Prepositional Phrase | Examples, Definition & Uses

Sentence and word structure updated on  February 5, 2024 6 min read
A prepositional phrase consists of a preposition (e.g., “in,” “with,” “of”), an object, and any modifiers. It usually provides more information about a thing or an action. For example, prepositional phrases can tell us when, how, or where something is done, or they can clarify which person or thing is being talked about.

Prepositional phrase examples
I’ll go shopping in the morning.
I saw a mouse and jumped on the table.
The dress with the gold stars is my favorite.

What is a prepositional phrase?

Prepositional phrases can modify verbs, nouns, adjectives, and adverbs to provide additional information about actions, people, and things. For example, they can tell us when, where, or how something happens.

A prepositional phrase always contains at least two words: a preposition and an object. The object is a noun or pronoun, and the phrase can also contain modifiers such as adjectives. You can use multiple prepositional phrases in a single sentence.

Prepositional phrase examples
The cup of coffee was spilled on the freshly cleaned floor.
Gerald called his mother after work.
I went for a long walk by the sea with my friend.

Prepositional phrases often act as adjectives or adverbs, but they can also act as nouns.

Adjective prepositional phrase

When a prepositional phrase modifies a noun (or pronoun), it is behaving as an adjective. Adjectival prepositional phrases tell us more about the noun they modify, such as who or what it belongs to, its material or characteristics, or its location.

Adjective prepositional phrase examples
The wildlife of Antarctica is very resilient.
The woman in the red car is waving at you.
I love movies with fantasy settings.

Note
Sometimes the object of a prepositional phrase is plural but the noun it modifies is singular. When the noun being modified is the subject of the sentence, the verb should agree with the noun, not the prepositional object.

The box of DVDs were donated to the second-hand store.
The box of DVDs was donated to the second-hand store.

The QuillBot Grammar checker can help you with subject-verb agreement.

Adverbial prepositional phrase

Prepositional phrases can also behave as adverbs by modifying verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs.

Adverbial prepositional phrase examples
Dorothy looked behind the curtain.
Paul was happy with the results.
Waking up early in the morning is difficult.

When modifying verbs, adverbial prepositional phrases describe the action. For example, they can tell us how, when, or where an action was performed; who an action was performed by; or what an action was performed with.

Examples: Adverbial prepositional phrases modifying verbs
She drove past my house in her new car.
The case was solved by Sherlock Holmes.
I painted the picture with my new paintbrush.

Note
It can sometimes be unclear whether a prepositional phrase is acting adverbally (modifying the verb) or adjectivally (modifying a noun), making the sentence ambiguous.

For example, in the sentence “I hit the man with a banana,” does the prepositional phrase “with a banana” modify the verb “hit” to describe what the man was hit with? Or does it modify the noun “man” to tell us that the man with a banana was the one who was hit?

Try to rephrase the sentence or provide additional context in the surrounding sentences to make the intended meaning clear.

Prepositional phrases used as nouns

A prepositional phrase can sometimes act as a noun that is the subject of the sentence.

Examples: Prepositional phrases as the subject of a sentence
Under the bed is always the first place I look when I lose something.
After lunch is the best time for a nap.

Prepositional phrases can also act as subject complements following the linking verb “be.”

Examples: Prepositional phrases as subject complements
My Shakespeare lecture is at 9 a.m.
The keys were under the bed.

Introductory prepositional phrase

Prepositional phrases can sometimes be used at the beginning of the sentence as an introductory phrase.

If the prepositional phrase is longer than four words or consists of multiple prepositions, follow it with a comma. If the prepositional phrase is short—just two or three words—the comma is optional; you can include it if you prefer or if it aids clarity.

Introductory prepositional phrase examples
After driving around for several hours Eoin finally knew what to do.
After driving around for several hours, Eoin finally knew what to do.

At noon the bell struck 12 times.
At noon, the bell struck 12 times.

Prepositional phrases list

There are over 100 prepositions with a wide range of meanings. They can be combined with nouns and modifiers to form an almost limitless number of prepositional phrases. Here are some examples of common prepositions, meanings, and phrases.

