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PREPOSITIONAL PHRASES

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copyright 1996 Cynthia Joyce Clay

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THE GRAMMAR TABLE OF CONTENTS

PREPOSITIONAL PHRASE EXERCISES

ANSWER KEY FOR PREPOSITION PHRASE EXERCISES


Prepositional phrases consist of two parts: the preposition and the object. The object will be either a noun or a pronoun.

In English there are hundreds of prepositions, and the sad fact is you have to mermorize them to know them. Generally speaking they are iddy biddy words.

Here are some prepositions:

to

up

down

in

out

around

by

beside

with

without

sans

through

past

over

under

underneath

until.

In the most formal English, a preposition must be followed by an object. Adjectives may come between the prepostion and the object; infact, they often do. It does not matter how many adjectives are between the preposition and the object, so long as there is an object after the preposition. There are some odd cases where prepositions double up; indeed, some of these doubed prepositions are in the form of compound words, such as "into." Others are two words like "far from." No matter, the double prepositions still need an object.

Let's take the prepositions from above and give them objects to form prepositional phrases. To be more like real speech and writing some of the prepositional phrases will have adjectives inside of them.

PREPOSITION...............ADJECTIVES..........OBJECT

to.................................................................................him

up.............................................the................................stairs

down.........................................the red..........................ladder

in..............................................my.................................car

out.............................................the.................................door

around........................................the mulberry .................bush

by...............................................the.................................way

beside................................................................................you

with.............................................a big...............................sigh

without.........................................a.....................................care

sans.....................................................................................clothing

through.........................................the looking.......................glass

past...............................................two..................................streets

over...............................................the...................................rainbow

under..............................................Sarah's.............................chair

underneath.......................................the....................................table

until.........................................................................................tomorrow

That prepositions must always have an object in the most formal English is why a sentence can not end with a preposition. The preposition must have an object.

For instance, the sentence "Who are you talking to?" is wrong in formal English for TWO reasons. The first reason should be readily apparent. The preposition "to" does not have an object.

When we move the "to" so that it will have its object, we find the second mistake: "To who are you talking?" Clearly, "who" should be "whom." The question should be put "To whom are you talking?" (There is information on who and whom if you need help with that.)

You may have noticed that the explanations given here about prepositional phrases contain sentences where prepositions do not have objects. That is because this page is not written in the most formal English. Beginners of English grammar often have difficulty understanding the most formal English, and since this page is to help beginners the most formal English is not used here. Why, you may be asking, does semi-formal and relaxed English often ignore the rule about prepositions having objects? The reason is that English is a Germanic tongue with Latin rules of grammar. A few centuries ago, scholars who appreciated the beauty of English wanted to formalize its rules. At that time, to be educated was to consider Latin the model of logical language structure, and so the scholars made English conform to Latin rules! As funny as that may sound, formal English with its Latin rules is a beautiful, flexible, and precise language. Using formal English willl give you more freedom of expression than will using relaxed English.

Now, let's return to our discussion of prepositonal phrases.


Prepositional phrases are either adjectives or adverbs. When they are adjectives, they modify nouns and pronouns just like regular adjectives do. Prepositional phrases that are adjectives answer the questions

WHOSE?

WHICH ONE?

NUMBER? and

WHAT KIND?

For instance, in the sentence, "The ice salesman with red hair took a business trip," the prepositional phrase tells which salesman--the one with red hair.

When prepositional phrases are adverbs, they modify verbs, adverbs, and adjectives, just like regular adverbs do. Prepositional phrases that are adverbs answer the questions

HOW?

WHEN?

WHERE? and

WHY?

For instance, in the sentence, "The red-haired ice salesman took a business trip to the head of a comet," the prepositional phrase to the head tells where the trip was taken and so modifies the verb, and the prepostional phrase of a comet is an adverb because if modifies the prepositional phrase to the head.

Since prepostional phrases are either adjectives or adverbs, the object of the prepostion can NEVER be the subject of a sentence. This is important when forming subject-verb agreement because the object of the prepostion must not be confused with the subject, or the subject and verb will not agree.

Another thing to remember about prepositional phrases is that they can have two or even three objects. For instance, in the sentence "She flew to Mars and Saturn," the prepositional phrase "to Mars and Saturn" has two objects: "Mars" and "Saturn."

Prepostional phrases are also important because they form one of the two ways possession is shown in English. However, the topic of possession is on another web page.


There are printable exercises available on prepositonal phrases. More information on grammar can be had by going to The Grammar Table of Contents.