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Grammatical Forms of English Prepositional Phrases

A prepositional phrase is a phrase in which a preposition functions as the head of the phrase plus a prepositional complement. The four grammatical forms that appear within the internal structure of English noun phrases are:

  1. Noun phrases
  2. Verb phrases
  3. Noun clauses
  4. Prepositional phrases

All four grammatical forms function as prepositional complements within prepositional phrases.

Noun Phrases

Noun phrases are the first grammatical form that appear within prepositional phrases in the English language. Nouns are traditionally defined as “words that name people, places, things, and ideas.” Pronouns are words that replace nouns, noun phrases, noun clauses, and other grammatical forms. A noun phrase is a phrase in which a noun including a pronoun functions as the head of the phrase plus and determinatives, modifiers, and complements. For example, the following italicized noun phrases function as prepositional complements within prepositional phrases:

  • to you
  • without a proper permit from the council
  • in spite of your objections
  • because of the power outage
  • many moons ago
  • your intentions notwithstanding

Noun phrases most frequently perform the function of prepositional complement. Prepositions that follow the prepositional complement are also referred to as postpositions.

Verb Phrases

Verb phrases in the form of present participles are the second grammatical form that appear within prepositional phrases in the English language. Verbs are traditionally defined as “words that describes actions or states.” The present participle is the non-finite -ing form of a verb. Verb phrases are phrases with a verb functioning as the head of the phrase plus any auxiliary verbs, p-words, prepositional phrases, adverb phrases, noun phrases, and other grammatical forms. For example, the following italicized verb phrases function as prepositional complements within prepositional phrases:

  • besides playing the piano
  • without spilling any water
  • for wrapping gifts
  • apart from rebuilding the entire foundation of the house
  • versus riding a bike
  • towards earning his degree

Some grammars use the term gerund for verbs in the form of present participles that perform nominal functions such as prepositional complement.

Noun Clauses

Noun clauses are the third grammatical form that appear within prepositional phrases in the English language. Noun clauses are defined as subordinate clauses formed by an independent clause preceded by a subordinating conjunction. A noun clause may be finite or non-finite depending on the form of the verb. For example, the following italicized noun clauses function as prepositional complements within prepositional phrases:

  • The police focused on whomever you identified as the perpetrator.
  • I am angry with whoever stole the cookies from the cookie jar.
  • The plumber is looking for whatever will repair the damage.
  • His wife listened to him singing in the shower.
  • Her parents will think about that she wants a new car for her birthday.
  • Can you account for whatever was stolen from the supply cabinet?

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

Prepositional Phrases

Prepositional phrases are the fourth grammatical form that appear within prepositional phrases in the English language. Prepositions are traditionally defined as “words the relate nouns, adjectives, and verbs to other words.” For example, the following italicized prepositional phrases function as prepositional complements within prepositional phrases:

  • He looked around in the cupboard.
  • Our mother complained about under our beds.
  • My mother thought about under the refrigerator.
  • She is worrying about in the morning.
  • The maid gawked at behind the refrigerator.
  • He alluded to inside the factory.

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

The four grammatical forms that form the internal structure of prepositional phrases are noun phrases, verb phrases, noun clauses, and prepositional phrases.

References

Brinton, Laurel J. & Donna M. Brinton. 2010. The linguistic structure of Modern English, 2nd edn. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Hopper, Paul J. 1999. A short course in grammar. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Huddleston, Rodney. 1984. Introduction to the grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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