In the history of syntax, prepositions alongside other parts of speech are considered as one of the esteemed contributions of the sophists (the itinerant teachers) to the development of the human language. Etymologically, the term “preposition” belonged to the group of word class Aristotle, the founder, referred to as “syndesmoi”. Others in this group are conjunction, article and pronoun. They were thus grouped by Aristotle because they were found to be performing related functions that are summed up in binding terms and exposing the gaps amidst sentences when they are not included. As a plural term, “syndesmoi” is a collective noun that stands for the group while, conjunction, the part of speech that binds together the discourse and finds gaps in its interpretation was called “syndesmos” (see Robins, 1968). Indicating the function of prepositions, Aristotle called it “Prothesis” (a part of speech placed before other words in a composition and in grammar).

Acting on the above function, traditional grammar has grouped prepositions under functional parts of speech. Now, from the view of Robins (1968) above, it is apparent that prepositions should function as the terms that introduce other word classes in various sentences. If this were the primary intention Aristotle had for the function of prepositions, then I believe that traditional grammar may be inconsiderate to classify preposition under functional parts of speech instead of being lexical. Should we dance to the tune of the above explanation by Robins, a prim mind may be motivated to ask if lexical words do not play such a role. Adjectives, for instance, are often used to introduce nouns in various sentences. For instance, there are such phrases as: beautiful girl, handsome man, angry mob etc; should we for this reason classify adjectives as functional word class? It is pertinent to note here that contemporary grammar is not in support of it.




(2.1) Simple Prepositions
(2.2) Compound Prepositions
(2.3) Complex Prepositions
(2.4) Disguised Prepositions

(3.1) Prepositions of Direction (directional prepositions)
(3.1.1) Direction According to Time.
(3.1.2) Locomotion (mobility)
 (3.2) Prepositions of Positions
(3.2.1) As a Measurement
(3.2.2) The Location/Place of an Object and Persons


(4.1) Relating Function
(4.2) Negative Function (Negation Role)
(4.3) Passage Roles (Motion)



The Uses of Prepositional Phrases:

- As Adjectival Phrase

As the Modifier of Nouns and Noun Phrases 

- As the Complement of a Verb

- As Adverbials

- As the complement of Adjectives

  Transitive Prepositions
  Intransitive Prepositions
  The Distributive Role of Prepositions




The position occupied by prepositions in sentences and the various roles they play in uniting words place them at a staking position that prepositions are nearly unavoidable in the formation of sentences. This staking role is specifically in its ability to create a link, relate or unify words in a sentence. Without the preposition, many sentences may hardly be complete or meaningful. Example:

- The man – the bus.
- Emeka is – the house.
Sentences of this structure cannot assert a complete meaning without a preposition. The only sentence that can survive the absence of a preposition is a simple sentence composed of the apt SVO structure. Examples:
               The man died →SV                                                                                             
- John saw the lion → SVO
- Emma is eating yam → SVO.

Apart from the above examples and their kinds, any sentence that exceeds SVO immediately faces the prejudice of prepositions. From the above conditions, we can explain a preposition as that part of speech which expresses the relationship between two words in a sentence. A preposition explains the place of the action of the verb in the sentence and reveals the position of the subject:
- The man in the bus (noun phrase).
- Emeka is in the house (a complete sentence).
- Williams was at the meeting.


Many a time the preposition consists of one word, but there are prepositions that consist of more than one word. In some cases some prepositions appear in another form different from a normal preposition. The classifications are examined below:

(2.1) Simple prepositions:
unto, etc.

(2.2) Compound prepositions: 
Those consisting of more than one simple preposition are classified under compound and complex prepositions. Below are the lists of some commonly used compound prepositions:
Along with, 
away from, 
from within, 
out of, 
out from,
off to, 
as to, 
together with, 
up to, 
as at, 
apart from,
out with, 
about to etc.

(2.3) Complex prepositions
Complex prepositions differ from compound prepositions in their component numbers. Complex prepositions are formed by the combination of more than one simple preposition and one or more words from another part of speech. They are phrases used as prepositions. Examples:
In spite of, 
on account of, 
with regard to, 
as regards to,
by dint of, 
at the mercy of, 
by virtue of, 
by means of,
in the quest for, 
with respect to, 
in respect of,
at variance with,
on top of, 
in charge of,
in contact with, 
in lieu of, 
in view of etc.

