1 a function word that combines with a noun or pronoun or noun phrase to form a prepositional phrase that can have an adverbial or adjectival relation to some other word
2 (linguistics) the placing of one linguistic element before another (as placing a modifier before the word it modifies in a sentence or placing an affix before the base to which it is attached)
Etymology 1From praepositio, from praeponere (to place before); prae (before) + ponere (to put, place); compare French préposition. (See position, and compare provost.)
- , /ˌprɛpəˈzɪʃən/
- : A closed class of non-inflecting words typically employed to connect a noun or a pronoun, in an adjectival or adverbial sense, with some other word; a particle used with a noun or pronoun (in English always in the objective case) to make a phrase limiting some other word; — so called because it is usually placed before the word with which it is phrased; as, a bridge of iron; he comes from town; it is good for food; he escaped by running. Prepositions are a heterogeneous class of words, with fuzzy boundaries that tend to overlap with other categories (like verbs, nouns, and adjectives).
- A proposition; an exposition; a discourse.
- He made a long preposition and oration — Fabyan
- (grammar) postposition
- Ancient Greek:
- Chinese: 介詞, 介词 (jiècí)
- Croatian: prijedlog , prepozicija
- Czech: předložka
- Danish: forholdsord, præposition
- Dutch: voorzetsel
- Estonian: ettepanek
- Finnish: prepositio
- French: préposition
- West Frisian: ferhâldingswurd
- German: Präposition , Verhältniswort
- Greek, Ancient: πρόθεσις (próthesis)
- Greek, Modern: πρόθεση (próthesi)
- Icelandic: forsetning
- Indonesian: kata depan
- Interlingua: preposition
- Italian: preposizione
- Japanese: 前置詞 (ぜんちし, zenchishi)
- Korean: 전치사 (jeonchisa)
- Kurdish: daçek
- Latin: praepositio
- Norwegian: preposisjon
- Novial: prepositione
- Polish: przyimek
- Portuguese: preposição
- Romanian: prepoziţie
- Russian: предлог (predlóg)
- Spanish: preposición
- Swedish: preposition
- To place in a location before some other event occurs.
- It is important to preposition the material before turning on the machine.
- A word that is used in conjunction with a noun or pronoun in order to form a phrase.
In grammar, a preposition is a part of speech that introduces a prepositional phrase. For example, in the sentence "The cat sleeps on the sofa", the word "on" is a preposition, introducing the prepositional phrase "on the sofa". In English, the most used prepositions are "of", "to", "in", "for", and "on". Simply put, a preposition indicates a relation between things mentioned in a sentence.
Linguists sometimes distinguish between a preposition, which precedes its phrase, a postposition, which follows its phrase, and as a rare case a circumposition, which surrounds its phrase. Taken together, these three parts of speech are called adpositions. In more technical language, an adposition is an element that, prototypically, combines syntactically with a phrase and indicates how that phrase should be interpreted in the surrounding context. Some linguists use the word "preposition" instead of "adposition" for all three cases.
In linguistics, adpositions are considered to be members of the syntactic category "P". "PPs", consisting of an adpositional head and its complement phrase, are used for a wide range of syntactic and semantic functions, most commonly modification and complementation. The following examples illustrate some uses of English prepositional phrases:
- as a modifier to a verb
- sleep throughout the winter
- danced atop the tables for hours
- as a modifier to a noun
- the weather in April
- cheeses from France with live bacteria
- as the complement of a verb
- insist on staying home
- dispose of unwanted items
- 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
Adpositions perform many of the same functions as case markings, but adpositions are syntactic elements, while case markings are morphological elements.
DefinitionAdpositions form a heterogeneous class, with fuzzy boundaries that tend to overlap with other categories (like verbs, nouns, and adjectives). It is thus 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 combines syntactically with exactly one complement phrase, most often a noun phrase (or, in a different analysis, a determiner phrase). (In some analyses, an adposition need have no complement. See below.) In English, this is generally a noun (or something functioning as a noun, e.g., a gerund), called the object of the preposition, together with its attendant modifiers.
