English Prepositional Phrases


This unit covers the use of prepositional phrases in English. Prepositional phrases include a preposition and an object, and can modify a noun (adjectival phrase) or a verb (adverbial phrase).

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Prepositional phrases are groups of words that don’t include both a subject and a verb, and refer back to another word in the sentence. These phrases contain objects, and typically have a determiner such as a definite or indefinite article. 

Ted talks to his friend on the phone.
Megan and Anthony are walking down the street.
I jumped into the pool.

In these examples, the italicized phrases are prepositional. The first sentence contains two such phrases that answer the questions “to whom” and “how” Ted talks. The second example contains a phrase that answers “where,” and the last example answers “where to.”

Prepositional phrases use prepositions of time, manner, place, and direction. Typical questions that prepositional phrases answer include: which one, what kind, where, when, and how. Common prepositions are:

above, across, after, against, around, as, at, below, between, by, during, for, from, in, into, like, off, on, onto, over, out, past, through, to, toward, under, underneath, until, with

Prepositional phrases can refer back to a noun or a verb. In the previous examples, they all referred to the action or verb. Here are a couple examples with nouns as the referents.

My appointment is after the next patient. (when)
The best coffee is from Columbia. (where)
Her car is the one with the funny bumper sticker. (which one)

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Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

The CEFR is an international standard used to describe language ability. Here are specific details of the CEFR for this topic.

General Explanation:
Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment). Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters. Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.
Specific Capabilities at this Level
I can write short, simple notes and messages relating to matters in areas of immediate needs. I can write a very simple personal letter, for example thanking someone for something.
Spoken Production:
I can use a series of phrases and sentences to describe in simple terms my family and other people, living conditions, my educational background and my present or most recent job.
Spoken Interaction:
I can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar topics and activities. I can handle very short social exchanges, even though I can’t usually understand enough to keep the conversation going myself.
I can read very short, simple texts. I can find specific, predictable information in simple everyday material such as advertisements, prospectuses, menus and timetables and I can understand short simple personal letters.
I can understand phrases and the highest frequency vocabulary related to areas of most immediate personal relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local area, employment). I can catch the main point in short, clear, simple messages and announcements.