A prepositional phrase is a group of words including a preposition, an object and any modifiers.
Most prepositional phrases modify a noun or verb, often called adjectival or adverbial phrases, respectively.
Examples of prepositions
A prepositional phrase contains a preposition and an object. The object can be a noun, a gerund (a verb ending in -ing that acts like a noun), or a clause.
Here are a few examples, with each prepositional phrase in bold:
- She caught the bus on time.
- Mary plays the girl in the middle.
- Before going shopping, get out cash.
- John is really going steady with that silly girl.
- After the play is the perfect time to congratulate Annie.
Notice how prepositions can modify nouns or verbs.
Ending sentences with a preposition
Some of us learned that ending a sentence with a dangling preposition was bad form. The Oxford Dictionary states that’s no longer the case: what used to hold true in years past for Latin isn’t how we use English today.
It’s perfectly acceptable to end some sentences with a preposition:
- Did you turn the TV off?
- Her car had not even been paid for.
- Joe must understand the responsibility he is taking on.
If you tried to rewrite the above sentences to avoid ending with a preposition, they would be awkward at best:
- Did you turn off the TV?
- For which her car had not even been paid.
- Joe must understand the responsibility upon which he is taking.
Per OxfordDictionaries.com, "There is no necessity to ban prepositions from the end of sentences. Ending a sentence with a preposition is a perfectly natural part of the structure of modern English."
Avoid using too many prepositional phrases
When you use too many prepositional phrases in a single sentence, it becomes ungainly and inelegant:
- You must learn to move with caution when sailing on a sailboat in the middle of the stormy ocean.
When you use ProWritingAid to check your work, too many prepositional phrases will show up in the Sticky Sentences Report. You can then reword to express yourself better:
- On stormy seas, move cautiously on sailboats.
This sentence is far clearer. Notice that we still have two prepositions, but the structure is now straightforward and every word carries weight.
Want more information on prepositional phrases? Our friend Daniel over at Daily Writing Tips has written a useful article about what they are and how to identify them in your writing.