Prepositional Adverbs

Definition and Examples

Prepositional Adverb

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In English grammar, a prepositional adverb is an adverb that can function as a preposition. Unlike an ordinary preposition, a prepositional adverb is not followed by an object.

Adverbs, Prepositions, and Prepositional Adverbs

Make sure you know the difference between adverbs and prepositions before diving into studying prepositional adverbs. Pay attention to how these parts of speech are used separately to better understand how a word can be both.

Adverbs

An adverb is a word used to describe or modify a verb, adjective, or another adverb. Adverbs can describe how, when, or, where an action is performed.

Adverb Examples
How When Where
carefully before/after here
happily daily there
quickly weekly inside/outside
How, when, where adverbs

Prepositions

A preposition, on the other hand, is used to show movement, location, or time. It is a word that introduces a prepositional phrase, which usually ends with an object. Prepositional phrases include expressions such as through the tunnel, below the sink, and in the morning.

Preposition Examples
Movement Location Time
from in after/before
through above until
around near at
Movement, location, and time prepositions

Prepositional Adverbs

Sometimes, an adverb is also a preposition or a preposition is also an adverb. Words that can function as prepositional adverbs include: about, above, across, after, along, around, before, behind, below, between, beyond, by, down, in, inside, near, on, opposite, out, outside, over, past, round, since, through, throughout, under, up, within, and without.

Phrasal Verbs

Prepositional adverbs, also called adverbial particles, can further be used to form phrasal verbs. These are idiomatic expressions consisting of a verb and a particle—this can be an adverb alone, a preposition, or a prepositional adverb—that form a single semantic unit. These are common in everyday English.

A phrasal verb is a type of compound verb. Examples include break down, pull up, call on, give in, and hold back. Many phrasal verbs are formed with prepositional adverbs but not all prepositional adverbs form phrasal verbs.

What makes phrasal verbs unique is the fact that their meaning is not the sum of their parts, as Grover Hudson points out in Essential Introductory Linguistics. In this book, Hudson offers the example of "throw[ing] up", an action that "doesn't involve either throwing or a direction up." Another example is call off, meaning to cancel. The meaning of the verb "call" is transformed by the addition of the prepositional adverb "off", contributing entirely new meaning to the phrasal verb (Hudson 1999).

A single verb can be made into several different phrasal verbs, each with their own distinct meaning, simply by adding different prepositions. For example, the verb "come" can be turned into come up with, meaning to think of an idea; come in, meaning to enter; come across, meaning to find; and come forward, meaning to offer information.

Prepositional Adverb Example Sentences

One way to spot a prepositional adverb is to look for prepositions that do not have corresponding objects. Often, but not always, these prepositions also serve as adverbs. Reference the following examples to practice identifying prepositional adverbs.

  • "We were playing records, Mama, listening to the radio, just hanging around. Mama, just hanging around," (Waiting for Macarthur 2003).
  • "Ring-a-ring-a-roses,
    A pocket full of posies;
    Hush! hush! hush! hush!
    We’re all tumbled down," (Greenaway 1881).
  • "'He called her up,' she said oracularly, 'he called her up, and asked her to keep you at the telephone, so he could talk to Miss Louise. A thankless child is sharper than a serpent's tooth'," (Rinehart 1908).
  • After he finished wiping his shoes, he stepped inside.
  • In the last quarter of the game, their fans cheered them on.
  • In the middle of the investigation, an informant came forward with valuable information.
  • As they passed by, they saw all kinds of amazing sights through the window of the train.

The adverbs in these examples are also prepositions because they modify actions and describe spatial or temporal relations. For example, "tumbled down" shows how and where the subject tumbled.

Notice that in these examples, prepositional adverbs are not used to form prepositional phrases. This means that each preposition functioning as an adverb appears without an object—because of this, it is not only a preposition but also an adverb.

Pure Prepositions Vs. Prepositional Adverbs

If you are still confused about the difference between prepositions and prepositional adverbs, don't worry. In his book The Elements of English Grammar, George Philip Krapp writes, "The difference between the pure preposition and the prepositional adverb is illustrated by the following two sentences:

  • He ran up the stairs.
  • He ran up a bill."

In the first sentence, a prepositional phrase, "stairs" is the object of "up." The expression up the stairs is a prepositional phrase modifying the verb "ran." In the second sentence, however, "bill" is not the object of "up" and up a bill is, therefore, not a prepositional phrase modifying the verb "ran."

Rather, the word "up" is acting as a prepositional adverb modifying the verb "ran." Together, the two words form the phrasal verb ran up, an expression whose distinct meaning has nothing to do with the act of running (Krapp 1970).

Sources

  • Greenaway, Kate. Kate Greenaway's Mother Goose, or, Old Nursery Rhymes: the Complete Facsimile Sketchbooks from the Arents Collections, the New York Public Library. H.N. Abrams, 1988.
  • Hudson, Grover. Essential Introductory Linguistics. 1st ed., Wiley-Blackwell, 1999.
  • Krapp, George Philip. The Elements of English Grammar. Greenwood Press, 1970.
  • MacDougal, P. Paullette. Waiting for MacArthur: a Play in Two Acts. Dramatic Publishing, 2003.
  • Rinehart, Mary Roberts. The Circular Staircase. Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1908.