Grammatical Functions: Prepositional Phrase Complements

Prepositional Phrase Complements


When is a prepositional phrase a complement?

A prepositional phrase is considered a complement when it is closely linked to the main verb of a sentence. Sometimes, a verb needs to be followed by a prepositional phrase to make complete sense. For instance, if I say “I had,” it makes no sense without more information. Adding the prepositional phrase, to leave, creates a phrase with a complete meaning:

“I had to leave.”

Other times, the prepositional phrase is not mandatory, but its close connection to the verb makes it a complement. An example would be:

“They went out for dinner.”

A prepositional phrase is not considered a complement when it is not closely connected to the verb of a sentence and is completely optional. An example of a sentence containing a prepositional phrase that is not a complement is:

“I baked a cake for you.”

Notice how this sentence can be rearranged as:

“For you, I baked a cake.”

This cannot be done in the examples in which the prepositional phrase is a complement. “To leave, I had,” does not make sense.

Prepositional phrase complements cannot become the subjects of passive phrases

Unlike objects and predicative complements, prepositional phrase complements cannot become subjects of passive phrases. Whereas you can rephrase “I baked a cake,” as “A cake was baked by me,” you cannot rephrase “I had to leave,” as “To leave was had by me.”

Jake Magnum, author of the Magnum Proofreading Tips blog, is dedicated to helping writers perfect their work. In addition to giving free advice on his blog, Jake helps writers by offering very affordable proofreading services at

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