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Internal Structure of the Different Types of Prepositional Phrases

written by: Heather Marie Kosur • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 1/20/2012

The following article identifies the four grammatical forms—noun phrases, verb phrases, noun clauses, and prepositional phrases—that function within prepositional phrases in English and includes examples of prepositional phrases.

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    Phrase Form

    A prepositional phrase is a phrase in which a preposition functions as the phrase head. Learn about the four grammatical forms that function to complete prepositional phrases in the following sections.

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    Noun Phrases

    The first grammatical form that can appear in a prepositional phrase in English is the noun phrase. Noun phrases are phrases with a noun functioning as the head of the phrase plus any determinatives, modifiers, and complements. Noun phrases perform the grammatical function of prepositional complement within prepositional phrases. For example:

    Preposition | Noun Phrase

    • by | noon
    • due to | the gloomy weather

    Noun Phrase | Preposition

    • twelve years | ago
    • the punishment | notwithstanding

    Noun phrases most frequently appear as prepositional complements within prepositional phrases. Prepositions that follow the prepositional complement are also referred to as postpositions.

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    Verb Phrases

    The second grammatical form that can appear in a prepositional phrase in English is the verb phrase. Verb phrases are phrases with a verb functioning as the head of the phrase plus any auxiliary verbs, prepositions, prepositional phrases, adverb phrases, and determiners. Verb phrases perform the grammatical function of prepositional complement within prepositional phrases. For example:

    Preposition | Verb Phrase

    • for | teaching the class
    • without | breaking the glassware
    • in regards to | splitting the check
    • versus | hiding the stain

    Only verb phrases in the form of present participles can appear as prepositional complements within prepositional phrases.

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    Noun Clauses

    The third grammatical form that can appear in a prepositional phrase in English is the noun clause. Noun clauses are subordinate clauses that consist of a subordinating conjunction followed by a clause. Noun clauses perform the grammatical function of prepositional complement within prepositional phrases. For example:

    Preposition | Noun Clause

    • about | whoever stole the ladder
    • for | whatever will repair the leak
    • to | her lecturing the students
    • on | whatever you identify as the problem

    Noun clauses most frequently appear as prepositional complements within prepositional phrases functioning as verb phrase complements of prepositional verbs.

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    Prepositional Phrases

    The fourth grammatical form that can appear in a prepositional phrase in English is the prepositional phrase. Prepositional phrases are phrases with a preposition functioning as the head of the phrase plus a prepositional complement. Prepositional phrases perform the grammatical function of prepositional complement within prepositional phrases. For example:

    Preposition | Noun Clause

    • around | in the cupboard
    • about | under our beds
    • on | inside the boardroom
    • at | behind the refrigerator

    Prepositional phrases also most frequently appear as prepositional complements within prepositional phrases functioning as verb phrase complements of prepositional verbs.

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    For a printable reference study sheet of the grammatical forms that can appear in prepositional phrases in English, please download the supplement to this article The Internal Structure of Prepositional Phrases in English Reference Sheet.