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prepositional phrase

A phrase is a group of words that forms a unit but does not contain a conjugated verb.

A prepositional phrase is a phrase that begins with a preposition, a type of joining word that links a noun to another word in a sentence. (For more on prepositions, see PREPOSITIONS.)


Every prepositional phrase contains at least two words: a preposition at the beginning and at least one noun or nominal (a word or word group acting as a noun, such as a pronoun, a gerund phrase or a noun clause). Any modifiers or other words connected to the noun or nominal are also part of the phrase.


  • Preposition + noun(s):
    • at home
    • down a dusty dirt road
    • for Alice and Joe
  • Preposition + pronoun(s):
    • above them
    • between you and me
  • Preposition + gerund phrase:
    • by practising regularly
    • since coming to Canada
  • Preposition + noun clause:
    • with what you have
    • to whoever attends


A prepositional phrase normally acts as an adjective or an adverb.

As an adjective, the phrase modifies a noun or a nominal and comes immediately after the word it modifies.

  • We bought the house on the corner. [modifies the noun house]
  • One of the baby birds has fallen out of the nest. [modifies the pronoun one]
  • I could hear only the sighing of the wind. [modifies the gerund sighing]

As an adverb, the phrase usually modifies a verb. The phrase may be next to the verb or at the beginning or end of the sentence.

  • The letter sat on the desk all week. [modifies the verb sat]
  • With a puzzled look, Jason followed his sister. [modifies the verb followed]
  • The panther crept silently along the narrow ledge. [modifies the verb crept]

An adverb prepositional phrase may also modify a verbal (i.e., a present or past participle, a gerund or an infinitive).

  • Racing toward the finish line, Georg left the other runners behind. [modifies the present participle racing]
  • The passengers seated at the back couldn’t see. [modifies the past participle seated]
  • I don’t mind sailing in rough weather. [modifies the gerund sailing]
  • Do you want to go out for lunch? [modifies the infinitive to go]

Some adverb prepositional phrases modify adjectives.

  • The children were afraid of the barking dog. [modifies the adjective afraid]

Sometimes an adverb prepositional phrase may follow the linking verb be.

  • Samina was in the garden.

Note: Occasionally, a prepositional phrase may act as a noun, but this type of structure is unusual in formal writing.

  • After midnight is the best time to view the comet. [subject of the verb is]