Prepositional phrase



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Grammar, Mechanics, and Style Handout from Mrs. Seeley
I. A phrase is a group of words not containing a verb and its subject. A phrase is used as a single part of speech. Types of phrases include prepositional, participial, gerund, infinitive, and appositive.
A. The prepositional phrase is a group of words beginning with a preposition and usually ending with a noun or pronoun.
Common prepositions:

about at but (meaning except) into since until

above before by like through unto

across behind concerning of throughout up

after below down off to upon

against beneath during on toward with

along beside except over under within

amid besides for without underneath past

among between from

around beyond in


Ex: for Peg and you after the exam in college classrooms
Prepositional phrases are usually used as modifiers--as adjectives or adverbs.
The students fell asleep after the exam. (Prepositional phrase is used as adverb phrase and answers the question, “When did they fall asleep?”)
The desks in college classrooms are about the size of a postage stamp. (Prepositional phrase is used as an adjective phrase and answers the question, “Which desks?”)
Comma rule: If an introductory prepositional phrase contains four or more words, it should be followed by a comma. If an introductory prepositional phrase contains three or fewer words, a comma is optional.

Example: Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Goldilocks. (Comma required)

Example: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Comma optional)
B. Verbal Phrases include participial phrases, gerund phrases, and infinitive phrases.
1. A participle is a verb form that is used as an adjective. Present participles end in “-ing. Past participles end in “-ed, -d, -n, or -t.” A participial phrase contains a participle and any complements or modifiers it may have.
EX: Known to be a dangerous criminal, the inmate is watched day and night. (Past participial phrase modifies the noun “inmate.”)
Susan now feels rejected by all who once loved her. (Since “feels” is a linking verb, what comes after it is a predicate adjective. The phrase modifies the noun “Susan.”)


Comma rule: An introductory participial phrase is followed by a comma.
Example: Conjuring demons and playing pranks, Doctor Faustus fritters away his allotted twenty-

four years. (Introductory participial phrase requires a comma)




  1. A gerund is a verb form that ends in “-ing” and is used as a noun. Gerund phrases may function as the subject, direct object, indirect object, or predicate nominative of a sentence.

EX: Walking and running are good exercise.


Pronoun usage note: A gerund is usually preceded by a possessive case pronoun, not an objective case pronoun.
Example: His coming home for the holidays was a pleasant surprise. (Pronoun “his” modifies the gerund “coming.” “Him coming” is incorrect because it was the man’s coming, not himself, that was the surprise.)
Example: The schedule change was made without my knowing about it. (Pronoun “my” mofidies the gerund “knowing.” “Without me knowing” is incorrect because the knowing, and not the person, was in doubt.)
Exception: I seem to run into him coming and going. (In this strange case, since the speaker indeed runs into him, and “into” is a preposition, stick to the objective case.)
3. An infinitive is a verb form, usually preceded by “to,” that is used as a noun or a modifier.
EX: to go to believe to be to speak
She asked me to believe her. (infinitive used as direct object)
His greatest ambition is to earn a doctorate in Old English Studies. (infinitive phrase used as predicate nominative after linking verb.)
That upcoming new actress is the one to watch. (infinitive phrase used as adjective)
C. An appositive is a noun or pronoun--often with modifiers--set beside another noun or pronoun to explain or identify it. An appositive phrase usually follows the word it explains or identifies, but it may precede it.
The Star, a tabloid, contains many spurious claims.

A beautiful collie, Skip was my favorite dog.


Comma rule: If an appositive phrase is essential, it need not be set off with commas. If an appositive phrase is nonessential, it should be set off with commas.
Example: The novel Mystic River was better than the movie. (Mystic River is essential

and thus not set off by commas.)

Example: Joseph Conrad, renowned author of Heart of Darkness, studied English as a

second language.

II. A clause is a group of words containing a subject and predicate and used as part of a sentence.
The two main types of clauses are the independent clause and the subordinate clause.
A. An independent clause can stand alone as a sentence.
B. A subordinate clause cannot stand alone as a sentence and creates a sentence fragment unless it is attached to an independent clause. Types of subordinate clauses include adverb, adjective, and noun clauses.
The following words are subordinating conjunctions and alert you that you may have a sentence fragment if the clause following the conjunction is left standing alone.
after because so that whenever

although before than where

as if though wherever

as if in order that unless whether

as long as provided that until while

as though since when


Comma rule: If a subordinate clause begins a sentence, a comma should follow it. If the subordinate clause ends the sentence, a comma is generally not needed.
Example: If I finish my homework, I will come over later.

Example: I will come over later if I finish my homework.


Please Note: “Because” is a subordinating conjunction, not a coordinating conjunction. Therefore, you cannot use a comma with “because” to join two independent clauses.
Incorrect: I cannot come to English tutorials, because I have a math test. (“Because I have a math test” is a subordinate clause coming at the end of the sentence and therefore does not need a comma before it.)
III. Sentence Fragments and Run-Ons
A. Sentence fragments come in two types: phrase fragments and clause fragments.
1. Phrase fragments are simply phrases that have been left to stand alone as sentences.
FRAGMENT: Feeling her life was out of control and she was powerless to do anything about it.
FRAGMENT: Bored and disillusioned, wishing to be anywhere but here.
2. Clause fragments are caused by subordinate clauses that have been left to stand alone as sentences. (See II.B)
FRAGMENT: As though by wishing she could make it so, make her beloved appear from beyond the grave to take her in his arms and erase the past four years.

B. Run-on sentences are usually caused by faulty punctuation or no punctuation at all.


Two independent clauses joined by a comma cause a run-on sentence.
EX: In 1957 and 1960, Congress passed civil rights laws that remedied problems of registration and voting, this had significant political consequences throughout the South.
There are at least five ways to correct such a run-on:

  1. Divide it into two separate sentences using a period and a capital letter

In 1957 and 1960, Congress passed civil rights laws that remedied problems

of registration and voting. This had significant political consequences

throughout the South.




  1. use a comma and a coordinating conjunction

(Coordinating conjunctions are often called FANBOYS: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so)
In 1957 and 1960, Congress passed civil rights laws that remedied problems

of registration and voting, and this had significant political consequences

throughout the South.
3. Use a semicolon between the two independent clauses

In 1957 and 1960, Congress passed civil rights laws in 1957 and 1960 to

remedy problems of registration and voting; this had significant political

consequences throughout the South.


4. Change one of the independent clauses into a subordinate clause

using one of the subordinating conjunctions above.


When Congress passed civil rights laws in 1957 and 1960 to remedy problems

of registration and voting, significant political consequences resulted

throughout the South.


  1. Change one of the independent clauses into a phrase.

Congress passed civil rights laws that remedied problems of registration and voting,



causing significant political consequences throughout the South.

Punctuation notes:
A possessive pronoun (its, his, hers, theirs, ours) will NEVER need an apostrophe. Therefore, you should never be using “her’s, their’s, our’s.”
“It’s” means “it is.”
“There’s” means “there is.”
“Her’s, Their’s, our’s, hisself, and theirselves” are not words and should never be used under any circumstances.


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