How to Identify and Use Prepositional Phrases
What are prepositional phrases and how are they used in written English? Writing effectively requires being able to first identify this part of speech and then use the prepositional phrases properly in combination with singular and plural verb forms.
What Are Prepositional Phrases?
There are over 100 prepositions in English. Words including “of,” “with,” “from,” “about,” “around,” “as,” “at,” “in,” “beside” and “out” are prepositions. These words are frequently used to create phrases that describe a particular action, location, or time within a sentence.
Generally, the easiest way to identify a prepositional phrase is to determine if the sentence still makes sense without that phrase. While you can always delete a prepositional phrase from a sentence without altering its underlying meaning, a prepositional phrase on its own does not form a coherent sentence. For example, the following sentence has a subject, a verb, and two prepositional phrases:
I ran with the boys from school.
“I ran” is the subject and verb of the sentence, and qualifies as a complete sentence on its own.
However, “with the boys from school” is actually two discrete prepositional phrases: “with the boys” and “from school.” Neither of these phrases forms a complete sentence on its own. However, each prepositional phrase can be added to the basic subject and verb to make two new sentences, as demonstrated below:
I ran from school.
I ran with the boys.
Use of Verbs with Prepositional Phrases
Prepositional phrases can become confusing when the sentence has a plural subject, but the prepositional phrase has a singular indirect object. For example:
The cars in the garage were washed.
The subject of the sentence is “cars.” The verb, “were,” reflects the fact that there are multiple cars. The prepositional phrase in this sentence is “in the garage.” Garage is singular, but it is not the subject of the sentence. Therefore, the verb in the sentence will always change depending on whether the subject is singular or plural. To help illustrate this, remove the prepositional phrase:
The cars were washed.
You could insert any prepositional phrase into this sentence and it would not alter the subject/verb plurality. For example, all of the following sentences are grammatically correct:
The cars outside in the fields were washed.
The cars from the factory were washed.
The cars in my dreams were washed.
However, if the plurality of the SUBJECT of the sentence changes, the verb tense must change too. For example:
The car outside in the fields was washed.
The car from the factory was washed.
The car in my dreams was washed.
Why Use Prepositional Phrases?
Prepositional phrases add greater detail to sentences. However, using too many prepositional phrases can tire the reader. The best writing is concise. Whenever you write, always try to communicate your idea in as few words as possible. This will help you avoid awkward constructions. Whenever you use a prepositional phrase, double check to make sure that the verb and subject of your sentence are in agreement.
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