Preposition and postposition

Preposition and postposition

Prepositions are a class of words expressing
spatial or temporal relations or mark various syntactic and semantic roles.
Their primary function is relational. A preposition typically combines with another constituent
to form a prepositional phrase, relating the complement to the context.
The word preposition comes from Latin and Greek, where they are usually placed before
their complement and hence pre-positioned. English is another language employing them
in this way. In many languages, they come after the complement. Thus applied, they are
called postpositions. Similarly, circumpositions consist of two parts that appear on each side
of the complement. The technical term used to refer collectively to prepositions, postpositions,
and circumpositions is adposition. Some linguists use the word “preposition” instead of “adposition”
for all three cases. Some examples of English prepositions as used
in phrases are: as an adjunct to a {noun}
the {weather} in May {cheese} from France with live bacteria as an adjunct to a {verb}
{sleep} throughout the winter {danced} atop the tables for hours as an adjunct to an {adjective}
{happy} for them {sick} until recently Adpositions perform many of the same functions
as case markings, but adpositions are syntactic elements, while case markings are morphological
elements. Definitional issues
There are many different types of adpositions, and some adpositions can also be classified
as verbs, nouns, or adjectives. It is impossible to provide an absolute definition that picks
out all and only the adpositions in every language. The following features, however,
are often required of adpositions. An adposition typically combines with exactly
one complement phrase, most often a noun phrase. In English, this is generally a noun, called
the object of the preposition, together with its attendant modifiers.
An adposition establishes the grammatical relationship that links its complement to
another word or phrase in the context. In English, it may also establish a semantic
relationship, which may be spatial, temporal, or logical in nature. The World Atlas of Language
Structures treats a word as an adposition if it takes a noun phrase as complement and
indicates the grammatical or semantic relationship of that phrase to the verb in the containing
clause. An adposition determines certain grammatical
properties of its complement. In English, the objects of prepositions are always in
the objective case. In Koine Greek, certain prepositions always take their objects in
a certain case, and other prepositions may take their object in one of several cases,
depending on the meaning of the preposition. Adpositions are non-inflecting; i.e., they
do not have paradigms of forms in the same way as verbs, adjectives, and nouns in the
same language. There are exceptions, though, for example in Celtic languages.
Properties The following properties are characteristic
of most adpositional systems. Adpositions are among the most frequently
occurring words in languages that have them. For example, one frequency ranking for English
word forms begins as follows: the, of, and, to, a, in, that, it, is, was,
I, for, on, you, … The most common adpositions are single, monomorphemic
words. According to the ranking cited above, for example, the most common English prepositions
are the following: on, in, to, by, for, with, at, of, from, as,
… Adpositions form a closed class of lexical
items and cannot be productively derived from words of other categories.
Stranding Preposition stranding is a syntactic construct
in which a preposition with an object occurs somewhere other than immediately next to its
object. For example: Whom did you give it to? where to refers to whom, which is placed
at the beginning of the sentence because it is an interrogative word. The above sentence
is much more common and natural than the equivalent sentence without stranding: To whom did you
give it? Preposition stranding is most commonly found in English, as well as North Germanic
languages such as Swedish. The existence of preposition stranding in German and Dutch
is debated. Preposition stranding is also found in languages outside the Germanic family,
such as Vata and Gbadi and the dialects of some North American French speakers.
Stranding and English prescriptivism Students are commonly taught that prepositions
cannot end a sentence, although there is no rule prohibiting that use. Similar rules arose
during the rise of classicism, when they were applied to English in imitation of classical
languages in which they were found, such as Latin. Otto Jespersen, in his Essentials of
English Grammar, commented on this definition-derived rule: “…nor need a preposition stand before
the word it governs; What are you laughing at?). You might just as well believe that
all blackguards are black or that turkeys come from Turkey; many names have either been
chosen unfortunately at first or have changed their meanings in course of time”.
