There are three types of adpositional phrases: prepositional phrases, postpositional phrases, and circumpositional phrases.
The underlined phrases in the following sentences are examples of prepositional phrases in English. The prepositions are in bold:
And from Finnish, where the case endings perform a role similar to that of adpositions:
These phrases are identified as prepositional phrases by the placement of PP at the top of the constituency trees and of P at the top of the dependency trees. English also has a number of two-part prepositional phrases, i.e. phrases that can be viewed as containing two prepositions, e.g.
Assuming that ago in English is indeed a postposition as suggested above, a typical ago-phrase would receive the following structural analyses:
The analysis of circumpositional phrases is not so clear, since it is not obvious which of the two adpositions should be viewed as the head of the phrase. However, the following analyses are more in line with the fact that English is primarily a head-initial language:
The distribution of prepositional phrases in English can be characterized in terms of heads and dependents. Prepositional phrases typically appear as postdependents of nouns, adjectives, and finite and non-finite verbs, although they can also appear as predependents of finite verbs, for instance when they initiate clauses. For ease of presentation, just dependency trees are now employed to illustrate these points. The following trees show prepositional phrases as postdependents of nouns and adjectives:
And the following trees show prepositional phrases as postdependents of non-finite verbs and as predependents of finite verbs:
Attempts to position a prepositional phrase in front of its head noun, adjective, or non-finite verb are bad, e.g.
The b-examples demonstrate that prepositional phrases in English prefer to appear as postdependents of their heads. The fact, however, that they can at times appear as a predependent of their head (as in the finite clauses above) is curious.
A prepositional phrase should not be confused with a sequence formed by the particle and the direct object of a phrasal verb. Phrasal verbs often consist of a verb and a particle, whereby the particle is mistakenly interpreted to be a preposition, e.g.