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Linguistics

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What Is a Prepositional Adverb?

By G. Wiesen
Updated: May 17, 2024

A prepositional adverb takes the form of a preposition, which means it is typically the same type of word, but it functions in a sentence as an adverb. For example, in the sentence "He fell down," the word "down" is much like a preposition as used in a sentence like "Walk down the stairs." In the previous example, however, it is functioning as an adverb describing the verb "fell," rather than providing information about location. A prepositional adverb is often found at the end of a sentence and is not followed by an object that is part of a prepositional phrase with it, such as "stairs" in the second example.

The basic elements of any type of word are its form and function, which describe the appearance of a word and how it acts in a sentence. A prepositional adverb has the form of a preposition, can cause some confusion for new language speakers. This means they are often words like "in," "on," and "around," which are typically used as prepositions in a sentence. Unlike other uses, however, a prepositional adverb does not include an object after it providing details about where something is positioned or happening, such as the prepositional phrases "on the table" or "under the bed."

A prepositional adverb functions like an adverb within a sentence, which means that it modifies or describes a verb and the action taking place. For example, in the sentence "We should walk outside," the word "outside" is a prepositional adverb that modifies the verb "walk." This is the same function as an adverb like "quickly" in the sentence "We should walk quickly," except it takes the form of a preposition rather than the familiar adverb form ending in "-ly". In both sentences, however, the adverb provides additional information and modifies the verb, and in these two examples they both come after the verb.

One way in which a prepositional adverb is different from other types, however, is that adverbs can usually be moved around within a sentence. The example above could be rewritten as "We should quickly walk," and still make sense. A prepositional adverb, however, cannot be moved around since it has the form of a preposition; "We should outside walk," may still be understandable but is grammatically incorrect and awkward to read or say. These adverbs typically come at the end of a sentence and are not followed by an object, as standard prepositions are. "Think outside the box," uses "outside" as a preposition, requiring the object "box" for meaning.

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Discussion Comments
By jennythelib — On Jul 18, 2012

@MissDaphne - That's true of MLA style, as far as how the titles are capitalized. But in APA style (the only other one I'm really familiar with), only the first word and proper nouns are capitalized.

So in MLA style, it's "Turn Out the Light," but in APA style, it's "Turn out the light." I suspect part of the reason for that is that APA folks publish some long-named papers! Whereas with MLA, a lot of what's being cited is literature: novels, poems, etc., with short shorter titles.

The advantage of APA style here is that it does not require you to sit and scratch your head over infinitives vs. prepositions vs. adverbs!

By MissDaphne — On Jul 18, 2012
If you are wondering why this distinction is important, it affects how you capitalize titles!

Remember the rule it that you capitalize the first word, the last word, and all the "important" words. You do not capitalize coordinating conjunctions or prepositions of four letters or fewer (sometimes they say five).

So in an example like "The Man in the Mirror," we do not capitalize "in" because it's a preposition. But in something like "Turn Out the Light," "out" is not a preposition, it's an adverb. So it has to be capitalized.

(The same distinction applies with "to" as a preposition or as part of an infinitive. "From Here to Eternity" has a preposition. "To Catch a Thief" has an infinitive and would be capitalized even if it were not at the beginning.)

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