A prepositional phrase is made up of a preposition, the object of the preposition, and all the words between them. It often functions as an adjective or adverb, but it can function as a noun as well.
We carried the fruits in our school bags. (adverb telling where)
The plane flew through the cloud. (adverb telling where)
Almost half of Africa’s population suffers from water – related diseases. (adverb modifying suffers).
The water supply in the United States is expected to decline dramatically. (adjective modifying water supply).
The best time to practise water conservation is before a water shortage. (noun functioning as a complement).
In sentence 1 above, the preposition is in, the object of the preposition is bags, and the modifiers or adjectives are our and school.
Sometimes two or more nouns or pronouns are used as objects in a prepositional phrase.
He needs a wife with diligence and a good character.
Diligence and character are objects of the preposition with.
When prepositional phrases function as adjectives and adverbs in sentences, they are called adjectival and adverbial phrases respectively.
(a) An adjectival prepositional phrase modifies nouns or pronouns.
The woman wears shoes with sharp heels. (an adjectival phrase modifying the noun shoes)
The man with a funny – looking dog crossed the road. (an adjectival phrase modifying the noun man)
(b) An adverbial prepositional phrase modifies verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs.
Soldiers train for many months. (an adverbial phrase modifying the verb train) People are lazy in the afternoons. (an adverbial phrase modifying the adjective lazy).
She arrived late in the night. (an adverbial phrase modifying the adverb late).
Sometimes one prepositional phrase immediately follows another.
The man led him through the door on the left.
Note that the prepositional phrase through the door is an adverbial phrase modifying the verb led and tells where? The second prepositional phrase on the left is an adjectival phrase modifying the noun door and tells which one?
A prepositional phrase can be at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of a sentence.
At dusk, we began to walk home.
The map of the area was very helpful.
The path went by a forest and a large lake.
Underline the prepositional phrases in the following sentences and indicate what type each of them is.
- The oldest building is found in Mombasa.
- Five companies around the country have bought new fire engines.
- The barking of the dog scared the strangers.
- Bulls are bred for hard work.
- Most bridges are built over water.
- Travellers were spared many miles of travel.
- I went by bus to the market.
- At the market, I saw beautiful and unusual people.
- I also saw a display of colourful clothes.
- She took him through the lesson with professional expertise.
- In Mombasa – adverbial modifying the verb found.
- around the country – adjectival modifying the noun companies.
- of the dog – adjectival modifying the noun barking.
- For hard work – adverbial modifying the verb bred.
- Over water – adverbial modifying the verb built.
- of travel – adjectival modifying the noun miles.
- By bus – adverbial modifying the verb went. to the market – adverbial modifying the verb went.
- At the market – adjectival modifying the noun.
- Of colours clothes – adjectival modifying the noun display.
- With professional expertise – adverbial modifying the phrasal verb took through.