Is a prepositional phrase acceptable as a subject ?

I got this grammar book yesterday, need not to mention its author Book title ( Whose grammar book is this anyway? ) On page 25 I found this: (words substituting a noun appears in bold). I'll also indicate what noun function the noun substitute is serving:

  1. Prepositional phrase acting as the subject of the sentence.
  • Under the table is the place to look.

I think it is the same with a sentence starts by (here or there) and neither here or there is a subject but the noun which follows.

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    Yes, any kind of phrase can be used as a subject, given the right predicate and context. That makes it a prepositional phrase acting as a noun, because subjects are considered noun phrases. Ditto clauses, like That she left early was unfortunate; they're often called "noun clauses" because they can be subjects. Phrasal subjects like this are automatically singular, and neuter. Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 22:09
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    @Lambie - I'm sorry, but I don't know what you're referring to. Grammaticality is a measure of how difficult it is to find a context in which the sentence makes sense. IF you pronounce "As suggested" properly, indicating that it's a quote, and the name of one of the official options to choose among, you have a perfectly grammatical English sentence, of a speaker giving advice to somebody filling out a form. Like I said, in the right context, with the right pronunciation, anything can work. I'm sorry you were subjected to opprobrium, but I feel no responsibility for it. Commented Jul 10, 2021 at 1:33
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    "Under the table" isn't the subject. It is a prepositional phrase that forms the predicate adjective in an inverted sentence in which "the place to look" is the complete subject. It's no different than saying, "Sad is how I feel." "Sad" is not a noun. It is an adjective, the predicate adjective, just like that prepositional phrase is. The subject is "how I feel," just like "the place to look" is. Or, if you prefer, make my example, "Sad is John," also an inverted sentence in which the predicate adjective appears before the verb and the subject appears afterwards. Commented Jul 10, 2021 at 3:35
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    Yes: it's the subject, as the interrogative tests prove (see my answer).
    – BillJ
    Commented Jul 10, 2021 at 6:00
  • 1
    @Lambie Life is full of surprises. Commented Jul 10, 2021 at 16:08

4 Answers 4


Under the table is the place to look.

Yes: the PP "under the table" is the subject here.

This can be demonstrated by the possibility of having an interrogative tag, "isn't it?", where "it" is anaphoric to "under the table" , showing that the latter is subject.

The basic interrogative test for subjects also proves it's the subject: "Is under the table the place to look?"

Edit, as requested in comments:

There is no subject-dependent inversion here, as there would be in, say, On her desk was a bowl of fruit, where the PP on her desk is not the subject but a preposed locative complement.

  • I am adding your comment from the other, now-deleted answer. Maybe you could add it to your answer: There is no subject-dependent inversion [in "Under the table is the place to look"], as there would be in, for example, "On her desk was a bowl of fruit", where the PP "on her desk" is not the subject but a locative complement. Commented Jul 10, 2021 at 13:41
  • Thank you. @ell.stackexchange.com/users/31780/billj Your comment helped me and I searched again ... Acceptable or not acceptable that's the grammar Thank you again and I am gratified for you. Sorry for my first comments I excuse Commented Jul 10, 2021 at 13:48
  • You are adding a tag. My inversion example does not add anything unnatural. Again, if it isn't an inversion, inversion in English make no sense.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 10, 2021 at 16:00
  • The tag is useful to demonstrate that the PP "under the table" must be the subject. The pronoun subject of a tag corresponds to the subject of the main clause. In this case the subject of the tag, "it", refers to the PP "under the table", thus proving that the latter is the subject of the main clause. (Note that even if this were a case of inversion (which it isn't), it would not be subject-verb inversion, but subject-dependent inversion.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jul 11, 2021 at 4:44
  • Hello @ell.stackexchange.com/users/31780/billj Please here me suppose it ( plural noun ( places) : Under the table is \ are the places to look. Subject - Verb -agreement How it should be ( are or is ) think again Commented Jul 11, 2021 at 10:05

For me, that is an inversion, which is great English, by the way.

It is an inversion of the usual order used for effect. The place to look is under the table.

With the bare form of be, it's easy, usually.

