Complex sentences

Unique meanings

Combining prepositions and events to explain when, why, how, etc

Recap: "What's a preposition?"

Prepositional phrases usually combine preposition + ‘person’ or ‘thing’.

But we can also put events into prepositional phrases, which lets us create all sorts of other meanings.

For example, here's a snippet that expresses a range of time using preposition + noun group phrases:

All my summer holidays, from ages four to seventeen, were totally idyllic.

Notice how the times are 'things'. 

What happens if we swap them for 'events'?

All my summer holidays, from when I was four years old to when I was seventeen, were totally idyllic.

BoyRoald DahlSource

The meaning's the same, but it has a different, more personal flavour.

Your turn

Let's look at 'giving a reason'.

The example below gives a 'thing' reason using a preposition + noun group:

He'd been sent there for his many crimes.

This one uses an ‘-ing’ clause to make an ongoing process the reason:

He'd been sent there for being a nuisance in Assembly.

Flour BabiesAnne FineSource
Your turn

One of the most common ways we use events in prepositional phrases is when we're describing how something happened.

For instance, this next snippet is from a passage describing how light works:

It's a little like how sound bounces off a wall.

"Seeing Eye to Eye."Leslie Hall

The preposition ‘like’ creates a comparison, and the supporting clause, introduced by ‘how’, expresses this 'similar' manner.

Your turn

Here's one last example.

The preposition 'about' can be used to introduce a topic:

But he liked to rib me about where I was in the book.

WonderR.J. PalacioSource

In this snippet:

  • The main clause is "But he liked to rib me".
  • The preposition "about" sets up a topic or focus for the ribbing.
  • The supporting clause "where I was in the book" details that focus as a place. 

We can use prepositional phrases with supporting clauses to add details about all sorts of events:

But he liked to tease me about catching the wrong bus home from school that one time.

But she often warned me about which animal I chose to pet at the farm.

But they turned a blind eye to how I always seemed to fall asleep during movies.

Your turn

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