Phrases: Prepositional and Absolute Phrases

Phrases V

How to Use Prepositional Phrases and Absolute Phrases

by Owen Fourie

In Part Four, we began looking at the prepositional phrase.

Before concluding our study of phrases by considering the absolute phrase, we have to finish looking at prepositional phrases and two other functions that are claimed for it.

Other functions?

Other functions that are ascribed by some to prepositional phrases are confusing, and they are illustrated by awkward examples and faulty sentence construction.

It seems to be stretching a point to speak of prepositional phrases as indirect objects and as prepositional complements.

As an indirect object, an example like this will be given:

  • His father will give behind the shed fair consideration.

The prepositional phrase is supposed to be acting as an indirect object. The construction is awkward in speech and in writing and should not be used. It would be far better to say

  • His father will give the problem behind the shed fair consideration.

By supplying the noun phrase the problem, the prepositional phrase modifies the noun problem and acts adjectivally.

As a prepositional complement, an example like this will be given:

  • He thought about beneath the mattress.

The prepositional phrase is supposed to be acting as a prepositional complement of the apparent preposition about.

The construction is awkward and should not be used in speech or writing, especially formally. It would be far better to say

  • He thought about the money beneath the mattress.

By supplying the noun phrase the money and ensuring that the word about is a preposition at the head of the prepositional phrase about the money, we are once again speaking English and not hogwash.

In this case, the prepositional phrase beneath the mattress would act adjectivally modifying the noun money.

If we are to use the term “prepositional complement,” let’s understand that it should be applied to the noun or noun phrase that follows the preposition as its object in a prepositional phrase.

  • beneath the mattress

This is a prepositional phrase and its noun phrase the mattress is serving as the complement of the preposition beneath.

The Absolute Phrase

These are the qualities of the absolute phrase:

  • It is unlike other phrases that act as particular parts of speech modifying other words in a sentence or acting as essential parts of a sentence.
  • It tells more about the situation or circumstances in the main clause (the subject and verb) of a sentence.
  • It gives additional information that could be placed within parentheses but usually isn’t. It is a parenthetical statement.
  • It can be placed at the beginning or the end of a sentence, and it may even be found in the middle of a sentence. Note the use of commas in the examples below.
  • It is also known as the nominative absolute.
  • It stands as a phrase having everything except a finite verb.
  • It can be turned into a complete sentence simply by supplying a verb.

Here are three examples showing

  1. the absolute phrase italicized in a sentence;
  2. the absolute phrase turned into a complete sentence by supplying a verb.


  1. The days beginning to turn cold, we chopped enough wood to keep ourselves warm.
  2. The days were beginning to turn cold.


  1. We danced and sang around the campfire, our movements transporting joy.
  2. Our movements were transporting joy.


  1. The wolves, their interest piqued and strained by the sled dogs, followed us relentlessly each day.
  2. Their interest was piqued and strained by the sled dogs.


Are there any phrases mentioned here that you find difficult to identify? If so, which are they and what confuses you? What are your particular struggles with English Grammar? If you need help with any grammar problem, ask here. Do you have any useful insights? Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome.

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