The participial and prepositional phrases in a sentence

The act of writing is to tell us something about somebody or something. That is verbs job to convey what is done and nouns, who did what. In English, the order of the words is very important and we know some sentence patterns, but what makes this language flexible, is the role of phrases and how they build a clause and a sentence.

In this post, I am going to analyse how some phrases are settled in a sentence, using the sentences from a book ‘Woman in black’ by Susan Hill.

‘The pony was a small, shaggy-looking creature, wearing blinkers, and the driver with a large cap pulled down low over his brow , and a long, hairy brown coat, looked not unlike it, and blended with the whole equipage.’

Let’s read about the pony: ‘a small, shaggy-looking creature, wearing blinkers,’ – there are two present participle phrases acting as adjectives. The whole part is a subject complement (modifying ‘pony’), this type is also called a predicate nominative or predicate noun. A subject complement adds information about the subject, not about the action. In this description the author uses the rule of three – here three phrases are used to depict a pony.

Now the driver’s impression: ‘with a large cap pulled down low over his brow’ – here there are again three phrases:

  • with a large cap – a prepositional phrase (which driver? this with a cap, acts as an adjective)
  • pulled down low – a past participial phrase (what kind of a cap? pulled down, again it acts as an adjective)
  • over his brow – a prepositional phrase (how low? over his brow, acting as an adverb)

Longer participial phrases usually are separated by commas, especially when they add nonessential information or when added at the beginning of a sentence as an introductory modifier:

  • Being a retired teacher of English, Linda hates short, simple sentences unless they are significant statements.
  • Linda, being a retired teacher of English, hates short, simple sentences unless they are important statements.
  • Linda, bored of reading simple sentences, dreams of proofreading another Shakespeare.


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