Winston Churchill is said to have written, “This is the sort of English up with which
I will not put”, illustrating the awkwardness that would result from a rule against the
use of terminal prepositions. However, the attribution of this quote to Churchill is
almost certainly apocryphal. The example is also not a perfect example, because in that
sentence up is a particle of the verb “put” rather than a true preposition. A more appropriate
rearrangement would be “This is the sort of English with which I will not put up”, which
still sounds awkward, at least in casual speech. Classification
Adpositions can be organized into subclasses according to various criteria. These can be
based on directly observable properties or on less visible properties.
Simple vs complex Simple adpositions consist of a single word,
while complex adpositions consist of a group of words that act as one unit. Some examples
of complex prepositions in English are: in spite of, with respect to, except for,
by dint of, next to The boundary between simple and complex adpositions
is not clear-cut and for the most part arbitrary. Many simple adpositions are derived from complex
forms through grammaticalization. This change takes time, and during the transitional stages
the adposition acts in some ways like a single word, and in other ways like a multi-word
unit. For example, current German orthographic conventions recognize the indeterminate status
of the following adpositions, allowing two spellings:
anstelle / an Stelle, aufgrund / auf Grund, mithilfe / mit Hilfe, zugunsten / zu Gunsten,
zuungunsten / zu Ungunsten, zulasten / zu Lasten
The boundary between complex adpositions and free combinations of words is also a fuzzy
one. For English, this involves structures of the form “preposition + + noun + preposition”.
Many sequences in English, such as in front of, that are traditionally regarded as prepositional
phrases are not so regarded by linguists. The following characteristics are good indications
that a given combination is “frozen” enough to be considered a complex preposition in
English: It contains a word that cannot be used in
any other context: by dint of, in lieu of. The first preposition cannot be replaced:
with a view to but not *for/without a view to
It is impossible to insert an article, or to use a different article: on *an/*the account
of, for the/*a sake of The range of possible adjectives is very limited:
in great favor of, but not *in helpful favor of
The number of the noun cannot be changed: by virtue/*virtues of
It is impossible to use a possessive determiner: in spite of him, not *in his spite
Complex prepositions develop through the grammaticalization of commonly used free combinations. This is
an ongoing process that introduces new prepositions into English.
Classification by position The position of an adposition with respect
to its complement allows the following subclasses to be defined:
A preposition precedes its complement to form a prepositional phrase. German: auf dem Tisch, French: sur la table,
Polish: na stole A postposition follows its complement to form
a postpositional phrase. Chinese: 桌子上 zhuōzi shàng, Finnish:
kanssani, Turkish: benimle, Latin: mecum A circumposition consists of two or more parts
and it is positioned on both sides of the main word. Circumpositions are very common
in Pashto and Kurdish. Here are some examples in Northern Kurdish:
bi … re di … de
di … re ji … re
ji … ve The terms “preposition” and “postposition”
are more commonly used than the general adposition. Whether a language has primarily prepositions
or postpositions is seen as an important aspect of its typological classification, correlated
with many other properties of the language. It is usually straightforward to establish
whether an adposition precedes or follows its complement. In some cases, the complement
may not appear in a typical position. For example, in preposition stranding constructions,
the complement appears before the preposition: {How much money} did you say the guy wanted
to sell us the car for? She’s going to the Bahamas? {Whom} with?
In other cases, the complement of the adposition is absent:
I’m going to the park. Do you want to come with?
French: Il fait trop froid, je ne suis pas habillée pour.
The adpositions in the examples are generally still considered prepositions because when
they form a phrase with the complement, they must appear first.
Some adpositions can appear on either side of their complement; these can be called ambipositions:
He slept {through the whole night}/{the whole night through}.
German: {meiner Meinung nach}/{nach meiner Meinung}
An ambiposition entlang. It can be put before or after the noun related to it. die Straße entlang
entlang der Straße along the road Another adposition surrounds its complement,
called a circumposition: A circumposition has two parts, which surround
the complement to form a circumpositional phrase.
