Prepositions and postpositions, together called adpositions (or broadly, in English, simply prepositions), are a used to express spatial or temporal relations (''in'', ''under'', ''towards'', ''before'') or mark various (''of'', ''for''). A preposition or postposition typically combines with a , this being called its , or sometimes . A preposition comes before its complement; a postposition comes after its complement. English generally has prepositions rather than postpositions – words such as ''in'', ''under'' and ''of'' precede their objects, such as ''in England'', ''under the table'', ''of Jane'' – although there are a few exceptions including "ago" and "notwithstanding", as in "three days ago" and "financial limitations notwithstanding". Some languages that use a different word order have postpositions instead, or have both types. The formed by a preposition or postposition together with its complement is called a (or postpositional phrase, adpositional phrase, etc.) – such phrases usually play an role in a sentence. A less common type of adposition is the circumposition, which consists of two parts that appear on each side of the complement. sometimes used for particular types of adposition include ''ambiposition'', ''inposition'' and ''interposition''. Some linguists use the word ''preposition'' in place of ''adposition'' regardless of the applicable word order.An example is Huddleston & Pullum (2002) ("''CGEL''"), whose choice of terms is discussed on p. 602.


The word ''preposition'' comes from la, prae- prefix (pre- prefix) ("before") and la, ponere ("to put"). This refers to the situation in Latin and (and in ), where such words are placed before their complement (except sometimes in Ancient Greek), and are hence "pre-positioned". In some languages, including , , , , , and , the same kinds of words typically come after their complement. To indicate this, they are called ''postpositions'' (using the prefix ''post-'', from Latin ''post'' meaning "behind, after"). There are also some cases where the function is performed by two parts coming before and after the complement; this is called a ''circumposition'' (from Latin ''circum-'' prefix "around"). In some languages, for example , some adpositions can be used as both prepositions and postpositions. Prepositions, postpositions and circumpositions are collectively known as ''adpositions'' (using the Latin prefix ''ad-'', meaning "to"). However, some linguists prefer to use the well-known and longer established term ''preposition'' in place of ''adposition'', irrespective of position relative to the complement.

Grammatical properties

An adposition typically combines with exactly one , most often a (or, in a different analysis, a ). In English, this is generally a noun (or something functioning as a noun, e.g., a ), together with its and such as s, s, etc. The complement is sometimes called the ''object'' of the adposition. The resulting , formed by the adposition together with its complement, is called an or prepositional phrase (PP) (or for specificity, a postpositional or circumpositional phrase). An adposition establishes a relationship that links its complement to another word or phrase in the context. It also generally establishes a relationship, which may be spatial (''in'', ''on'', ''under'', ...), temporal (''after'', ''during'', ...), or of some other type (''of'', ''for'', ''via'', ...). The treats a word as an adposition if it takes a noun phrase as a complement and indicates the grammatical or semantic relationship of that phrase to the verb in the containing clause. Some examples of the use of English prepositions are given below. In each case, the prepositional phrase appears in ''italics'', the preposition within it appears in ''bold'', and the preposition's is underlined. As demonstrated in some of the examples, more than one prepositional phrase may act as an to the same word. * As an adjunct to a noun: ** the weather ''in March'' ** cheese ''from France'' ''with live bacteria'' * As a (complement of a ) ** The key is ''under the stone''. * As an adjunct to a verb: ** sleep ''throughout the winter'' ** danced ''atop the tables for hours'' ** dispense ''with the formalities'' (see , below) * As an adjunct to an adjective: ** happy ''for them'' ** sick ''until recently'' In the last of these examples the complement has the form of an adverb, which has been to serve as a noun phrase; see , below. Prepositional phrases themselves are sometimes nominalized: * ''In the cellar'' was chosen as the best place to store the wine. An adposition may determine the of its complement. In English, the complements of prepositions take the where available (''from him'', not *''from he''). In , for example, certain prepositions always take their objects in a certain case (e.g., ἐν always takes its object in the dative), while other prepositions may take their object in one of two or more cases, depending on the meaning of the preposition (e.g., διά takes its object in the genitive or in the accusative, depending on the meaning). Some languages have cases that are used exclusively after prepositions (), or special forms of s for use after prepositions (). The functions of adpositions overlap with those of case markings (for example, the meaning of the English preposition ''of'' is expressed in many languages by a ending), but adpositions are classed as elements, while case markings are . Adpositions themselves are usually ("invariant"): they do not have paradigms of form (such as tense, case, gender, etc.) the same way that verbs, adjectives, and nouns can. There are exceptions, though, such as prepositions that have fused with a pronominal object to form s. 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 (prepositions in bold): ::''the, of, and, to, a, in, that, it, is, was, I, for, on, you'', … * The most common adpositions are single, words. According to the ranking cited above, for example, the most common English prepositions are ''on'', ''in'', ''to'', ''by'', ''for'', ''with'', ''at'', ''of'', ''from'', ''as'', all of which are single-syllable words and cannot be broken down into smaller units of meaning. * Adpositions form a of lexical items and cannot be productively derived from words of other categories.

