How to Identify Prepositions and Prepositional Phrases

Sign reads: "no smoking on this area."Prepositions and prepositional phrases are important elements of written English because they present a method by which a writer can show relationships between different ideas and make their communications more exact and specific.

In this article, we show you a really simple method for identifying prepositions and prepositional phrases.


Prepositional phrases always begin with a preposition: a relationship or directional word that links nouns, pronouns, verbs and phrases to one another. We have covered prepositions in some detail in an earlier article: A list of common prepositions. If you are unsure as to what prepositions are, that would be a good place to start; it is important that you are familiar with them, as a great deal of your aptitude as a writer lies in your ability to recognize and use prepositions and prepositional phrases.


Once the preposition has been applied, it is developed in further in the context of a phrase. If you are unsure as to what phrases look like, see our article: what are phrases?

Prepositional phrases

Given that prepositional phrases always begin with a preposition, the first step to identifying the prepositional phrase is to find the preposition.

Identifying prepositions and prepositional phrases

Let’s look at an example:

“The vegetables in the refrigerator were green with mold.”

Picture of the number oneTo identify the prepositional phrase, you should first find the preposition. In our example, the preposition is the word “in.” So we now know that the prepositional phrase starts at the word “in.”


Picture of the number twoFind the noun or pronoun that ends the prepositional phrase. So, we start with “in” and keep reading. We know that the word “the” is an adjective, so the prepositional phrase doesn’t end there. We keep reading and encounter the word “refrigerator,” a noun. We know that prepositional phrases end with a noun, so we stop. We now have our prepositional phrase:

“The vegetables in the refrigerator were green with mold.”

Picture of the number threeIf you want to go one step further, you can look at the relationship created by the preposition. To do this, you need to find the other noun/pronoun with which “in the refrigerator” creates a relationship. To do this, you should ask yourself, “who or what in the refrigerator?” The answer? The vegetables in the refrigerator.

Let’s look at another example.

“I arose from bed every morning before daybreak.”

Picture of the number one Identify the preposition:


Picture of the number twoIdentify the noun or pronoun that ends the prepositional phrase:


Picture of the number threeIdentify the prepositional phrase:

“before daybreak.”

Prepositions and prepositional phrases are extremely easy to get your head around and can help you to significantly improve your writing by providing you with a mechanism by which you can present relationships between ideas.

If you’re looking for a fun way of learning some of the common prepositions, check out our free printable preposition games.

If you have any questions about prepositions and prepositional phrases, please leave a comment and let us know.


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