(2.4) Disguised prepositions
Apart from the three forms of prepositions identified above, there is another form of preposition which exists but has not been given more attention by writers. Often times they are not recognised as prepositions generally, perhaps due to their nature. I refer to all the prepositions belonging to this group as disguised prepositions. Examples of disguised prepositions include:
            O’clock (of clock).
            O’er (over)
            Aboard (on board).                                                         
            Ashore (on shore).

According to functions, the prepositions stated above are grouped into two parts: prepositions of direction and prepositions of position. Apart from the above two categories, there are other classes or kinds of prepositions sub-categorised under the prepositions of direction or position. I chose not to include them as types of prepositions because of their sub-category features: they are dependent on the prepositions belonging to direction or position. 

AS such, they contain and are dependent on the either preposition types that embodies their sub-categorisations. Under these sub-categories are prepositions of various functions such as time, mobility, measurement and location. The categorisations are determined via the nature of the verb that precedes each preposition in the sentence. Otherwise, all prepositions may be regarded positional since they indicate positions in verbless expressions. All these are considered below.

(3.1) Prepositions of Direction (directional prepositions):
Prepositions of direction are those prepositions that indicate or express directions. They point or show their directional roles to particular points with the help of verbs of movement or demonstration. Examples are from, towards, into to, through, etc. The directional roles of these prepositions are seen in the following ways:

(i) Direction to Common Nouns/Noun Phrases:
Prepositions in this group point towards the direction of objects or concrete nouns. Prepositions used for these include through, above, around, towards etc.
- The man sat towards the doorway.
- The kite flew above the roof.
- The ball rolled around the field.
- The car passed through the junction.

(ii) Proper/Specific Direction:
These are prepositions of direction which point to a specific place or particularize the action of the subject of the sentence to the object. Example of the prepositions used for specific direction includes to, into, towards etc.
- The teacher directed his attention towards me.
- The travellers were travelling to Lagos.
- The naval officer dived into the river fearlessly.

(3.1.1) Direction According to Time:
These are prepositions used for indicating time at various intervals. They include in, on, at and by. They are used to express time with respect to the day, period, week, month and year. From indicates time limit.
- The car arrived at some minutes pass three.
- The meeting started by 9.oo am.
- It was in January that Mama visited last.
- It rains on Wednesdays.
- The conference held from Monday to Tuesday

In the expression of time, the prepositions used above are used to indicate various kinds of time. There is relatively a contest between the various roles and exact function of each of these prepositions in sentences. Greater among these is found on the uses of the prepositions in and on in expressing the time when an activity begins. In a more concise and preside way, both prepositions may be used to express none-exact-time. In a gathering, they are better used to show that someone arrives at the venue of the meeting early. Example:
            - Arriving at the venue of the board meeting at 9.34am, John was considered           to have arrived on time for the meeting that was scheduled to begin at 12.00pm.
- Arriving at the venue of the board meeting at 11.50am, John was                                              considered to have arrived in time for the meeting that was scheduled to begin at 12.00pm.  

From the sentences above, there is an obvious difference in the time expressions, although the sentences are the same. With the preposition, on, the first sentence attempts to mean before the time; at a margin different from the latter where in is used. These prepositions are not in any conflict with at, since at is designed for the indication of the exact time concerned. If a meeting begins at any time as slated, it means that lateness would have to be checked immediately after that exact time slated for the meeting to commence. All these are different from the use of from and by. These prepositions do not indicate exact time; instead they show time limit or boundary. It means that if a meeting will begin by 12.00pm, someone who could afford to be there within 12.00pm to 12.15 or 12.30pm may be pardoned. But when from is used, the speaker refers to the limit, space or boundary between one time and the other.

Apart from expressing time – whether exact or boundary – prepositions of direction, in and on are used in different ways. In is used to show periods of the day, such as morning, afternoon, evening and night. It is also used to introduce years of the calendar. On is particularly used in this sense to indicate or introduce days of the week. Good examples of these are shown in the first set of examples above.

(3.1.2) Locomotion (mobility)
Prepositions in this group show or express various means of locomotion. Example of such prepositions include by, through etc.
- He came by flight.
- She went through the hazardous road.
- He passed through the turbulent water.
- She was overtaken by the troubled wind.
- He came by land.
(3.2) Prepositions of Positions:
Prepositions of positions indicate the particular position of an object. Many languages adopt two positions – right and left, up and down – for directional objects. Positional objects adopt positional prepositions to indicate their specific positions. Prepositions for specific positions include in, on, under, at, upon, into, above, beneath etc.  