Classification of prepositions

As noted above, adpositions are referred to by various terms, depending on their position relative to the complement. While the term ''preposition'' is sometimes used to denote any adposition, in its stricter meaning it refers only to one which precedes its complement. Examples of this, from English, have been given above; similar examples can be found in many European and other languages, for example: *: ''mit einer Frau'' ("with a woman") *: ''sur la table'' ("on the table") *: ''na stole'' ("on the table") *: ''у меня'' ("in the possession of me" *: លើក្តារខៀន ''ləː kdaːkʰiən("on (the) blackboard") *: አብ ልዕሊ ጣውላ ''abː lɨʕli tʼawla("at/on top table"); አብ ትሕቲ ጣውላ ''abː tɨħti tʼawla("at/on under table") In certain grammatical constructions, the complement of a preposition may be absent or may be moved from its position directly following the preposition. This may be referred to as (see also ), as in "Whom did you go with?" and "There's only one thing worse than being talked about." There are also some (mainly colloquial) expressions in which a preposition's complement may be omitted, such as "I'm going to the park. Do you want to come with ", and the French ''Il fait trop froid, je ne suis pas habillée pour'' ("It's too cold, I'm not dressed for he situation") The bolded words in these examples are generally still considered prepositions because when they form a phrase with a complement (in more ordinary constructions) they must appear first. A ''postposition'' follows its complement to form a postpositional phrase. Examples include: *: ''mecum'' ("with me", literally "me with") *: ''benimle'' or ''benim ile'' ("with me", literally "my with") *: 桌子上 ''zhuōzi shàng'' (lit. "table on"); this is a nominal form which usually requires an additional preposition to form an adverbial phrase (see ) *English: ''ten kilometers away'', ''ten months ago'' (both could be considered adverbs) Some adpositions can appear either before or after their complement: * English: ''the evidence notwithstanding'' OR ''notwithstanding the evidence'' * German: ''meiner Meinung nach'' OR ''nach meiner Meinung'' ("in my opinion") * German: ''die Straße entlang'' OR ''entlang der Straße'' ("along the road"; here a different is used when ''entlang'' precedes the noun) An adposition like the above, which can be either a preposition or a postposition, can be called an ambiposition. However, ''ambiposition'' may also be used to refer to a circumposition (see below), or to a word that appears to function as a preposition and postposition simultaneously, as in the construction (noun-1) ''ā'' (noun-2), meaning "from (noun-1) to (noun-2)". Whether a language has primarily prepositions or postpositions is seen as an aspect of its classification, and tends to correlate with other properties related to . Since an adposition is regarded as the of its phrase, prepositional phrases are head-initial (or right-), while postpositional phrases are head-final (or left-branching). There is a tendency for languages that feature postpositions also to have other head-final features, such as ; and for languages that feature prepositions to have other head-initial features, such as . This is only a tendency, however; an example of a language that behaves differently is , which employs mostly prepositions, even though it typically places verbs after their objects. A ''circumposition'' consists of two or more parts, positioned on both sides of the complement. Circumpositions are very common in and . The following are examples from (Kurmanji): * ''bi ... re'' ("with") * ''di ... de'' ("in", for things, not places) * ''di ... re'' ("via, through") * ''ji ... re'' ("for") * ''ji ... ve'' ("since") Various constructions in other languages might also be analyzed as circumpositional, for example: * English: ''from now on'' * : ''naar het einde toe'' ("towards the end", lit. "to the end to") * : 從冰箱裡 ''cóng bīngxiāng lǐ'' ("from the inside of the refrigerator", lit. "from refrigerator inside") * : ''à un détail près'' ("except for one detail", lit. "at one detail near") * : ''för tre timmar sedan'' ("three hours ago", lit. "for three hours since") * : ''aus dem Zimmer heraus'' ("out from the room", lit. "from the room out") * : ''ካብ ሕጂ ንደሓር ("from now on", lit. "from now to later") Most such phrases, however, can be analyzed as having a different hierarchical structure (such as a prepositional phrase modifying a following adverb). The Chinese example could be analyzed as a prepositional phrase headed by ''cóng'' ("from"), taking the ''bīngxīang lǐ'' ("refrigerator inside") as its complement. An inposition is a rare type of adposition that appears between parts of a complex complement. For example, in the native Californian , the phrase "from a mean cold" can be translated using the word order "cold from mean"—the inposition follows the noun but precedes any following s that form part of the same . The Latin word ''cum'' is also commonly used as an inposition, as in the phrase ', meaning "with highest praise", lit. "highest with praise". The term interposition has been used for adpositions in structures such as ''word for word'', French ''coup sur coup'' ("one after another, repeatedly"), and Russian друг с другом ("one with the other"). This is not a case of an adposition appearing inside its complement, as the two nouns do not form a single phrase (there is no phrase *''word word'', for example); such uses have more of a character.


