Prepostions and Prepositional Phrases
So far we have discussed noun phrases and verb phrases.
Here we have two noun phrases – my brother Ben, the kitchen – and one verb phrase, the main verb phrase in the sentence: has rebuilt.
Just a quick reminder: phrases are groups of word that act as a single unit (with noun phrases, you can often replace them with a pronoun, as in He has rebuilt it). [NB: phrases can also be just a single word.]
Each phrase has a head word, after which the phrase is named. Thus, the headword of the kitchen is kitchen, which makes it a noun phrase; and the headword of has rebuilt is built, which makes it a verb phrase.
Prepositional phrases are also groups of word acting as a unit – in the case of PP, they are acting as adjectives, adverbs, and sometimes noun. Their headword will always be their preposition.
Here, in our old house is a prepositional phrase. The headword is in. The entire phrase acts as an adjective, modifying kitchen (which kitchen?).
Structurally, prepositional phrases are composed of the preposition, the object of the preposition, and any words that modify either.
The job of a preposition is to connect a noun phrase to another noun phrase in a sentence.
Sarah found the kitten (on the table).
Here, the preposition on connects the table to kitten, telling the reader where the kitten was.
The entire prepositional phrase, thus, acts as a modifier, modifying some word or phrase. If the phrase modifies a noun, the prepositional phrase is acting as an adjective; otherwise, it is acting as an adverb.
Most prepositions are a single word; but some are phrases.
The tree (on the corner) was struck (by lightning) (during the storm).
On the corner – on is the preposition; the corner is the noun phrase which acts as the object of the preposition. The prepositional phrase modifies tree, which means it is acting as an adjective.
By lightning – by is the preposition; lightning is the noun phrase acting as the object of the preposition; the PP is modifying the main verb phrase, was struck, which means it is acting as an adverb.
During the storm – during is the preposition, the storm is the noun phrase acting as the object of the preposition, and the PP is modifying the main verb phrase, which means it is acting as an adverb.
My friend Jack, according to the state of Texas, is a certified expert on pests of nut trees of the Southern lowlands.
According to the state of Texas – according to is the preposition; the state of Texas is the noun phrase acting as the object of the preposition; the PP is modifying My friend Jack, a noun phrase, which means it is acting as an adjective.
On pests of nut trees of the Southern lowlands -- on is the preposition; pests of nut trees of the Southern lowlands is the noun phrase acting as the object of the preposition; the PP is modifying expert, which means it is acting as an adjective.
Notice that within this PP, we have yet another prepositional phrase – of the Southern lowlands. This can happen! A prepositional phrase is defined as the preposition + its object + any words that modify its object (like determiners, or adjectives, or other prepositional phrases).
Of the Southern lowlands -- of is the preposition; the Southern lowlands is the noun phrase acting as the object of the preposition; the PP is modifying trees, which means it is acting as an adjective.
There’s an incomplete list of prepositions on page 135 of your book, but in general they are words like in, of, after, on, besides, with, over, after, before, by, across… words that connect by indicating the relation of the noun phrase to some other word or phrase in the sentence.
Prepositions used without noun phrases to act as their objects are usually functioning as adverbs:
The dog swam over the river.
The dog swam over.
Outside the window, we saw a thunderstorm begin.
We saw a thunderstorm begin outside.
Exercise: Find and label all the phrases in these sentences. Give the function of each.
The kitten bit that little boy on his ear.
The library books are in that box under the table.
The child in the ugly green shirt took the cookies from the kitchen.
Elvis put the draft of the paper in his backpack.
We sat on the bench.
Using the correct case with objects of the Preposition: One other issue connected to prepositional phrases is one we have already discussed in class. This has to do with the case of the pronoun used in prepositional phrases.
Because the noun phrase in a prepositional phrase is always the object of the preposition, when that noun phrase is replaced by a pronoun, that pronoun should always be in the object case.
The prize went to Elvis and (I/me)
Ivy cooked dinner for Polly and (she/her).
In both of these examples, the object case of the pronoun is the correct one – Elvis and me, Polly and her – because in both cases, the noun phrase is the object of the preposition.
Ending sentences with Prepositions/Stranded Prepositions: You may have also been told, at some point, that it is incorrect to end sentences with prepositions.
Who did you give the book to?
That’s the class I told you about.
Jesse told me where he was from.
These sentences could be re-written (To whom did you give the book?) but in fact it is perfectly okay to end sentences with prepositions.
Reed-Kellogg diagramming of Prepositional phrases: