The Cambridge Grammar Of The English Language recognises the existence of intransitive prepositions (p. 612):

The case for allowing prepositions with no complements is most compelling where the same word occurs either with or without an NP complement, as in The owner is not in the houseThe owner is not in. There are several reasons for saying that these two instances of in belong to the same category.

Firstly, as illustrated in [7] of §1, the relation between the constructions with and without the NP complement is the same as is found with verbs, nouns, and adjectives: there is no more reason for saying that in here belongs to two different categories than for saying that eating does in She was eating an apple and She was eating, and so on. In particular, there is no functional difference between in the house and in, just as there is none between eating an apple and eating.

Secondly, the same modifiers are permitted whether the NP complement is present or not. Compare:

[26] ia. He’d left [two hours before the end]

[26] ib. He’d left [two hours before].

[26] iia. She went [straight inside the house] [26] iib. She went [straight inside].

Thirdly, a considerable proportion of prepositions show a similar alternation between occurrence with NP and occurrence without. A sample of them is shown in [27].

[27] aboard about above across after against along alongside apropos around before behind below beneath besides between beyond by down for in inside near notwithstanding off on opposite outside over past round since through throughout to under underneath up within without

Most of these belong to the domains of space and time, predominantly the former, but there are a few with other meanings: apropos, besides, nothwithstanding, without. There is a good deal of variation with respect to how readily they occur without a complement. In, on, over, under, up, for example, are very common in this use, whereas to is restricted to secondary senses (He pulled the door to, “just not completely closed”; He came to, “recovered consciousness”; etc.), and the use of against and for without a complement is mainly restricted to contexts involving voting: We had a huge majority, with only two people voting against.

Occurring with no NP complement is not a property found just occasionally with one or two prepositions, or only with marginal items. It is a property found systematically.throughout a wide range of the most central and typical prepositions in the language.

Taking what CGEL says to be true (though I welcome other analyses), then in the following sentence, the words 'down', 'there', and 'behind' are all prepositions.

You'll find the supermarket down there behind the car park.

This is a sentence that has been uttered to me before by a tourist guide. When the guide uttered it to me, I did not think much of it, but upon reflecting on it, I am intrigued by its syntax. Unless my analysis is incorrect (a likely possibility), it seems that this sentence is characterised by 'prepositional stacking': the preposition 'down' is modified by 'there', which in turn is modified by 'behind the car park'. Is this a phenomenon in English, or is my analysis incorrect? And how would this be depicted in a tree diagram?

Many thanks.

  • So you're looking for specifically an analysis where "down" is a preposition in "down there"?
    – Draconis
    Aug 27, 2022 at 21:20
  • 1
    Down and behind are clearly Ps, but there is a different class of word entirely, not a lexical item but a locative pronoun (unless you wanna say here, now, and where are also prepositions).
    – jlawler
    Aug 27, 2022 at 21:21
  • @jlawler I seem to recall a post on Language Log that argued that both deictics like (w/t)here and now and days of the week are in fact prepositions. I didn’t fully buy it, if memory serves. Aug 27, 2022 at 23:45
  • Just people trying to get as much mileage out of their terminology as they can before it becomes obsolete, while avoiding any old-fashioned terms that belong to different gangs.
    – jlawler
    Aug 27, 2022 at 23:52
  • 1
    @jlawler The deictics where, here, there, now, then are all prepositions according to H&P, and the data is compelling. They're all modifiable by the specialist adverb right and not by very, they can postmodify nouns, they can function as locative complements of verbs like be and put, und so weiter. Aug 28, 2022 at 10:08


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