English: from now on Dutch: naar het einde toe
Mandarin: 從 冰箱 裡 cóng bīngxiāng lǐ
French: à un détail près Swedish: för tre timmar sedan “Circumposition” can be a useful descriptive
term, though most circumpositional phrases can be broken down into a more hierarchical
structure, or given a different analysis altogether. For example, the Mandarin example above could
be analyzed as a prepositional phrase headed by cóng, taking the postpositional phrase
bīngxīang lǐ as its complement. Alternatively, the cóng may be analyzed as not a preposition
at all. An inposition is an adposition between constituents
of a complex complement. Ambiposition is sometimes used for an adposition
that can function as either a preposition or a postposition.
Melis proposes the descriptive term interposition for adpositions in the structures such as
the following: word for word, page upon page, coup sur coup,
друг с другом An interposition is not an adposition which
appears inside its complement as the two nouns do not form a single phrase. Examples of actually
interposed adpositions can be found in Latin. But they are always related to a more basic
prepositional structure. Classification by complement
Noun phrases are the most typical complements to adpositions, but adpositions can in fact
be the adjuncts to a variety of syntactic categories, much like verbs.
noun phrases: It was on {the table}. adpositional phrases:
Come out from {under the bed}. adjectives and adjective phrases:
The scene went from {blindingly bright} to {pitch black}. adverbs or adverb phrases:
I worked there until {recently} infinitival or participial verb phrases:
Let’s think about {solving this problem}. insist on {staying home} nominal clauses:
We can’t agree on {whether to have children or not} full sentences
Also like verbs, adpositions can appear without a complement; see Adverbs below.
Some adpositions could be described as combining with two complements:
{With Sammy president}, we can all come out of hiding again.
{For Sammy to become president}, they’d have to seriously modify the Constitution.
It is more commonly assumed, however, that Sammy and the following predicate first forms
a “small clause”, which then becomes the single complement of the preposition. may be considered
to be elided, which, if present, would clarify the grammatical relationship.)
An adposition can also, in itself, function as a complement:
as the complement of a {noun} a {thirst} for revenge
an {amendment} to the constitution as the complement of an {adjective} or {adverb}
{attentive} to their needs {separately} from its neighbors as the complement of {another preposition}
{until} after supper {from} beneath the bed Semantic classification
Adpositions can be used to express a wide range of semantic relations between their
complement and the rest of the context. The following list is not an exhaustive classification:
spatial relations: location, direction temporal relations
comparison: equality, opposition, price, rate content: source, material, subject matter
agent instrument, means, manner
cause, purpose reference
Most common adpositions are highly polysemous, and much research is devoted to the description
and explanation of the various interconnected meanings of particular adpositions. In many
cases a primary, spatial meaning can be identified, which is then extended to non-spatial uses
by metaphorical or other processes. In some contexts, adpositions appear in contexts
where their semantic contribution is minimal, perhaps altogether absent. Such adpositions
are sometimes referred to as functional or case-marking adpositions, and they are lexically
selected by another element in the construction or fixed by the construction as a whole, e.g.,
in the case of phrasal verbs. English: dispense with formalities, listen
to my advice, good at mathematics Russian: otvechat’ na vopros, obvinenie v
obmane Spanish: soñar con ganar el título, consistir
en dos grupos It is usually possible to find some semantic
motivation for the choice of a given adposition, but it is generally impossible to explain
why other semantically motivated adpositions are excluded in the same context. The selection
of the correct adposition in these cases is a matter of syntactic well-formedness.
Subclasses of spatial adpositions Spatial adpositions can be divided into two
main classes, namely directional and static ones. A directional adposition usually involves
motion along a path over time, but can also denote a non-temporal path. Examples of directional
adpositions include to, from, towards, into, along and through.
Bob went to the store. A path into the woods.
