Prepositional Phrases as Complements


Posted by Jake Magnum | September 26, 2018 | Predicates


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, therefore, optional. The following is an example of a sentence containing a prepositional phrase that is not a complement:

I baked a cake for you.

We can tell that the prepositional phrase “for you” does not have a strong link to the verb “baked” because this prepositional phrase can be moved to before the verb without ruining the sentence:

“For you, I baked a cake.”

This cannot be done in the examples above in which the prepositional phrase is a complement. “To leave, I had,” does not make sense.
As a final note, prepositional phrase complements differ from other kinds of complements in terms of how they can be used. Unlike objects and predicative complements, prepositional phrase complements cannot become subjects of passive phrases.

Whereas we can rephrase “I baked a cake,” as “A cake was baked by me,” we cannot rephrase “I had to leave,” as “To leave was had by me.”
I hope this article has brought out a little bit of the grammar nerd in you. If you enjoy learning about this kind of thing, please check back in the following weeks as I’ll be posting a few more articles to wrap up this series.


Aarts, B. (2011). Oxford modern English grammar. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.