P-words are prepositions and adverbs that no longer perform prepositional or adverbial functions. P-words are function words, which are defined as words that perform definite grammatical functions but that lack definite lexical meaning. P-words perform two grammatical functions within sentences in the English language. The two functions of p-words are:
The following sections explain and exemplify the two grammatical functions of p-words in English grammar.
P-words as Particles
The first grammatical function that p-words perform is the particle. A particle is a function word that expresses a grammatical relationship with another word or words. Particles appear within three constructions in English: phrasal verbs, quasi-modal verbs, and determiner phrases. For example, the following italicized p-words function as particles:
- Can you look some addresses up for me? (phrasal verb)
- Her boss really laid in on her lack of initiative. (phrasal verb)
- He ought to consider buying some new dress shoes. (quasi-modal verb)
- You had better pick up some milk and eggs on your way home. (quasi-modal verb)
- Two of the chickens escaped from the hen house again. (determiner phrase)
- I have already read many of the assigned readings. (determiner phrase)
P-words as Infinitive Markers
The second grammatical function that p-words perform is the infinitive marker. An infinitive markers is a function words that distinguishes the base form from the infinitive form of an English verb. For example, the following italicized p-words function as infinitive markers:
- To err is human.
- To not graduate now would be a shame.
- She likes to read.
- Grandma still needs to pickle the eggs.
- His uncle is afraid to fly.
- Too many people will never find someone to love.
The two grammatical functions of p-words in English grammar are particle and infinitive marker.
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.