(i) Prepositions of position for directional objects.
Prepositions like up and down are peculiar to the indication of positional roles in a directional form, with the help of prepositions of direction. In Chomsky’s model, right and left, up and down are two antonyms that characterized preposition as a lexical category. Right and left, up and down point at the position of objects in a directional concept, example:
- Aeroplane flies up in the air.
- The man jumped down from the tree.
- The portrait is hung up.
- The building fell down.
- The smoke went up.

In the absence of prepositions of direction, up and down function as both directional and position indicators. But they perform these unanimous roles conceptually (for directional indication) and contextually (for indication of position) with the help of verbs of action/movement. Good examples are found in the third, fourth and fifth sentences above. There is the absence of prepositions of direction in each of the sentences, therefore their dual roles are strengthened by the help of the verbs hung, fell and went which notionally connotes directions, each, in the nature of the actions they command.

(ii) Specific Position of Objects.
Those that indicate specific position of objects are such prepositions as in, on, under, at, upon, into, above, beneath etc.
- The book is on the table.
- The boat is in the sea.
- The map is under the chair.
- He hid the file beneath the carpet.

(3.2.1)  As Measurement:
Positional prepositions are used with some transitive verbs to determine the volume of a substance or determine the position of a substance. Example:
- The container is filled up.
- The water has gone down.
- The bag is filled up.
- The food has gone down the pot.

(i) To indicate the optimal point, time/maturity and ability.
- The man has grown up (maturity).
- The time is up (optimal time/exact moment).
- He is up to the task (ability).

(ii) To express termination or exhaustion.
- The river is dried up.
- The gas is used up.
- The food is eaten up.

Preposition of positions changes functions in many instances when it is used with another preposition and regarded as a unit. In this case, it functions as a preposition of position for directional objects. Example:
Up – on → upon.
Up – ward → upward.
Down – ward → downward.
In – ward         → inward.
Out – ward      → outward.

The Location/Place of an Object and Persons.
On, in and at indicate the position of a visual object or person.
- James is in the water.
- James sat on the floor.
-James is at the door.  

To understand weather a particular preposition belongs to direction or position, we employ a measuring tool called dimension. When a preposition indicates dimension - whether subjective or objective – we say that it is directional. But when a dimensional property or object is indicated in the relationship created by the preposition, we say it is positional. It is simple thus:
Dimensional = directional → obligatory.
Dimensional property = positional → restive/stationary.

In many of the cases, the role of a preposition may vary depending on its position in various sentences.


Prepositions play several roles in different sentences. Some of these roles include the following:

 Relating Function:
Although the general role of a preposition is to create relationship in sentences, some prepositions have been identified with the common role of relating one object to another. Good examples of the prepositions involved in this function are by, over, under etc. Such prepositions succeed verbs in sentences. Example:
- The book is under the table.

The objects related here are the book, and the table. Prepositions that play relating roles are mainly prepositions of position. Such prepositions are not dimensional; rather they indicate dimensional points or positions that are related to place. The major point in justifying positional prepositions is through dimensional points because it does not connote activity, instead it indicates various restive points. Examples:

The first set is positional because it tells the end point, while the second set is directional because it shows the direction of an action. Other prepositions in this group include at, above, in, on, up top of, below, upon, behind, before, beneath, after, in front of etc. Up, upon, above, over, behind, are relatively synonymous, and directly antonymous to down, under, below, beneath, underneath and front respectively. Nevertheless, up – down and over – under appear to indicate more direct vertical relationship.

 Negative Function (Negation Role):
Some prepositions are noted for their negative roles/relationship in sentences. Prepositions remarkable for this function are away, off, from, out of, out from, etc. They play negative roles in both directional and positional ways. Example:
- James was out of the car before it somersaulted.
- James was off of the car before it somersaulted.
- James went off the car before it somersaulted.
- James went away from the car before it somersaulted.
The first two sentences are stative/restive – their actions have been completed – therefore they are positional. The latter two are still relatively active with the help of the verb went and the directional preposition, from, respectively, so they are directional. The negative function of a preposition is explained thus:
Direction.                    Position.
Out from,                     off,
Away from,                  off of,
From,                          out,
                                    Out of etc.

 Passage Roles (Motion):    
With the help of verbs of motion, some prepositions can express motions or locomotive idea. Through this means the preposition involved in this function shows the direction of movement of an/the object(s) it relates.
- The pen fell under the table.
- The man fell from the tree.
- The kite flew across the fence.

