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Grammatical Form of English Adpositions

Grammatical Form of English Adpositions

Adpositions are traditionally defined by notional grammars as words that “link to other words, phrases, and clauses” and that “express spatial or temporal relations.” Belonging to a grammatical category consisting of a small closed word set, adpositions show no inflectional variation. The two types of adpositions in the English language are prepositions and postpositions.

Prepositions

Prepositions are a subcategory of adpositions in which the complement follows the preposition within a prepositional phrase. Simple prepositions, which are the majority of prepositions in the English language, consist of a single word. For example:

  • I write about English grammar.
  • My toddler painted on the wall.
  • Enjoy your Fourth of July.
  • For whom does the bell toll?

Some grammars also include a subclass under simple prepositions called -ing prepositions. Prepositions ending with -ing are often difficult to identify because their form is similar to the present participle of English verbs but can be distinguished from similar forms with different functions by the existence of a noun phrases as their complements as well as the function of the prepositional phrase. For example:

  • I wrote a letter concerning his behavior.
  • Adpositions including prepositions and postpositions are common in English.
  • Nouns excluding pronoun show number.
  • The memo regarding the inspection went out yesterday.

Unlike simple prepositions, complex prepositions are periphrastic consisting of two to four words including at least one simple preposition. Prepositional phrases headed by complex prepositions are also distinguished from prepositional phrases containing other prepositional phrases by the grammaticality of the possible lexical items that create complex prepositions. Complex prepositions, unlike prepositional phrases containing other prepositional phrases, are idiomatic. The meaning of a complex preposition is determined by all the words as a whole. For example:

  • Because of the storm, our power went out.
  • You should study grammar as opposed to pragmatics.
  • He ran far from the snake.
  • On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures.

English prepositions perform six prototypical grammatical functions: prepositional phrase head, noun phrase modifier, adjective phrase complement, verb phrase complement, adjunct adverbial, and disjunct adverbial. Prepositions can also perform, although rarely, six nominal functions: subject, subject complement, direct object, object complement, indirect object, and prepositional complement.

Postpositions

Postpositions are a subcategory of adpositions in which the complement precedes the postposition within a postpositional phrase. For example:

  • Such examples aside, postpositions are rare in English.
  • The jury acquitted the defendant, the evidence notwithstanding.
  • Ten years ago my husband and I married.
  • I had my first baby six years ago.

Because prepositions vastly outnumber postpositions in the English language, most grammars group postpositions with prepositions and discuss both types of adpositions as prepositions.

English postpositions perform three grammatical functions: postpositional phrase head, adjunct adverbial, and disjunct adverbial.

Adpositions are words that “link to other words, phrases, and clauses” and that “express spatial or temporal relations.” Both prepositions and postpositions are subcategories of adpositions in the English language.

See also Grammatical Form of English Prepositions.

Summary

Adpositions are words that “link to other words, phrases, and clauses” and that “express spatial or temporal relations.”

Adposition is a grammatical form.

The six prototypical functions of adpositions are adpositional phrase head, noun phrase modifier, adjective phrase complement, verb phrase complement, adjunct adverbial, and disjunct adverbial. The six nominal functions of adpositions are subject, subject complement, direct object, object complement, indirect object, and prepositional complement.

Adpositions belong to a closed class of function words that lack any variation in internal structure.

The two types of adpositions in the English language are prepositions and postpositions. Prepositions precede the complement. Postpositions follow the complement.

References

Brinton, Laurel J. & Donna M. Brinton. 2010. The linguistic structure of Modern English, 2nd edn. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Hopper, Paul J. 1999. A short course in grammar. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Huddleston, Rodney. 1984. Introduction to the grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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