- An adposition establishes the grammatical relationship that links its complement phrase to another word or phrase in the context. In English, it also establishes a semantic relationship, which may be spatial (in, on, under, ...), temporal (after, during, ...), or logical (via, ...) in nature.
- An adposition determines certain grammatical properties of its complement (e.g. its case). 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 (e.g., εν always takes its object in the dative), and other prepositions may take their object in one of several cases, depending on the meaning of the preposition (e.g., δια takes its object in the genetive or in the accusative, depending on the meaning).
- Adpositions are non-inflecting (or "invariant"); i.e., they do not have paradigms of forms (for different tenses, cases, genders, etc.) in the same way as verbs, adjectives, and nouns in the same language. There are exceptions, though, for example in Celtic languages (see Inflected preposition).
PropertiesThe 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 (adpositions in bold):
- 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:
- of, to, in, for, on, with, as, by, at, from, …
- Adpositions form a closed class of lexical items and cannot be productively derived from words of other categories.
StrandingPreposition stranding, sometimes called "P-stranding", is the syntactic construction in which a preposition appears without an object. (The preposition is then described as "stranded" or "hanging".) This construction is widely found in Germanic languages, including English and the North Germanic languages (Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic); whether or not German and Dutch exhibit legitimate preposition stranding is debatable. P-stranding is also found in languages outside the Germanic family, such as Vata and Gbadi, two languages in the Niger-Congo family, and certain dialects of French spoken in North America.
In English, some grammarians frown upon preposition stranding; see Disputes in English grammar.
ClassificationAdpositions can be organized into subclasses according to various criteria. These can be based on directly observable properties (such as the adposition's form or its position in the sentence) or on less visible properties (such as the adposition's meaning or function in the context at hand).
Simple vs complexSimple 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
- anstelle / an Stelle ("instead of"), aufgrund / auf Grund ("because of"), mithilfe / mit Hilfe ("thanks to"), zugunsten / zu Gunsten ("in favor of"), zuungunsten / zu Ungunsten ("to the disadvantage of"), zulasten / zu Lasten ("at the expense of")
The boundary between complex adpositions and free combinations of words is also a fuzzy one. For English, this involves structures of the form "preposition + (article) + 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
Classification by positionThe surface position of an adposition with respect to its complement allows us to define the following subclasses:
- A preposition precedes its complement to form a prepositional phrase.
- A postposition follows its complement to form a postpositional phrase.
- Mandarin: 桌子上 zhuōzi shàng (lit. "table on")
It is usually straightforward to say whether an adposition precedes or follows its complement, but in some cases, the complement may not appear in its "normal" position. For example, in preposition stranding constructions, the complement appears somewhere to the left of the preposition:
- did you say the guy wanted to sell us the car for?
- She's going to the Bahamas? with?
- I'm going to the park. Do you want to come with?
- French: Il fait trop froid, je ne suis pas habillée pour. ("It's too cold, I'm not dressed for [this situation].")
Some adpositions can in fact appear on either side of their complement; these might be called ambipositions (Libert 2006):
- He slept /.
- German: / ("in my opinion")
Another logical possibility is for the adposition to appear on both sides of its complement:
- A circumposition has two parts, which surround the complement to form a circumpositional phrase.
- An inposition is an adposition between constituents of a complex complement.
- Ambiposition is a term sometimes used for an adposition that can function as either a preposition or a postposition.
- mot à mot ("word for word"), coup sur coup ("one after another, repeatedly"), page après page ("page upon page")
Classification by complementAlthough noun phrases are the most typical complements, adpositions can in fact combine with a variety of syntactic categories, much like verbs.
- noun phrases: It was on .
- adpositional phrases: Come out from .
- adjectives and adjective phrases: The scene went from to .
- adverb or adverb phrases: I worked there until recently
- infinitival or participial verb phrases: Let's think about solving this problem.
- interrogative clauses: we can't agree on
- full sentences (see Conjunctions below)
Also like verbs, adpositions can appear without a complement; see Adverbs below.
