Recognizing prepositions and prepositional phrases

Prepositions are location and time words. They indicate where things are and when they happen(ed).

Common Prepositions: to, from, for, at, beside, with(out), of, between, about, in, on, under, over, around, by

A prepositional phrase is a phrase that starts with a preposition.

For the purposes of the SAT and ACT, prepositional phrases consist primarily of prepositions, nouns/pronouns, and adjectives. They do not contain verbs.


-At my house

-During the movie

-Between you and me

-To my older sister

If you’re not sure whether a word is a preposition, see if you can place it right before a noun at the end of a sentence. For example, you can say, “My friend and I went to the movie” because to is a preposition, but you cannot say, “My friend and I went when the movie” because when is not a preposition.

In addition, one of the most frequent questions students ask me is how they can figure out where prepositional phrases begin and end. The answer: a prepositional phrase begins at the preposition and ends right before the verb (if there is one).

In the following sentences, the prepositional phrases are underlined. Note that a sentence can easily contain multiple prepositional phrases back to back, and that a prepositional phrase can occur anywhere in a sentence.

-The stack of books is sitting on the kitchen table.

-One of the stories on the front page of the newspaper discusses the upcoming elections in great detail.

-The train is crowded with people on their way home from school and work.

-Sitting on the table are a peach and an apple.

Prepositional phrases are frequently inserted between subjects and verbs on both the SAT and the ACT in order distract from disagreements, so whenever you don’t immediately see an error in a sentence, it’s a good idea to cross out all the prepositional phrases.