For example,

After brushing my teeth, I go to bed

Is this a participial phrase, or a prepositional phrase, or both?

Brushing my teeth...

Is participial, but the after is making me think that the former is not a participial phrase. What is this called?

  • If the verb of the verb phrase is a participle, then it's a participial phrase. That's usually just a participial clause that's missing its subject (the subject is my when the predicate is brushing my teeth, and it's not present in the clause, but it's understood, like you in imperatives). When it comes after a preposition like after, it's still just a clause or phrase, but it's introduced by the preposition. You can consider it a prepositional phrase with a clause or phrase as its object, or as a subordinate clause or phrase introduced by a subordinator. It makes no difference. Dec 9, 2019 at 22:49
  • @JohnLawler I thought of something else. Brushing my teeth is a gerund phrase isn't it?
    – Marvin
    Dec 10, 2019 at 0:06
  • It can be considered a gerund, if the clause is used as a noun phrase. That's one of the interpretations I mentioned above: prepositions take noun phrases as objects, so if you think of after brushing my teeth as a prepositional phrase, then brushing my teeth can be considered a gerund. Dec 10, 2019 at 1:43

1 Answer 1


According to CGEL (p. 641), after brushing my teeth is a preposition phrase. Its head is the preposition after, while the gerund-participial clause brushing my teeth is its complement.

Other types of clauses can also be complements of prepositions. Here is the relevant section of CGEL; the relevant example is [19vii]:

5 The structure and functions of PPs

5.1 Complementation

(e) Complements with the form of clauses

[19]   i  This happened [after Stacy left].                                       [non-expandable declarative]
         ii  I'll do it [provided that you help me].                                     [expandable declarative]
        iii  [Although (we were) nearly exhausted,] we pressed on.             [reducible declarative]
        iv  Let me repeat [lest there be any doubt about the terms].                     [subjunctive]
         v  They ignored the question [of whether it was ethical].                           [interrogative]
        vi  We can't agree [ on how much to charge].                             [infinitival interrogative]
       vii  They're talking [about moving to New York].                                [gerund-participial]
      viii  He's not as enthusiastic [as he used to be].                                                 [comparative]

Non-interrogative infinitivals are found with the expressions in order and so as: He only mentioned it [in order to embarrass his wife] or We left at dawn [so as to miss the rush-hour traffic]. Constructions with clausal complements are dealt with in the context of our discussion of subordinate clauses in Chs. 11,13, and 14. Note that in They kept blaming him [for what he had done] the underlined constituent is not a clause but an NP (a fused relative), and hence does not belong under the present heading.

  • Okay, so the gerund-participial phrase is not a participle to 'I go to bed'
    – Marvin
    Dec 10, 2019 at 0:29
  • If I understand what you are asking, no. But now consider this sentence: I go to bed brushing my teeth. Now the gerund-participal clause brushing my teeth functions as a catenative complement to the verb go. Dec 10, 2019 at 0:46

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