Some adpositions could be described as combining with two complements:
- , we can all come out of hiding again.
- , they'd have to seriously modify the Constitution.
Semantic classificationAdpositions 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 (inclusion, exclusion, proximity), direction (origin, path, endpoint)
- temporal relations
- comparison: equality, opposition, price, rate
- content: source, material, subject matter
- instrument, manner
- cause, purpose, agent
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.
- English: dispense with formalities, listen to my advice, good at mathematics
- Russian: otvechat' na vopros (lit. "answer on the question"), obvinenie v obmane ("accusation in [i.e. of] fraud")
- Spanish: soñar con ganar el título ("dream with [i.e. about] winning the title"), consistir en dos grupos ("consist in [i.e. of] two groups")
Subclasses of spatial adpositionsSpatial 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. (movement over time)
- a path into the woods (non-temporal path)
- The fog extended from London to Paris (non-temporal path)
- Bob is at the store.
- Fine: Bob is in his bedroom. (in is static)
- Bad: *Bob is to his bedroom. (to is directional)
- Fine: Bob is lying down in his bedroom.
- Bad: *Bob is lying down into/from his bedroom.
- Bob jumped in the water.
- in seinem Zimmer (in his-DATIVE room) "in his room" (static)
- in sein Zimmer (in his-ACCUSATIVE room) "into his room" (directional)
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 in order 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.
Classification by grammatical functionParticular uses of adpositions can be classified according to the function of the adpositional phrase in the sentence.
- The athlete ran .
- A road trip is not the most relaxing vacation.
- in the predicate position
- The key is .
- Syntactic functions
- 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 formalities). The verb dispense would not have this meaning without the word with to complement it.
- subject (impossible in many languages)
- was chosen as the best place to hide the bodies.
- object of the verb (rare or impossible in English, but very common e.g. in Koine Greek)
Adpositional languages typically single out a particular adposition for the following special functions:
Overlaps with other categories
AdverbsWe observe many similarities in form between adpositions and adverbs. Some adverbs are transparently derived from the fusion of a preposition and its complement, and some prepositions have adverb-like uses with no complement:
- /downstairs, /underground.
- , ,
- here, there, abroad, downtown, astray, …
- today, tomorrow, yesterday, soon, afterwards, someday, …
- recently, carefully, honestly, …
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 ("call up"), aanbieden ("offer"), voorstellen ("present")
ConjunctionsThe set of adpositions overlaps with the set of subordinating conjunctions (or complementizers):
- (preposition) before/after/since the end of the summer
- (conjunction) before/after/since the summer ended
- It looks like another rainy day (preposition) / it's going to rain again today (conjunction).
- unless they surrender, although time is almost up, while you were on the phone
CoverbsIn 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 Mandarin, dào can be used in a prepositional or a verb sense:
- qù ("to travel") is the main verb: 我到北京去。Wǒ dào Běijīng qù. ("I travel to Beijing.")
- dào ("to arrive") is the main verb: 我到了。Wǒ dào le. ("I have arrived.")
Case affixesFrom a functional point of view, adpositions and morphological case markings are strikingly similar. An adpositional phrase in one language often corresponds directly to a case-marked noun phrase 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 this can be observed within a single language. For example, in certain uses the genitive case in German is interchangeable with a von prepositional phrase.
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:
- vs. Latin populi et populo, not *populi et -o ("people-genitive and -dative")
- One adposition can usually combine with two coordinated complements, but this is normally not possible with case markings:
- of vs. Latin urbis et orbis, not *urb- et orbis ("city and world-genitive")
- 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 (case spreading), but an adposition only appears once.
- A language can have hundreds of adpositions (including complex adpositions), but no language has this many distinct morphological cases.
Still, it can be difficult to draw a clear boundary between case markings and 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 (e.g. ability to combine with focus particles), but in such analysis, it is unclear which words should fall into which group.