Passage role can occur in different ways. It could be in the manner of direction such as up, down, along, through, by, over etc. With the assistance of verbs of motion, those prepositions can indicate the direction of objects. Another form of passage role is experienced through the scientific examination of the movement of light. In this notion, passage role could connote refraction. The prepositions in this group include cross, through, over, along etc.


In the Engl language, some words (verbs) do not take direct prepositions. To such verbs, the direct application of preposition leads to a change of meaning or renders the expression ungrammatical. A word like discuss does not take a direct preposition. This word has been very often used with about by many speakers of English language, but it is wrong. It belonged to the absolute restrictive group when it concerns prepositions. The absolute restrictive group is the group of verbs charged with no prerequisite/exceptional conditions for taking a direct preposition. Others in this group include emphasize, cue, mock, clap, accord, despite etc.

We have been so used to clap for him such that it may be too hard to accept that clap does not take direct prepositions. Exception
 however holds, mainly, when the expression has a different meaning from ovation, then it may take a preposition. Example: they clapped in time to the music (rhythm). Therefore, instead of
Wrong                                     Correct
They clapped for us.               They clapped us.

They mocked at us.                 They mocked us.

Emphasize about it.                 Emphasize it.

We discussed about it.            We discussed it.

Clap for him.                           Give him a clap.

They accord to him                 They accord him the respect he demanded.
the respect he

Despite of his presence            Despite his presence many would die.
many would die. 

She was roaming about the     She was roaming the town.

Apart from these ones, there is another group which may take prepositions depending on some certain situations. They include, comprise, compose, admire, fight, accompany, precede, describe, complain etc. all these verbs do not take direct prepositions in their simple verb forms. Examples:
Wrong.                                    Correct.
The class comprises of            The class comprises boys and girls.
boys and girls.

He was fighting with                He was fighting me.   

Apart from this simple verb nature or form, any of the verbs belonging to this group may take prepositions immediately. Many a time, it is dependent on the position of these verbs in sentences. For instance, if they are preceded by any form of the verb BE, then the verb may take a preposition directly. In another situation, they may take prepositions directly when the verbs are inflected by –ed past marker. This condition however does not apply to fight. Fight can take prepositions directly in the following ways: fight with…, fight against…, fight for… in which case it may connote support (to join force with…), agitation or protest, not direct combat.

Verbs with Customised Prepositions:
While some verbs do not take prepositions directly, there are some verbs that are proceeded by particular prepositions. They are relatively customised to the verbs such that they are used collectively in sentences. In such conditions, if the verbs are used with another preposition, in the same context it may amount/lead to some kind of grammatical incorrectness. Examples include:
Confined in,               
confuse about,                                   
convicted for,
abide by/in,                
agree to/with,                                   
apologise to/for,
abstain from,             
aimed at,                                
attach with/to
beg for,                       
believe in,                               
intrude on,
decide on,                   
demonstrate against,            
impress upon,
interfere with,                       
prefer to,                                
invest in,
improve on,                
involve in,                               
object to,
participate in,            
persevere with/in,                 
plead for/with
preside at/over,         
proceed to/with,                   
prohibit from,
refrain from,             
rely on,                                   
shy out,          
bend to/on,                
proud of/over,                                   
sympathise with,
spy through,              
pierce through,                     
appeal to
check in/on,             
 in spite of etc.

Conventionally, invest takes direct objects in most sentences. In any case where it takes a direct preposition, it should be as expressed above.

As numerous as prepositions are in their numbers, the same way they are used in varying situations to unfold various meaning in their content sentences. And as English language remains in the hands of structural linguists, with time, more uses of prepositions would continue to emerge.

When a phrase has a preposition at the beginning of the expression we say that such an expression is a prepositional phrase. In this condition, we mean a situation where an expression is used as a phrase to shows the position or direction of an object in a sentence. A prepositional phrase is headed by a preposition.  have been structure of a prepositional phrase is achieved through the combination of a preposition and a noun or a noun phrase - as in the following examples:
            - On time.
            - In Lagos.       (A preposition and a noun.)
            - By post.
            - In the party.
            - Off the record.    (A preposition and a noun phrase.)
            - Among the traders.

