Prepositional Phrase Definition and Examples

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

prepositional phrase
A page on prepositions from The First Grammar Book for Children (W. Walker & Sons, 1900). (Culture Club/Getty Images)

In English grammar, a prepositional phrase is a group of words made up of a preposition, its object, and any of the object's modifiers.

Prepositional phrases can modify nouns, verbs, phrases, and complete clauses. As demonstrated by several of the examples below, prepositional phrases can be embedded inside other prepositional phrases.

Examples

  • "Lola walked over, gently grabbed me by the hand, and led me to the front of the class."
    (Misty Copeland, Life in Motion. Touchstone, 2014)
  • "I will not obey the voices in my head."
    (Bart Simpson, The Simpsons, 2000)
  • "The kitchen table was set for breakfast, and the room smelled of coffee, bacon, damp plaster, and wood smoke from the stove."
    (E.B. White, Charlotte's Web. Harper, 1952)
  • "Above the trees and rooftops the dingy glare of the London sky faded upwards into weak violet heights."
    (Alan Hollinghurst, The Line of Beauty. Picador, 2004)
  • "On the counter near the stove in a silvery pan was a deep-dish berry cobbler."
    (Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970)
  • “The denunciation of the young is a necessary part of the hygiene of older people and greatly assists in the circulation of the blood.”
    (Logan Pearsall Smith, All Trivia, 1933) 
  • "With spry jingles of the bell on her handlebars, a woman sped by in a crimson smock and a witchy black hat."
    (Martin Amis, Lionel Asbo: State of England. Alfred A. Knopf, 2012)
  • "I was thinking that we all learn by experience, but some of us have to go to summer school."
    (Peter De Vries, The Tunnel of Love, 1954)
  • "Behind the school, down a slope of briars and jungle-like vegetation, was the 'crick'--the wide, often muddy, fast-moving Tonawanda Creek, where pupils were forbidden to play or explore."
    (Joyce Carol Oates, "District School #7: Niagara County, New York." Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art. HarperCollins, 2003)
  • "To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement. To condense the diffused light of a page of thought into the luminous flash of a single sentence, is worthy to rank as a prize composition just by itself. . . . Anybody can have ideas--the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph."
    (Mark Twain, letter to Emeline B. Beach, February 10, 1868. Mark Twain's Letters: 1867-1868, ed. by Harriet Elinor Smith and Richard Bucci. University of California Press, 1990)
  • "Everywhere I go I'm asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them. There's many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher."
    (Flannery O'Connor)

Observations

  • "Academic writing is particularly packed with prepositional phrases because they allow a writer to structure a great deal of information compactly. In fact several adverbial phrases can occur in one sentence, and often they do. . . . [P]repositional phrases are flexible in their syntactic roles, modifying functions, and sentence positions. The extraordinarily high frequency of prepositional phrases, combined with their flexibility, is the reason that students have to learn to recognize prepositional phrases and use them appropriately in their writing."
    (Eli Hinkel, Teaching Academic ESL Writing: Practical Techniques in Vocabulary and Grammar. Lawrence Erlbaum, 2004)
  • George Carlin on the Lighter Side of Prepositional Phrases
    "We Americans love our prepositional phrases.

    "Out of sight, off the charts, in the groove, on the ball, up the creek, down the tubes, in the dumper, out the yin-yang, off the wall, 'round the bend, below the belt, under the weather.

    "And of course . . . under the table.

    "But rather than under the table, let us begin on the table. That's a phrase you hear a lot in the news, especially from Washington. In negotiations of any kind, certain things are said to be on the table. Implying that other things are off the table. And sometimes, regardless of what's on the table, a settlement is reached under the table.

    "The table seems important. If a person is highly qualified we say he brings a lot to the table. Unfortunately, those who bring a lot to the table often have too much on their plates. Still, they're guaranteed a seat at the table, because they think outside the box, which puts them ahead of the curve."
    (George Carlin, When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops? Hyperion, 2004)

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Nordquist, Richard. "Prepositional Phrase Definition and Examples." ThoughtCo, Apr. 25, 2017, thoughtco.com/prepositional-phrase-1691663. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, April 25). Prepositional Phrase Definition and Examples. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/prepositional-phrase-1691663 Nordquist, Richard. "Prepositional Phrase Definition and Examples." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/prepositional-phrase-1691663 (accessed November 19, 2017).