What is a preposition[change]
Claims of errors[change]
There are errors on this page and errors confuse students. A preposition is always followed by a noun, noun phrase, or substantive.
The following are relative conjunctions, not prepositions. To express time, those words must introduce a relative clause.
"Common prepositions of time" ...
* as * while * when
The word, "upon," in the same list, is a preposition but expresses time only in a few contexts, such as "upon waking" or "upon discovery." In the majority of context, it expresses physical position, such as "upon the shelf," "upon the child's back," or "upon the roof."
The following words are not propositions. They can never be followed by a simple noun, noun phrase, or substantive, and hence are not prepositions.
"Common prepositions of purpose"
* in order * since * so as
Thus: "In order to find your seat, you must consult the seating plan." Note that the object of "in order" (if we pretend it is a preposition) is a verb in the infinitive mood. Always. Never a noun, noun phrase, or substantive. But we might also simply drop the words as useless filler: "To find your seat, you must consult the seating plan."
We might also consider the awkward and clumsy (though too frequently used) construction, "In order for peace to happen, good people must shoulder responsibility." In such case, the phrase "in order" adds nothing to the statement. The phrase may be be removed with no loss of meaning: "For peace to happen, good people must shoulder responsibility."
"Since it is raining, we will cancel the picnic." Notice that "since" introduces a relative clause. "Since" may be used as a preposition only to express time: "Since breakfast, I have eaten nothing."
"So as" is another meaningless wordy phrase that adds nothing to a sentence. Example: "So as to call the elevator, push the button." We might more elegantly say, "To call the elevator, push the button."
Grammarians might work to find uses for these extra phrases, but that work is not completely honest. The phrases are not expressing purpose because purpose is already expressed by the other words. The extra words are doing nothing; they are simply trying to steal the credit for the work that other words are doing.--This unsigned comment was added by 220.127.116.11 at 03:31, 3 April 2010.
It is the traditional view that "A preposition is always followed by a noun, noun phrase, or substantive". This is based entirely on the etymological fallacy, and has no theoretical or empirical support.
- Even grammars and dictionaries that hold this view admit that as is a preposition when it is followed by an adjective (e.g., papers that we regarded as essential.)
- Even grammars and dictionaries that hold this view admit that prepositions may be followed by other prepositions (e.g., it came from under the bed.)
Having established that the traditional view is self-refuting, it is worth considering other options. Most words are allowed a variety of complements. For example, verbs can be copular, intransitive, transitive, ditransitive, or complex transitive (e.g. made him happy). They can also take infinitives, participles, and a variety of clause types as complements. Some require prepositional complements, and so on. Nouns too are allowed a variety of complements. Though most nouns take no complements at all, some allow prepositional complement (e.g., his interest in the project), some allow infinitivals (e.g., his claim to be the great poohbah). Adjectives too licence a variety of complements. In fact, this seems to be the default situation, and there is no reason to believe that prepositions should be any different.
The first thing to consider is that there are prepositions that take no complements: intransitive prepositions.
- They may have been here after the Europeans arrived.
- They may have been here after us.
- They may have been here after.
Traditional grammar treats 1 as a subordinating conjunction, 2 as a preposition, and 3 as an adverb. There's no justification for this varied analysis. The meanings of the words are the same. All can be modified by just, right, and straight. Notably, these words can modify most core prepositions, but they cannot modify prototypical adverbs such as quickly. For these reasons, it makes more sense to analyze all three examples of after as prepositions, including the final one, which has no complement at all.
Finally, consider that core coordinating conjunctions and, or, and but allow no modification at all. Similarly, subordinators such as that (e.g., It's important that she be there), for (e.g., It's important for her to be there), and to (e.g., I want her to be there) cannot be modified. Yet, most of the traditional "subordinating conjunctions" are modifiable, and modifiable in the same way that prepositions are.
Thus, it is concluded that the traditional analysis of prepositions is unsupportable and that prepositions, like other word classes, license a varied complemental regime that includes clauses, NPs, AdjPs, and no complement at all. For a more detailed analysis, please consult The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language.
By the way, contrary to claims of the anonymous post above, infinitives are usually taken to be substantives in traditional grammar, thus their ability to function as subjects. Also, in the example above, since introduces a content clause, not a relative clause. Relative clauses function as post-head modifiers in NPs.--Brett (talk) 12:38, 3 April 2010 (UTC)