Preposition stranding is a construct in which a preposition occurs somewhere other than immediately before its complement. For example, in the English sentence "What did you sit on?" the preposition ''on'' has ''what'' as its complement, but ''what'' is of the sentence, because it is an . This sentence is much more common and natural than the equivalent sentence without stranding: "On what did you sit?" Preposition stranding is commonly found in , as well as such as . Its existence in is debated. Preposition stranding is also found in some such as Vata and Gbadi, and in some North American varieties of . Some prescriptive English grammars teach that prepositions cannot end a sentence, although there is prohibiting that use. Similar rules arose during the rise of classicism, when they were applied to English in imitation of classical languages such as Latin. , in his ''Essentials of English Grammar'' (first published 1933), commented on this definition-derived rule: "...nor need a preposition (Latin: ''praepositio'') stand before the word it governs (go the fools ''among'' (Sh[akespeare]); 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."

Simple ''versus'' complex

Simple adpositions consist of a single word (''on'', ''in'', ''for'', ''towards'', etc.). Complex adpositions consist of a group of words that act as one unit. Examples of complex prepositions in English include ''in spite of'', ''with respect to'', ''except for'', ''by dint of'', and ''next to''. The distinction between simple and complex adpositions is not clear-cut. Many simple adpositions are derived from complex forms (e.g., ''with + in'' → ''within'', ''by + side'' → ''beside'') through . 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 recognize the indeterminate status of certain prepositions, allowing two spellings: ''anstelle''/''an Stelle'' ("instead of"), ''aufgrund''/''auf Grund'' ("because of"), ''mithilfe''/''mit Hilfe'' ("by means of"), ''zugunsten''/''zu Gunsten'' ("in favor of"), ''zuungunsten''/''zu Ungunsten'' ("to the disadvantage of"), ''zulasten/zu Lasten'' ("at the expense of"). The distinction between complex adpositions and free combinations of words is not a black and white issue: complex adpositions (in English, "prepositional idioms") can be more fossilized or less fossilized. In English, this applies to a number of structures of the form "preposition + (article) + noun + preposition", such as ''in front of'', ''for the sake of''. 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 account of'' but not *''on an/the account of''; ''for the sake of'' but not *''for a sake of''. * The range of possible adjectives is very limited: ''in great favor of'', but not *''in helpful favor of''. * The of the noun cannot be changed: ''by virtue of'' but not *''by virtues of''. * It is impossible to use a : ''in spite of him'', not *''in his spite''.

Marginal prepositions

Marginal prepositions are prepositions that have affinities with other word classes, most notably verbs. Marginal prepositions behave like prepositions but derive from other parts of speech. Some marginal prepositions in English include ''barring'', ''concerning'', ''considering'', ''excluding'', ''failing'', ''following'', ''including'', ''notwithstanding'', ''regarding'', and ''respecting''.

Proper ''versus'' improper

In descriptions of some languages, prepositions are divided into proper (or ''essential'') and improper (or ''accidental''). A preposition is called improper if it is some other part of speech being used in the same way as a preposition. Examples of simple and complex prepositions that have been so classified include ''prima di'' ("before") and ''davanti (a)'' ("in front of") in , and ''ergo'' ("on account of") and ''causa'' ("for the sake of") in . In reference to , however, an improper preposition is one that cannot also serve as a to a .