The fog extended from London to Paris. A static adposition normally does not involve
movement. Examples of these include at, in, on, beside, behind, under and above.
Bob is at the store. Directional adpositions differ from static
ones in that they normally can’t combine with a copula to yield a predicate, though there
are some exceptions to this, as in Bob is from Australia, which may perhaps be thought
of as special uses. Fine: Bob is in his bedroom.
Bad: *Bob is to his bedroom. Directional spatial adpositions can only combine
with verbs that involve motion; static prepositions can combine with other verbs as well.
Fine: Bob is lying down in his bedroom. Bad: *Bob is lying down into/from his bedroom.
When a static adposition combines with a motion verb, it sometimes takes on a directional
meaning. The following sentence can either mean that Bob jumped around in the water,
or else that he jumped so that he ended up in the water.
Bob jumped in the water. In some languages, directional adpositions
govern a different case on their complement than static ones. These are known as casally
modulated prepositions. For example, in German, directional adpositions govern accusative
while static ones govern dative. Adpositions that are ambiguous between directional and
static interpretations govern accusative when they are interpreted as directional, and dative
when they are interpreted as static. in seinem Zimmer “in his room”
in sein Zimmer “into his room” Directional adpositions can be further divided
into telic ones and atelic ones. To, into and across are telic: they involve movement
all the way to the endpoint denoted by their complement. Atelic ones include towards and
along. When telic adpositions combine with a motion verb, the result is a telic verb
phrase. Atelic adpositions give rise to atelic verb phrases when so combined.
Static adpositions can be further subdivided into projective and non-projective ones. A
non-projective static adposition is one whose meaning can be determined by inspecting the
meaning of its complement and the meaning of the preposition itself. A projective static
adposition requires, in addition, a perspective or point of view. If I say that Bob is behind
the rock, you need to know where I am to know on which side of the rock Bob is supposed
to be. If I say that your pen is to the left of my book, you also need to know what my
point of view is. No such point of view is required in the interpretation of sentences
like your pen is on the desk. Projective static prepositions can sometimes take the complement
itself as “point of view,” if this provides us with certain information. For example,
a house normally has a front and a back, so a sentence like the following is actually
ambiguous between two readings: one has it that Bob is at the back of the house; the
other has it that Bob is on the other side of the house, with respect to the speaker’s
point of view. Bob is behind the house.
A similar effect can be observed with left of, given that objects that have fronts and
backs can also be ascribed lefts and rights. The sentence, My keys are to the left of the
phone, can either mean that they are on the speaker’s left of the phone, or on the phone’s
left of the phone. Classification by grammatical function
Particular uses of adpositions can be classified according to the function of the adpositional
phrase in the sentence. Modification
adverb-like The athlete ran {across the goal line}. adjective-like
attributively A road trip {with children} is not the most
relaxing vacation. in the predicate position
The key is {under the plastic rock}. Syntactic functions
complement Let’s dispense with the formalities.
Here the words dispense and with complement one another, functioning as a unit to mean
forego, and they share the direct object. The verb dispense would not have this meaning
without the word with to complement it. {In the cellar} was chosen as the best place
to hide the bodies. Adpositional languages typically single out
a particular adposition for the following special functions:
marking possession marking the agent in the passive construction
marking the beneficiary role in transfer relations Proper vs improper
Some languages such as Portuguese, Spanish and Italian divide prepositions into proper
and improper. Proper prepositions, also called essential prepositions, are exclusively prepositions.
Improper prepositions, also called accidental prepositions, can have other syntactic roles.
Greek divides prepositions into proper and improper, but with a different meaning.
Overlaps with other categories Adverbs
There are many similarities in form between adpositions and adverbs. Some adverbs are
clearly derived from the fusion of a preposition and its complement, and some prepositions
have adverb-like uses with no complement: {down the stairs}/downstairs, {under the ground}/underground.
