In this article, we’ll talk about prepositional phrases and learn how to recognize them in a sentence. Read on for some advanced speaking and writing tips related to these fascinating grammar components.
What is a Prepositional Phrase?
A prepositional phrase is defined as:
Recognizing a Prepositional Phrase in a Sentence
Let’s break down the definition so you can recognize a prepositional phrase in a sentence.
A prepositional phrase can also contain modifiers but will still end with a noun, pronoun, gerund, or clause.
In fact, you can add multiple modifiers.
In this sentence, the phrase into the woods modifies or describes the verb went. This is an example of an adverbial phrase because the phrase acts like an adverb in the sentence. Here are a few more examples of adverbial phrases:
If a prepositional phrase is used to modify a noun, it is called an adjective phrase. Here are some examples:
Lastly, in rare instances, prepositional phrases can act as a noun in a sentence. Here are some examples:
Note: This is the only instance when a prepositional phrase is used as the subject of a sentence.
English language has over 150 prepositions, so you can try a lot of combinations in your own writing and speech. If you need a reference, click on this full list of prepositions in English.
Advanced Speaking and Writing with Prepositional Phrases
It could be tempting to overuse prepositions and prepositional phrases in your writing and speech. This is an issue for native speakers and ESL students alike. And, without awareness, it can be detrimental to academic and professional papers.
Look at this example:
The girl in the black gown walked proudly with her diploma in her hand and with a big smile on her face.
Grammatically, there’s nothing wrong with that sentence, but it uses the prepositions with and in twice and adds a prepositional phrase at the end of the sentence. In your writing, it’s always better to create sentences that are clear and concise.
Multiple prepositional phrases can mess up the pace of your writing by slowing it down and distracting the reader. Let’s rework that sentence:
The girl, dressed in a black gown, walked proudly as she held her diploma and smiled.
We transformed the prepositional phrases with her diploma in her hand and with a big smile on her face into a separate clause: as she held her diploma and smiled. With this change, we preserved the meaning of the original sentence while making our writing more concise and active.
Also, we removed phrases in her hand and on her face since their actions are already implied by the verbs used in the phrase.
You can also change a sentence from passive voice to active voice to cut down on extraneous prepositional phrases in your writing. Look at the example:
Why was my dress tailored by Mary?
Passive voice in this question makes it sound odd. And, if spoken, it wouldn’t align with the sentence structure used by natives. It’s much better in the active voice.
Why did Mary tailor my dress?
Use these tips in your writing and speech, and you’ll be on your way to mastering The Prepositional Phrase. Visit the Magoosh Speaking blog for more grammar tips and check out our resources below if you need additional help.