Different forms of complement

As noted above, adpositions typically have s as complements. This can include s and certain types of phrase: *We can't agree ''on whether to have children or not'' (complement is a nominal clause) *Let's think ''about solving this problem'' (complement is a phrase) *''pour encourager les autres'' (French: "to encourage the others", complement is an phrase) The word ''to'' when it precedes the is not a preposition, but rather is a grammatical outside of any main . In other cases the complement may have the form of an adjective or , or an adverbial. This may be regarded as a complement representing a different , or simply as an atypical form of noun phrase (see ). *The scene went ''from blindingly bright to pitch black'' (complements are adjective phrases) *I worked there ''until recently'' (complement is an adverb) *Come out ''from under the bed'' (complement is an adverbial) In the last example, the complement of the preposition ''from'' is in fact another prepositional phrase. The resulting sequence of two prepositions (''from under'') may be regarded as a preposition; in some languages such a sequence may be represented by a single word, as Russian из-под ''iz-pod'' ("from under"). Some adpositions appear to combine 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 forms a "", which then becomes the single complement of the preposition. (In the first example, a word such as ''as'' may be considered to have been , which, if present, would clarify the grammatical relationship.)

Semantic functions

Adpositions can be used to express a wide range of relations between their complement and the rest of the context. The relations expressed may be spatial (denoting location or direction), temporal (denoting position in time), or relations expressing comparison, content, agent, instrument, means, manner, cause, purpose, reference, etc. Most common adpositions are highly (they have various different meanings). In many cases a primary, spatial meaning becomes extended to non-spatial uses by ical or other processes. Because of the variety of meanings, a single adposition often has many possible equivalents in another language, depending on the exact context in which it is used; this can cause significant difficulties in foreign . Usage can also vary between dialects of the same language (for example, has ''on the weekend'', where uses ''at the weekend''). In some contexts (as in the case of some s) the choice of adposition may be determined by another element in the construction or be fixed by the construction as a whole. Here the adposition may have little independent semantic content of its own, and there may be no clear reason why the particular adposition is used rather than another. Examples of such expressions are: * English: ''dispense with'', ''listen to'', ''insist on'', ''proud of'', ''good at'' * : ''otvechat' na vopros'' ("answer the question", literally "answer on the question"), ''obvinenie v obmane'' ("accusation of [literally: in] fraud") * : ''soñar con ganar el título'' ("dream about [lit. with] winning the title"), ''consistir en dos grupos'' ("consist of [lit. in] two groups") Prepositions sometimes mark roles that may be considered largely grammatical: * (in a broad sense) – ''the pen of my aunt'' (sometimes marked by or forms) * the agent in constructions – ''killed by a lone gunman'' * the recipient of a transfer – ''give it to him'' (sometimes marked by a or an ) Spatial meanings of adpositions may be either ''directional'' or ''static''. A directional meaning usually involves motion in a particular direction ("Kay went to the store"), the direction in which something leads or points ("A path into the woods"), or the extent of something ("The fog stretched from London to Paris"). A static meaning indicates only a location ("at the store", "behind the chair", "on the moon"). Some prepositions can have both uses: "he sat in the water" (static); "he jumped in the water" (probably directional). In some languages, the of the complement varies depending on the meaning, as with several prepositions in , such as ''in'': * ''in seinem Zimmer'' ("in his room", static meaning, takes the ) * ''in sein Zimmer'' ("into his room", directional meaning, takes the ) In English and many other languages, prepositional phrases with static meaning are commonly used as s after a ("Bob is at the store"); this may happen with some directional prepositions as well ("Bob is from Australia"), but this is less common. Directional prepositional phrases combine mostly with verbs that indicate movement ("Jay is going into her bedroom", but not *"Jay is lying down into her bedroom"). Directional meanings can be further divided into ' and ''atelic''. Telic prepositional phrases imply movement all the way to the endpoint ("she ran to the fence"), while atelic ones do not ("she ran towards the fence"). Static meanings can be divided into ''projective'' and ''non-projective'', where projective meanings are those whose understanding requires knowledge of the perspective or point of view. For example, the meaning of "behind the rock" is likely to depend on the position of the speaker (projective), whereas the meaning of "on the desk" is not (non-projective). Sometimes the interpretation is ambiguous, as in "behind the house", which may mean either at the natural back of the house, or on the opposite side of the house from the speaker.