{inside}, {aboard}, {underneath} It is possible to treat all of these adverbs
as intransitive prepositions, as opposed to transitive prepositions, which select a complement.
This analysis could also be extended to other adverbs, even those that cannot be used as
“ordinary” prepositions with a nominal complement: here, there, abroad, downtown, afterwards,
… A more conservative approach is to say simply
that adverbs and adpositional phrases share many common functions.
Particles Phrasal verbs in English are composed of a
verb and a “particle” that also looks like an intransitive preposition. The same can
be said for the separable verb prefixes found in Dutch and German.
give up, look out, sleep in, carry on, come to
Dutch: opbellen”), aanbieden, voorstellen German: einkaufen, aussehen, anbieten
Although these elements have the same lexical form as prepositions, in many cases they do
not have relational semantics, and there is no “missing” complement whose identity can
be recovered from the context. Conjunctions
The set of adpositions overlaps with the set of subordinating conjunctions:
(preposition) beforesince the end of the summer (conjunction) beforesince the summer ended
(preposition) It looks like another rainy day
(conjunction) It looks like it’s going to rain again today
All of these words can be treated as prepositions if we extend the definition to allow clausal
complements. This treatment could be extended further to conjunctions that are never used
as ordinary prepositions: unless they surrender, although time is almost
up, while you were on the phone Coverbs
In some languages, the role of adpositions is served by coverbs, words that are lexically
verbs, but are generally used to convey the meaning of adpositions.
For instance, whether prepositions exist in Chinese is sometimes considered an open question.
Coverbs are often referred to as prepositions because they appear before the noun phrase
they modify. However, unlike prepositions, coverbs can sometimes stand alone as main
verbs. For instance, in Standard Chinese, dào can be used in a prepositional or a verb
sense: qù is the main verb: 我到北京去。Wǒ
dào Běijīng qù. dào is the main verb: 我到了。Wǒ dào
le. Case affixes
From a functional point of view, adpositions and morphological case markings are similar.
Adpositions in one language can correspond precisely to case markings in another language.
For example, the agentive noun phrase in the passive construction in English is introduced
by the preposition by, while in Russian it is marked by the instrumental case. Sometimes
both prepositions and cases can be observed within a single language. For example, the
genitive case in German is in many instances interchangeable with a phrase using the preposition
von. Despite this functional similarity, adpositions
and case markings are distinct grammatical categories:
Adpositions combine syntactically with their complement phrase. Case markings combine with
a noun morphologically. Two adpositions can usually be joined with
a conjunction and share a single complement, but this is normally not possible with case
markings: {of and for the people} vs. Latin populi et
populo, not *populi et -o One adposition can usually combine with two
coordinated complements, but this is normally not possible with case markings: of {the city and the world} vs. Latin urbis
et orbis, not *urb- et orbis Case markings combine primarily with nouns,
whereas adpositions can combine with phrases of many different categories.
A case marking usually appears directly on the noun, but an adposition can be separated
from the noun by other words. Within the noun phrase, determiners and adjectives
may agree with the noun in case, but an adposition only appears once.
A language can have hundreds of adpositions, but no language has this many distinct morphological
cases. It can be difficult to clearly distinguish
case markings from adpositions. For example, the post-nominal elements in Japanese and
Korean are sometimes called case particles and sometimes postpositions. Sometimes they
are analysed as two different groups because they have different characteristics, but in
such analysis, it is unclear which words should fall into which group.
Japanese: 電車で (densha de, “by train”) Korean: 한국에
Turkish and Finnish have both extensive case-marking and postpositions, and here there is evidence
to help distinguish the two: Turkish: sinemaya vs sinema için
Finnish: talossa vs “talon edessä In these examples, the case markings form
a word with their hosts, while the postpositions are independent words.
