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Prepositional phrases

Prepositional phrases are just that: phrases that begin with a preposition like "to" or "of". In the phrase "The stained glass of the cathedral in Spain", everything from "of" to "Spain" is part of a prepositional phrase. We use them to modify other words. Where is the stained glass? In a cathedral. Where is that cathedral? In Spain.

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Video transcript

- [Voiceover] Hey grammarians, let's talk about prepositional phrases: what they are, and how they're used. Their care and feeding, you know. So a prepositional phrase, simply speaking, is anything that follows a preposition, frankly. So, if we look at the sentence: Danielle blew the horn with the strength of a giant- quick little doodle there. There's Danielle blowing the horn with the strength of a giant. So this part with the strength of a giant, is a prepositional phrase. Actually, it's two prepositional phrases, because there's with the strength, and then, of a giant. What is a prepositional phrase? It is a word chunk that begins with a preposition. So, with is a preposition, of is a preposition, and this entire thing, with the strength of a giant, is one prepositional phrase, altogether, composed of two smaller ones. And what's cool, is you can use prepositional phrases in a couple of different ways. You can use them as nouns. You can use them as adverbs. And you can use them as adjectives. So we've got two different examples here, just even within this first sentence here. So Danielle blew the horn with the strength of a giant. How did she blow the horn? With the strength of a giant. And so she blew the horn with the strength of a giant. So, with the strength of a giant, this prepositional phrase is modifying the verb blew. You can really see, her hair's being blown back just by the strength of this (trumpet noise). So this whole thing together is being treated as an adverb, but if we look at the word strength, strength is being modified by of a giant. So this is a noun, right, the word strength is a noun, but this of a giant thing is modifying it, so this part is actually behaving as an adjective. Kinda cool, right? Let's look at some more examples. To steal the queen's diamonds would be a terrible crime. This is actually something we'd call, in addition to being a prepositional phrase, this is something we'd call an infinitive. The verb to steal, when it's presented like this, in the to form never conjugates. It's not affected by time, so it's kind of infinitive and infinite. But we are treating this whole thing as a noun, right, because to steal the queen's diamonds is kind of all being considered one thing, this big, old prepositional phrase, would, right, to steal the queen's diamonds would be a terrible crime. So, this prepositional phrase is acting like a noun. Let's try another one. I don't know what that is, I just made it up. Let's pay attention to how the prepositional phrase of glass works in the rest of the sentence. You know, what part of this is it attached to? It's not I of glass, or enjoy of glass. It's the cathedral of glass, and that means that this of glass thing is describing cathedral. A cathedral is a place or a structure, so it's a noun, right, so if of glass is modifying this noun, that would make it an adjective. So of glass here, this prepositional phrase, is behaving like an adjective. Prepositional phrases can be really powerful and really elegant, and really cool. Like in Hamlet, in the "to be, or not to be" speech, Hamlet describes death as the undiscovered country, from whose bourn, no traveler returns. And bourn is an Early Modern English word meaning, like, boundary. What Hamlet is saying in the soliloquy is that death is a mystery. People don't come back from it. And I think that's like a really powerful use of a prepositional phrase. All of this is describing country in a way that undiscovered is also doing. So country is being modified from both sides, which is really cool, and it imbues the word country with a really strange power. But, you have to be careful because you can set yourself up for a lot of ambiguity with prepositional phrases. You may remember this terrible joke from Mary Poppins. One man says, "I knew a man with a wooden leg named Smith." Other guy says, "But what was the name of his other leg?" It's silly, but it's a good way to indicate where confusion can arise with prepositional phrases. So I would say, generally, that the solution to a problem like this is to just put the named Smith part earlier in the sentence. I knew a man named Smith who had a wooden leg. Maybe lose the prepositional phrase. That solves the problem. What I'm trying to say is, prepositional phrases are very powerful, but you have to be careful about how you use them, because if you're not careful, you can create confusion or ambiguity. Anyway, you can learn anything. Sorry for the terrible cockney accent. David out.