Overlaps with other categories

Adverbs and particles

There are often similarities in form between adpositions and s. Some adverbs are derived from the fusion of a preposition and its complement (such as ''downstairs'', from ''down (the) stairs'', and ''underground'', from ''under (the) ground''). Some words can function both as adverbs and as prepositions, such as ''inside'', ''aboard'', ''underneath'' (for instance, one can say "go inside", with adverbial use, or "go inside the house", with prepositional use). Such cases are analogous to verbs that can be used either or intransitively, and the adverbial forms might therefore be analyzed as "intransitive prepositions". This analysisSee for example ''CGEL'', pp. 612–16. could also be extended to other adverbs, such as ''here'' (this place), ''there'' (that place), ''afterwards'', etc., even though these never take complements. Many English s contain that are used adverbially, even though they mostly have the form of a preposition (such words may be called s). Examples are ''on'' in ''carry on'', ''get on'', etc., ''over'' in ''take over'', ''fall over'', and so on. The equivalents in and are es, which also often have the same form as prepositions: for example, Dutch ''aanbieden'' and German ''anbieten'' (both meaning "to offer") contain the separable prefix ''aan/an'', which is also a preposition meaning "on" or "to".


Some words can be used both as adpositions and as s: * (preposition) ''before/after/since the end of the summer'' * (conjunction) ''before/after/since the summer ended'' * (preposition) ''It looks like another rainy day'' * (conjunction) ''It looks like it's going to rain again today'' It would be possible to analyze such conjunctions (or even other subordinating conjunctions) as prepositions that take an entire as a complement.


In some languages, including a number of , many of the words that serve as prepositions can also be used as s. For instance, in , 到 ''dào'' can be used in either a prepositional or a verbal sense: * 我到北京去 ''wǒ dào Běijīng qù'' ("I go to Beijing"; ''qù'', meaning "to go", is the main verb, ''dào'' is prepositional meaning "to") * 我到了 ''wǒ dào le'' ("I have arrived"; ''dào'' is the main verb, meaning "to arrive") Because of this overlap, and the fact that a sequence of prepositional phrase and verb phrase often resembles a , Chinese prepositions (and those of other languages with similar grammatical structures) are often referred to as s. As noted in previous sections, Chinese can also be said to have postpositions, although these can be analyzed as nominal () elements. For more information, see the article on , particularly the sections on and .

Case affixes

Some markings have a similar function to adpositions; a case affix in one language may be equivalent in meaning to a preposition or postposition in another. For example, in English the agent of a construction is marked by the preposition ''by'', while in it is marked by use of the . Sometimes such equivalences exist within a single language; for example, the case in is often interchangeable with a phrase using the preposition ''von'' (just as in English, the preposition ''of'' is often interchangeable with the '' 's''). Adpositions combine with their complement, whereas case markings combine with a noun . In some instances it may not be clear which applies; the following are some possible means of making such a distinction: * Two adpositions can usually be joined with a and share a single complement (''of and for the people''), whereas this is generally not possible with case affixes; * One adposition can usually combine with two coordinated complements (''of the city and the world''), whereas a case affix would need to be repeated with each noun ( ''urbis et orbis'', not *urb- et orbis''); * Case markings combine primarily with nouns, whereas adpositions can combine with (nominalized) phrases of 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 that many distinct morphological cases. Even so, a clear distinction cannot always be made. For example, the post-nominal elements in and are sometimes called case particles and sometimes postpositions. Sometimes they are analysed as two different groups because they have different characteristics (e.g., the ability to combine with focus particles), but in such analysis, it is unclear which words should fall into which group. and have both extensive case-marking and postpositions, but 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-', "in the house") vs. (postposition) "talon edessä (house-''genitive'' in front, "in front of the house") In these examples, the case markings form a word with their hosts (as shown by , other word-internal effects and agreement of adjectives in Finnish), while the postpositions are independent words. As is seen in the last example, adpositions are often used in conjunction with case affixes – in languages that have case, a given adposition usually takes a complement in a particular case, and sometimes (as has been seen ) the choice of case helps specify the meaning of the adposition.

See also

* * * * *



* Haspelmath, Martin. (2003) "Adpositions". ''International Encyclopedia of Linguistics.'' 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press. . * Huddleston, Rodney, and Geoffrey K. Pullum. (2002) ''.'' Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. . ** * 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. . * 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. * Reindl, Donald F. (2001) "Areal Effects on the Preservation and Genesis of Slavic Postpositions". In Lj. Šarić and D. F. Reindl ''On Prepositions'' (= Studia Slavica Oldenburgensia 8), pp. 85–100. Oldenburg: Carl-von-Ossietzky-Universitat Oldenburg.

External links

* [ Some prepositions] at Purdue Online Writing Lab {{lexical categories Grammatical marker type