Prepositional phrases are probably the most difficult modifiers to learn because there are so many of them. Before we define these phrases, let’s look at an example. Underline the modifiers in this phrase:

the high cost of textbooks

The word high is obviously a modifier—an adjective, to be precise. But the words of textbooks make up another type of modifier—a prepositional phrase. The words of textbooks describe the noun cost just as surely as the adjective high does. We are talking about a high cost, not a low cost. Similarly, we are talking about the cost of textbooks, not the cost of banana splits. So of textbooks is a prepositional phrase that works as an adjective.

Here’s an example of a prepositional phrase that acts as an adverb:

The boy dialed 911 in a panic.

How did he dial the number? He dialed it in a panic, not in a cool, calm frame of mind. In other words, in a panic modifies the verb dialed.

Prepositional phrases also can describe where an action was done. For example:

The man wrote his novel at a seaside hotel.

Or they can describe when an action was done. For example:

My mother graduated from law school in May.

Most prepositions can be thought of as direction or relationship words. The noun or pronoun that follows a preposition is called the object of the preposition. Taken together, the preposition and its object form a prepositional phrase. An important thing to know when editing your work is that the subject of a sentence will never be inside a prepositional phrase. Knowing this fact will help to solve problems of subject-verb agreement, a topic we will review later in this book.

Here is a list of common prepositions, each used in the context of a prepositional phrase. The words in italics are the prepositions.

about the introduction

above his head

across the border

after recess

against his principles

along those lines

among ourselves

around our city

at the time

before the meeting

behind her

below the ice

beneath the top layer

beside her mother

between two slices

beyond tomorrow

by them

despite my wishes

down the path

during the first minute

except you

for my children

from his grandmother

in the spirit

inside his mind

into the grocery store

like a winner

near her heart

of the joke

off the top

on the dresser

onto the floor

out the door

outside the solar system

over the noodles

past his house

since her graduation

through the middle

throughout the poem

to my office

toward the future

under it

underneath the books

until winter

up the steps

upon her entrance

with love

within your lifetime

without regrets

There are also phrasal prepositions. These are prepositions that are made up of two or more words. Here are a few examples, again given in the context of a prepositional phrase. The phrasal prepositions are in italics:

according to Mark

along with fried clams

because of my sister

except for him

in addition to the readings

in case of emergency

in place of the party

in spite of your absence

instead of television

out of luck

up to par

with reference to the letter

with regard to your request

Exercise 1.8

Use the labels s, υ, sub com, ob com, do and io to mark the key parts of the following simple sentences. Draw a wavy line under appositives and cross out prepositional phrases and other modifiers. Then write the kernel on the line provided.

1. Robin Burns, the highest-paid woman in the United States, is the chief executive officer of Estée Lauder USA.

Kernel: …

2. During the early part of his career, Babe Ruth pitched.

Kernel: …

3. In 1981, the number of foreign tourists in the United States exceeded the number of American tourists in foreign countries for the first time in the memory of record keepers in the travel industry.

Kernel: …

4. For some strange reason, the color of raspberry popsicles has always been blue.

Kernel: …

5. The Treasury Department of the United States dry-cleaned soiled money during the administration of President Woodrow Wilson.

Kernel: …

6. According to experts in animal behavior, a female tree frog instinctively recognizes the connection between the volume of a male tree frog’s song and his physical strength and vigor, prime factors in his desirability as a mate.

Kernel: …

7. The headquarters of the McDonald’s Corporation in Illinois has a 700-gallon burger-shaped waterbed.

Kernel: …

8. The decaying organic matter on the floor of a forest is duff.

Kernel: …

9. The average size of the winner of the male division of the Boston Marathon over the years is 5 feet and 7 inches and 135 pounds.

Kernel: …

10. Ironically, country singer Hank Williams’s last record before his death in 1953 at the young age of 29 was “I’ll Never Get Out of this World Alive.”

Kernel: …