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Author Topic: Lesson #9 - Getting to Know the Prepositional Phrases  (Read 15402 times)
Joe Carillo
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« on: June 26, 2009, 10:34:56 PM »

Prepositions, as defined in Lesson #7, are those function words that we need to tack on to a noun phrase so we can properly modify it or elaborate on it when forming a sentence. Prepositions typically establish a relationship between ideas within the same clause, in contrast with conjunctions or conjunctive adverbs, which establish a relationship between clauses, between sentences, and across paragraphs.

In the passage below, for instance, the words “in” (1), “of” (4), “but” (1), “at” (1), “into” (4), and “across” (1) are prepositions that interconnect two or more ideas within the same clause with one another:
“What is perhaps little appreciated in this dizzying train of inventions is that the modern computer and the Web have been essentially a continuing but silent Hindu-Arabic-European-American co-production, and that at the root of it was the ancient Indo-European language and the Arabic number system. We know, of course, that these twin foundations of our civilization moved into Europe and jumped across the English Channel into England, polishing themselves into the English language and into the Arabic number system that we know so well today.”

There are roughly 76 prepositions in all in the English language, and here they are in alphabetical order:
about, above, according to, across, after, against, along, along with, among, apart from, around, as, as for, at, because of, before, behind, below, beneath, beside, between, beyond, but, by, by means of, concerning, despite, down, during, except, except for, excepting, for, from, in, in addition to, in back of, in case of, in front of, in place of, inside, in spite of, instead of, into, like, near, next, of, off, on, onto, on top of, out, out of, outside, over, past, regarding, round, since, through, throughout, till, to, toward, under, underneath, unlike, until, up, upon, up to, with, within, without.

We must keep in mind that English uses prepositions in two general ways: as literal components of prepositional phrases, or as nonliteral components of so-called prepositional idioms.

The Prepositional Phrases

We will first take up the prepositional phrases, which come in two types:

(1) The first type: a phrase that begins with a preposition and ends with an object along with any associated adjectives or adverbs.

Example of the first type:
“The plane flew above the thick clouds for five minutes.”

In this sentence, “above the thick clouds for five minutes” is a prepositional phrase that functions as an adverbial modifier of the verb “flew.” It consists of the preposition “above,” the noun phrase “the thick clouds” as the object of the preposition, and the adverb phrase “for five minutes” (which by itself is another prepositional phrase) as a modifier.

(2) The second type (the “phrasal verb” or “verb phrase”): a phrase that consists of a verb form that ends in a preposition.

Example of the second type:
“How you spend your weekends is something we are not concerned with.”

In this sentence, “concerned with” is a prepositional phrase, one that by grammatical convention should always end with the preposition “with” and never with, say, other prepositions like “of,” “for,” or “about.”

In both cases, the phrase is meant to be taken in its literal sense in relation to the rest of the sentence.

Common Phrasal Verbs or Verb Phrases

Here are some common prepositional phrases that we need to master so we won’t trip too often when using them:

1. Phrasal verbs or verb phrases, shown in their correct usage against the incorrect one:
“adapt from a source” (not to a source), “adapt to a situation” (not for or with a situation), “agree on a plan” (not to a plan), “agree to a proposal” (not with a proposal), “agree with a person” (not to a person), “approve of something” (not with something), “charge for a purpose” (not with a purpose), “charge with a crime” (not of or for a crime), “contend for a principle” (not of or with a principle), “contend with a person” (not against a person), “correspond with a person” (not to a person), “differ about or over a question” (not on a question), “differ from in appearance” (not to in appearance), “differ with a person” (not to a person), “disappointed by or with a person” (not in or on a person), “disappointed in or with a thing” (not on or by a thing), “infer from” (not infer to or with), “inferior to” (not inferior with), “oblivious of or to one’s surroundings” (not in or on one’s surroundings), “occupied by a person” (not with a person), “occupied in study” (not by or on study), “occupied with a thing” (not by or of a thing), “part from a person” (not with a person), “part with a possession” (not of a possession), “rewarded by the committee” (not from the committee), “rewarded for something done” (not with something done), “rewarded with a gift” (not of a gift), “wait at a place” (not in or on a place), “wait for a bus” (not of a bus), “wait for a person” (not of a person), “wait on a client” (not in a client).

2. Adjectives with prepositional phrases, shown in their correct usage against the incorrect one:

“accountable for” (not accountable of or with), “accountable to a person” (not accountable with a person), “angry with Gina” (not of Gina), “angry at a thing” or “angry about a thing” (not of or with a thing), “capable of” (not capable with), “convenient for a purpose” (not to a purpose), “identical with or to” (not of), “impatient at her conduct” (not of her conduct), “impatient of restraint” (not with restraint), “impatient for a raise” (not of or with a raise, “impatient with a person” (not in or for a person), “independent of” (not from), “inferior to” (not inferior of), “oblivious of something forgotten” (not with something forgotten), “prior to” (not prior from), “similar to” (not similar with), “superior to” (not superior of or from).

We can thus see that the 76 prepositions in the English language make unique or specific grammatical combinations with verbs and adjectives in forming the prepositional phrases. And this is not all. As we will see in the next lesson, the prepositions make hundreds of combinations with other words to form the prepositional idioms—expressions that don’t follow the usual grammatical rules and yield nonliteral meanings that can only be learned through experience.

Next: Dealing with the Prepositional Idioms
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