs, prepositional phrases add meaning to the nouns and verbs in our sentences. Take a look at the two prepositional phrases in the following sentence:

The steamy air in the kitchen reeked of stale food.

The first prepositional phrase—in the kitchenmodifies the noun air; the second—of stale food—modifies the verb reeked. The two phrases provide information that helps us understand the sentence as a whole.

The Two Parts of a Prepositional Phrase

A prepositional phrase has two basic parts: a preposition plus one or more nouns or pronouns that serve as the object of the preposition. A preposition is a word that shows how a noun or a pronoun is related to another word in a sentence. The common prepositions are listed in the table at the end of this article.

Building Sentences With Prepositional Phrases

Prepositional phrases often do more than just add minor details to a sentence: sometimes they're needed for a sentence to make sense. Consider the vagueness of this sentence without prepositional phrases:

The workers gather a rich variety and distribute it.

Now see how the sentence comes into focus when we add prepositional phrases:

From many sources, the workers at the Community Food Bank gather a rich variety of surplus and unsalable food and distribute it to soup kitchens, day-care centers, and homes for the elderly.

Notice how these added prepositional phrases give us more information about certain nouns and verbs in the sentence:

  • Which workers?
    The workers at the Community Food Bank.
  • What did they gather?
    A rich variety of surplus and unsalable food.
  • Where did they gather the food?
    From many sources.
  • Who did they distribute it to?
    To soup kitchens, day-care centers, and homes for the elderly.

    Like the other simple modifiers, prepositional phrases are not merely ornaments; they add details that can help us understand a sentence.

    Arranging Prepositional Phrases

    A prepositional phrase often appears after the word it modifies, as in this sentence:

    Ben slipped on the top rung of the ladder.

    In this sentence, the phrase on the top rung modifies and directly follows the verb slipped, and the phrase of the ladder modifies and directly follows the noun rung.

    Like adverbs, prepositional phrases that modify verbs can sometimes be shifted to either the beginning or the end of a sentence. This is worth keeping in mind when you want to break up a long string of prepositional phrases, as shown here:

    Original: We walked down to a souvenir shop on the waterfront after breakfast in our hotel room.

    Revised: After breakfast in our hotel room, we walked down to a souvenir shop on the waterfront.

    The best arrangement is one that's clear and uncluttered.

     

    PRACTICE: Building with Simple Modifiers

    Use adjectives, adverbs, and prepositional phrases to expand the sentence below. Add details that answer the questions in parentheses and make the sentence more interesting and informative.

    Jenny stood, raised her shotgun, aimed, and fired.
    ( Where did Jenny stand? How did she aim? What did she fire at?)

    There are, of course, no single correct answers to the questions in parentheses. Sentence-expanding exercises such as this one encourage you to use your imagination to build original sentences.

     

    A List of Common Prepositions

    aboutbehindexceptoutside
    abovebelowforover
    acrossbeneathfrompast
    afterbesideinthrough
    againstbetweeninsideto
    alongbeyondintounder
    amongbynearuntil
    arounddespiteofup
    atdownoffwith
    beforeduringonwithout