Huddleston and Pullum analyze the final word in each of these as a preposition, where traditional grammar would define them as adverbs. How can we tell which is the correct analysis?

the sky above
the weather outside
the room downstairs

  • Why not both? "prepositional adverb" seems like a good compromise. The phrases are eliptic, so it could be either or, if you must make a distinction.
    – vectory
    Nov 30, 2019 at 11:01
  • 1
    It depends on whether or not you accept their classification. CGEL is becoming the accepted grammar for many people, so you won't go far wrong if you accept their analyses.
    – BillJ
    Nov 30, 2019 at 15:04

1 Answer 1


Like many things in syntax, parts of speech are an abstraction—they don't necessarily correspond to any physical fact about reality. Instead, they're invented by theorists in order to explain the data they've observed.

In this case, I'm assuming Huddleston and Pullum call them prepositions because they can (usually) attach to nouns:

the sky above the field
the weather outside the house

And because in other environments, English prepositions can elide their arguments:

he went up [the stairs]
she walked past [the building]

So they chose to treat "above [the field]" and "up [the stairs]" as the same category of thing, in their theory.

But there's nothing inherently wrong about grouping "above [the field]" with "yesterday" instead, calling them both adverbs, and coming up with rules about when "above" is a preposition and when it's an adverb and how you can tell them apart.

The question is just, which theory explains the data more completely and elegantly? This is a somewhat subjective question, without a single definitive correct answer. (Though, if you're a student, the more important question is—which theory is your instructor using?)

  • A very useful answer. Many thanks.
    – user300887
    Dec 1, 2019 at 0:10

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