Use

Prepositions

Example prepositional phrases

Location—where someone or something is located in
on
at
under
over
next to
The book is in the drawer.
The book is on the shelf.
The book is at my house.
The book is under the desk.
The book is over there.
The book is next to the laptop.
Direction—the movement of someone or something to
toward
through
We went to Turkey.
The rat ran toward the hole.
He punched through a wall.
Time—when something is happening at
in
on
after
before
We’ll meet at 5 o’clock.
We’ll meet in the morning.
We’ll meet on Thursday.
We’ll meet after work.
We’ll meet before dinner.
Manner—how something is done with
without
She acted with decorum.
She acted without thinking.
Instrument—what something is done with with
without
She made the sculpture with recycled materials.
They constructed the building without nails.
Purpose, reason, or cause—why something is done, what something is for, or what caused something for
due to
because of
by
He gave me money for gas.
They closed due to bankruptcy.
They closed because of bankruptcy.
I was surprised by her words.
Agent—who or what something is done by by Bleak House was written by Charles Dickens.
Possession or relationship—the ownership of something or the connection between two things of
with
The Queen of England replied to my letter.
The wall of the barn collapsed.
The curtains with the floral pattern are pretty.
Source—where something comes from from I bought you some chocolate from Switzerland.

Note
Many words only function as prepositions some of the time. For example, some prepositions can also be adverbs, form part of phrasal verbs, or introduce subordinate clauses.

Both infinitives and prepositional phrases can begin with “to.” However, an infinitive is “to” plus a verb, while “to” in a prepositional phrase is followed by a noun (which can include a gerund) or pronoun.

For example, in “I went to the library to study,” “to study” is an infinitive and “to the library” is a prepositional phrase.

Do you want to know more about common mistakes, commonly confused words, or other language topics? Check out some of our other language articles full of examples and quizzes.


Rhetoric

Commonly confused words

Fallacies

Symbolism

Possum vs opossum

Straw man fallacy

Play on words

Weather vs whether

Post hoc fallacy

Juxtaposition

Inter vs intra

Fallacy of composition

Paronomasia

To vs too

Tu quoque fallacy

Allusion

Subjective vs objective

Either-or fallacy


Frequently asked questions about prepositional phrase

Is “of” a prepositional phrase?

“Of” is a preposition that can be combined with nouns and modifiers to form prepositional phrases. It can express a range of meanings, including the following:

  • Possession or relationship: “the wheel of my car.”
  • Origin: “people of ancient Mesopotamia.”
  • Material, contents, or construction: “a shard of glass.”
  • About or relating to: “I told him of my travels.”

Is “with” a prepositional phrase?

“With” is a preposition that can be combined with nouns and modifiers to form prepositional phrases. It has a few meanings, including the following:

  • Who an action is performed with: “I went to the cinema with my brother.”
  • A combination of items: “they served tea with milk.”
  • What is used to carry out an action: “I wrote the letter with a fountain pen.”
  • How something is done: “They danced with skill and grace.”

Is “on” a prepositional phrase?

“On” is a preposition that can be combined with nouns and modifiers to form prepositional phrases. It has a range of meanings, including the following:

  • Place: “Dinner is on the table.”
  • Time: “My birthday is on Friday.”

What is an example of a prepositional phrase?

There are over 100 prepositions (e.g., “in,” “on,” “with”) that can be combined with nouns and modifiers to form an almost countless number of prepositional phrases. They can act as adjectives, adverbs, and nouns and have many uses. For example, they can tell us when, where, how, or why something is done.

Here are some examples of prepositional phrases:

  • The party is on Tuesday.
  • The laundry is in the washing machine.
  • I can write with a quill.
  • The cup of water fell to the ground.

What’s the difference between infinitives and prepositional phrases?

Both infinitives and prepositional phrases can begin with “to.” However, an infinitive is “to” plus a verb, while “to” in a prepositional phrase is followed by a noun or pronoun.

For example, in “I want to take her to the cinema,” “to take” is an infinitive and “to the cinema” is a prepositional phrase.

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Sophie Shores

Sophie has a BA in English Literature, an MA in Publishing, and a passion for great writing. She’s taught English overseas and has experience editing both business and academic writing.

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