For me, the subject is the phrase The place to look and under the table is just a prepositional phrase, an adjunct of location. And this is basically a locative inversion. "Up the river swam the salmon". instead of: "The salmon swam up the river."

English inverts many things, all the time. It is a major poetic device.

Shakespeare: Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. for The head lies uneasy that wears the crown.

For me, these sentences require being put in a natural order in order to find the subject or predicate.

If English didn't invert the the verb and subject, there would no such thing as inversion.

Here is the wikipedia page that can get you started on inversion:

subject-verb inversion in English

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    But Under the bed is dusty is not an inversion. Under the bed functions as a subject and a noun. Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 23:11
  • Most native speakers would say "It is dusty under the bed", using a dummy subject. Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 23:26
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    But the question asks: Is a prepositional phrase acceptable as a subject? Yes, it is. Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 23:31
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    What is dusty is under the bed means that dusty things are under the bed. The "dummy it" in It is dusty under the bed represents a syntactic, "placeholder" subject for a postponed semantic subject. Commented Jul 10, 2021 at 1:09
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    See the answer by @BillJ to understand the difference between Under the table is the place to look and Under the table is the box. Only the latter is a subject-verb inversion. Commented Jul 11, 2021 at 19:08

I see it is mentioned in two sites that a preposition phrase can be a noun, so in case its function = noun it can be either subject or complement, though it seems odd to many learners >> Here are results from two sites but no any results from books except one book which I found on Google books 1- from : https://www.grammarly.com/blog/prepositional-phrase/ Prepositional Phrases Acting as Nouns

Less frequently, prepositional phrases can function like nouns in a sentence.

During the national anthem is the worst time to blow your nose.

After the game will be too late for us to go to dinner. 2- From : https://www.englishgrammar101.com/module-7/prepositions/lesson-6/prepositional-phrases-as-nouns
In front of the class is a stressful place to be. (subject) The most stressful place for me is in front of the class. (subject complement)

In these cases, there is usually a noun in front of the prepositional phrase that is implied or understood, but not written.

(The spot) in front of the class is a stressful place to be.
The most stressful place for me is (the spot) in front of the class.    But the matter is still confusing with a subject -Verb agreement Suppose the noun which comes after the prepositional phrase = **plural**  

Under the table are the places to look. Do we use a singular verb in such instance ? Lastly I refuse the information under the the links above


There are two questions at hand. One is whether any prepositional phrase appears as a subject in any coherent clause. Another is whether the given example counts as a subjective prepositional phrase, as the textbook suggests it does.

Regarding the latter, context and intent are relevant, but they're not supplied.

We have a copular clause. English copular clauses allow subject/complement inversion: Both "the meek are blessed" and "blessèd are the meek" treat "the meek" as the subject. We can't determine what counts as the subject from the word position alone.

That's how context and intent are relevant.

A subject complement is either another reference to the subject's referent or it is a licensed attribution of the subject. The typical examples of those are called predicate nouns and predicate adjectives respectively.

When one constituent is an obvious attribution, the other must be the subject. There's no grammatical ambiguity in "blessèd are the meek".

When the complement is a substantive reference, there is an ambiguity.

You have options. You could parse "under the table" as "[the area] under the table", and claim that the subject is elliptical. You could treat "under the table" as a substantive prepositional phrase in parallel with substantive adjectives, although that might be a distinction without a difference. Alternately, you could parse "under the table" as the attribute and the topic, leaving "the place to look" as the referential subject.

Under the table is fine.

Here, we can't find any substantive reference other than "[the area] under the table". We don't have the option of regarding "under the table" as an attribution of the adjective "fine".

The textbook's example isn't a good example. It's ambiguous. Without some clearly clarifying context, we can't identify which constituent is the subject. Either could be.

However, we can find sentences that don't have any other candidate for the subject role except for some prepositional phrase (or, at least, an elliptical reference that such a phrase suggests and modifies).

Whether it is or merely indicates a subject might be a hair-splitting philosophical distinction. Sometimes a prepositional phrase is the only constituent that even comes close to filling one of those possibilities.

  • subjective prepositional phrase sounds like the opposite of an objective prepositional phrase. We would say: prepositional phrase as subject.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 11, 2021 at 20:33

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