Some languages, like Sanskrit, use postpositions to emphasize the meaning of the grammatical
cases, and eliminate possible ambiguities in the meaning of the phrase. For example:
रामेण सह. In this example, “Rāmeṇa” is in the instrumental case, but, as its meaning
can be ambiguous, the postposition saha is being used to emphasize the meaning of company.
In Indo-European languages, each case often contains several different endings, some of
which may be derived from different roots. An ending is chosen depending on gender, number,
whether the word is a noun or a modifier, and other factors.
Word choice The choice of preposition in a sentence is
often idiomatic, and may depend either on the verb preceding it or on the noun which
it governs: it is often not clear from the sense which preposition is appropriate. Different
languages and regional dialects often have different conventions. Learning the conventionally
preferred word is a matter of exposure to examples. For example, most dialects of American
English have “to wait in line”, but some have “to wait on line”. Because of this, prepositions
are often cited as one of the most difficult aspects of a language to learn, for both non-native
speakers and native speakers. Where an adposition is required in one language, it may not be
in another. In translations, adpositions must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, and
one may be either supplied or omitted. For instance:
Speakers of English learning Spanish or Portuguese have difficulty distinguishing between the
prepositions por and para, as both frequently correspond to for in English.
The German preposition von might be translated as by, of, or from in English depending on
the sense. See also
Japanese particles List of English prepositions
Common English usage misconceptions Old English prepositions
Relational noun Spanish prepositions
Notes References
Mark, L Hernandez The power of the letter. ISBN 978-0-534-42066-6.
Bennett, David C. Spatial and Temporal Uses of English Prepositions: An Essay in Stratificational
Semantics. London: Longman. Emonds, Joseph E. A Unified Theory of Syntactic
Categories. Dordrecht: Foris. Haspelmath, Martin. “Adpositions”. International
Encyclopedia of Linguistics. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-513977-1.
Huddleston, Rodney, and Geoffrey K. Pullum. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-43146-8.
Jackendoff, Ray S. “Base Rules for PPs”. In S. R. Anderson and P. Kiparsky, A Festschrift
for Morris Halle, pp. 345–356. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
Koopman, Hilda. “Prepositions, postpositions, circumpositions, and particles”. In The Syntax
of Specifiers and Heads, pp. 204–260. London: Routledge.
Libert, Alan R. Ambipositions. LINCOM studies in language typology. LINCOM. ISBN 3-89586-747-0.
Maling, Joan. “Transitive adjectives: A case of categorial reanalysis”. In F. Heny and
B. Richards, Linguistic Categories: Auxiliaries and Related Puzzles, Vol. 1, pp. 253–289.
Dordrecht: Reidel. Melis, Ludo. La préposition en français.
Gap: Ophrys. Pullum, Geoffrey K. “Phrasal Prepositions
in a Civil Tone.” Language Log. Accessed 9 September 2007.
Quirk, Randolph, and Joan Mulholland. “Complex Prepositions and Related Sequences”. English
Studies, suppl. to vol. 45, pp. 64–73. Rauh, Gisa. Approaches to Prepositions. Tübingen:
Gunter Narr. Reindl, Donald F. “Areal Effects on the Preservation
and Genesis of Slavic Postpositions”. In Lj. Šarić and D. F. Reindl On Prepositions,
pp. 85–100. Oldenburg: Carl-von-Ossietzky-Universitat Oldenburg.
Thatcher, David Saving Our Prepositions: A Guide for the Perplexed by angel martinez
External links Prepositions in the German language: Prepositions
I, Prepositions II Merriam Webster Editor’s take on whether it
is ok to end a sentence with a Preposition With or Without a Complement: The Form and
Function of Prepositions The Functions of Prepositions in English
Some prepositions Английский предлог: “кем
он дружит с?” List of participles and adjectives with prepositions
Mistakes in the use of prepositions, by Jennifer Frost

One Comments

  • Güneş Muhip Özyurt

    December 26, 2016

    It is hard to say exactly what they are. Every linguist has another definition.


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