22 January 2012

Prepositional Phrases

What is a Prepositional Phrase?

A prepositional phrase consists of a preposition, its object, and any associated adverbs or adjectives.

Some of the most common prepositions are: about, above, after, along, around, at, before, below, beside, between, by, during, for, in, inside, near, of, on, over, since, throughout, to, under, underneath, until, upon, with, within, and without.

Functioning as an Adverb

As an adverb, a prepositional phrase will answer the questions, “How?” “When?” or “Where?”

     Example: We drove carefully along the busy highway.
Here, the preposition along introduces the highway; the prepositional phrase “along the busy highway” acts as an adverb, describing where we drove.

Functioning as an Adjective

As an adjective, a prepositional phrase will answer the question, “Which one?”

     Example: The note from Janet indicated that she was leaving.
The prepositional phrase “from Janet” describes the note. Which note? The one Janet wrote. 

Prepositional Phrases Do Not…

contain the subject of a sentence. Because a prepositional phrase contains a noun, it seems logical for that noun to be the subject of the sentence.

Example: Neither of these cookbooks contains the recipe I am looking for.

Neither is the (singular) subject attached to the (singular) verb contains. Cookbooks, on the other hand, is part of the prepositional phrase of these cookbooks. If the cookbooks were the subject of the sentence, we would use the plural form of the verb – contain – rather than the singular – contains.  

Prepositional phrases like in addition to and along with can be misleading, because they indicate that there is more to come; they will trick you into believing that the subject is plural when in reality, it is not.

Example: Rebecca, along with her siblings, cheered when school was cancelled due to the snow.

In terms of logic, both Rebecca and her siblings are pleased by the cancellation of school. While Rebecca’s siblings exist in the sense of the real world, in the sentence, they are locked into the prepositional phrase, making Rebecca the subject of the verb cheered.


  1. re: "we would use the singular form of the verb -- contain -- rather than the plural -- contains."

    an english teacher of mine once engraved this concept into my scalp: the 's' goes with either the subject (if the subject is plural), or the verb (if singular). (ignore the obvious exceptions of irregular plural noun forms.)

    so was this line a typo or does the plural follow the 's'? do i need to shave my head and get the engraving fixed?

  2. In that example, 'neither' is the subject of the sentence ('of the cookbooks' essentially acts as an adjective, describing 'neither'); so the verb that follows would end in 's'. To better clarify, replace 'neither' with another singular noun, such as 'the book.' You would say, 'the book contains...' If you had more than one book, then you would say, 'the books contain...'

    Perhaps my multiple hyphens are the cause for the confusion. That sentence is supposed to read: "If the cookbooks were the subject of the sentence, we would use the singular form of the verb ('contain'), rather than the plural ('contains')."

  3. no, this isn't referring to the example at all, just the quoted bit. my confusion is that the quote claims 'contain' is the 'singular form' ... when it will only be used with a plural subject, wouldn't that make it the 'plural form' of the verb?

    consider a noun version of the same statement: "... the singular form of the noun (apple), rather than the plural form of the noun (apples) ...". no problem. wouldn't the verb version be "... the singular form of the verb (contains), rather than the plural form of the verb (contain)"?

  4. Oh! I see what you're saying. (Forgive me; it's been a long day.) I simply mixed the two up. Yes, the singular form will end in 's' (contains) while the plural will not (contain). My apologies for the confusion!