Turkish and Finnish have both extensive case-marking and postpositions, and here there is evidence to help distinguish the two:
- Turkish: (case) sinemaya (cinema-dative, "to the cinema") vs (postposition) sinema için ("for the cinema")
- Finnish: (case) talossa (house-inessive, "in the house") vs (postposition) "talon edessä (house-gen in-front, "in front of the house")
Word choiceIn ambiguous cases, there is not always a clear rule which adposition is appropriate, and different languages and regional dialects may 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". It is for this reason that prepositions are one of the most difficult aspects of a language to learn for non-native speakers. In some cases, the preposition is not translated from one language into another, and is thus omitted. Those learning English may have difficulty distinguishing between the prepositions on, in, and at, as other languages may use only one or two prepositions for the equivalent of three in English. On the other hand, speakers of English learning Spanish or Portuguese have difficulty distinguishing between the prepositions por and para, as both frequently mean for in English.
Notes and references
- Bennett, David C. (1975) Spatial and Temporal Uses of English Prepositions: An Essay in Stratificational Semantics. London: Longman.
- Emonds, Joseph E. (1985) A Unified Theory of Syntactic Categories. Dordrecht: Foris.
- Haspelmath, Martin. (2003) "Adpositions". International Encyclopedia of Linguistics. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-513977-1.
- Huddleston, Rodney, and Geoffrey K. Pullum. (2002) The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-43146-8.
- Jackendoff, Ray S. (1973) "Base Rules for PPs". In S. R. Anderson and P. Kiparsky (eds), A Festschrift for Morris Halle, pp. 345–356. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
- Koopman, Hilda. (2000) "Prepositions, postpositions, circumpositions, and particles". In The Syntax of Specifiers and Heads, pp. 204–260. London: Routledge.
- Libert, Alan R. (2006) Ambipositions. LINCOM studies in language typology (No. 13). LINCOM. ISBN 3-89586-747-0.
- Maling, Joan. (1983) "Transitive adjectives: A case of categorial reanalysis". In F. Heny and B. Richards (eds), Linguistic Categories: Auxiliaries and Related Puzzles, Vol. 1, pp. 253–289. Dordrecht: Reidel.
- Melis, Ludo. (2003) La préposition en français. Gap: Ophrys.
- Pullum, Geoffrey K. (2005) "Phrasal Prepositions in a Civil Tone." Language Log. Accessed 9 September 2007.
- Quirk, Randolph, and Joan Mulholland. (1964) "Complex Prepositions and Related Sequences". English Studies, suppl. to vol. 45, pp. 64–73.
- Rauh, Gisa. (1991) Approaches to Prepositions. Tübingen: Gunter Narr.
preposition in Arabic: حروف الجر
preposition in Bosnian: Prijedlozi
preposition in Breton: Adstagenn
preposition in Bulgarian: Предлог
preposition in Czech: Předložka
preposition in Danish: Forholdsord
preposition in German: Adposition
preposition in Spanish: Preposición
preposition in Spanish: Postposición
preposition in Esperanto: Adpozicio
preposition in French: Préposition
preposition in Scottish Gaelic: Roimhear
preposition in Indonesian: Preposisi
preposition in Italian: Preposizione
preposition in Latin: Praepositio
preposition in Malayalam: ഗതി
preposition in Dutch: Voorzetsel
preposition in Japanese: 接置詞
preposition in Norwegian Nynorsk: Adposisjon
preposition in Polish: Przyimek
preposition in Portuguese: Preposição
preposition in Russian: Предлог
preposition in Simple English: Preposition
preposition in Swedish: Adposition
preposition in Walloon: Divancete
preposition in Chinese: 介詞
adjectival, adjective, adverb, adverbial, adversative conjunction, attributive, conjunction, conjunctive adverb, coordinating conjunction, copulative, copulative conjunction, correlative conjunction, disjunctive, disjunctive conjunction, exclamatory noun, form class, form word, function class, gerundive, interjection, part of speech, participle, particle, past participle, perfect participle, present participle, subordinating conjunction, verbal adjective