 The Uses of Prepositional Phrases:
Prepositional phrases perform various roles in sentences. They are used to modify another part of speech in the same sentence. In some cases prepositional phrases perform the role of other phrases like adverbial and adjectival phrases. In any of these conditions, prepositional phrases are used to denote the same meaning as adverbial or adjectival phrase. Few of the functions of prepositional phrases include the following:

As the Modifier of Nouns and Noun Phrases :
prepositional phrases are used to modify nouns and noun phrases just like adjectives. Consider the following structures.
- Men at work.
- The bird on the tree.
- The house by the river shore.
- The lady on the fence is angry.
- Those goats in the field are grazing.

As the Complement of a Verb: in some sentences, we often realise a structure where the prepositional phrase in the sentence succeeds the verb immediately. When such a structure occurs where the main verb in the sentence is succeeded by a prepositional phrase, we say that it has functioned as the complement of the verb. Example:
            - He plays with the club.
            - The Super Eagles takes on USA.
            - The sun sets in the east.

There are cases, nevertheless very rare cases, where prepositional phrases may ordinarily stand the position of adverbials in sentences but function as the compliment of the verbs in the sentences. This situation, of course, does not occur all the time; it is usually rare: particularly when the expressions stand to infer such meanings as acting upon something or becoming a member of a crew (group). The meaning is always realized adverbially. Example:
            - Daddy is at it again.
            - The man is on the jury.
            - Ken is on the committee.
            - James is always on call.
To show the sense of belonging to a group, as mentioned above, we also have such terms as:
            - To be on the panel.
            - To be on the staff.

Prepositional Phrases Used as Adverbials:
Adverbs and adverbials have been described in previous chapters as structures that answer the questions - how, where, when, etc. Most of these questions can be answered by prepositional phrases as shown below:
- They lived in the cave. (where?)
- Shade left in a hurry. (how?)
- Ben came at night. (when?)

Prepositional Phrases Used as Adjectival Phrase:
The primary role of an adjectival phrase is centred on giving additional information about nouns, pronouns or noun phrases. When a prepositional phrase is used to perform the function of an adjectival phrase: when it is used to qualify a noun in a sentence. In this situation, the prepositional phrase is concerned with the subject of the sentence. Few examples of prepositional phrases used as adjectival phrases include the following:
- The announcement of the verdict was accompanied by shouts.
- The house in view is ours,          
- Agreement on the sale is reached.
- The child at sight is the most preferred.

Other phrases used in this context include:
            - The man on top, bird at hand,
- The boy with a brown cap etc.

 In many situations, the adjectival phrase occurs as part of the noun phrase.

Prepositional Phrases Used as the complement of Adjectives:
Another important function of an adjectival phrase is that it is always used as the object complement in various sentences. When a prepositional phrase appears after an adjective, it is considered as the complement of such adjective. Take example from the following sentences:
            - We made them aware of their duties.
            - The principal was so good to the staff.

            - He is certain about his departure.


The notion of lexicalization of the English prepositions was born from the argument bothering on prepositions not possessing the lexical features. This notion becomes rather objective when Oluikpe (2007) intoned that the major difference between the lexical form class and the grammatical types is on the formation of antonyms. This assertion is disputable in the case of the English prepositions because they are highly antonymous. Virtually all the single prepositions have antonyms. We have for instance prepositions like:

In                     out
Inside              outside
Front               behind
Beyond            within, etc. 

English grammar in the hands of the present-day transformational generative grammarians has created opportunities for distinctions between lexical and functional categories. It plays a role in nearly every conceivable area inside and outside the grammar, ranging from word order and prosody to language acquisition. For clear-cut cases like nouns and determiners, the distinction between lexical and functional categories is straightforward, but there are some categories that are notoriously difficult to classify, like adverbs, auxiliaries, numerals, and, most of all, prepositions. There is no consensus in the literature about whether the prepositions take side with the lexical categories: noun, verb and adverb or whether they are a functional category like determiner, complimentizers, or infinitives.

In the X' theory of the seventies and eighties, prepositions were generally assumed to be no less lexical than noun, verb, or adverb, following Jackendoff (1973) views. However, the delineation of the concept of functional categories in the late eighties raised doubts about the character of prepositions and posed questions unequivocally on whether prepositions should further be considered with the orthodoxy of functional class or be saddled with other roles that are lexical in nature. Abney (1987:63) noted that “prepositions seem to straddle the line between functional and thematic (lexical) elements”. We cannot, of course, rule out the fact that prepositions are closer to lexical class (if they are not one), seeing its immense contributions in locating thematic elements in generative grammar. Grimshaw (1991), proposes, although with some reservations, that preposition is a functional element of the nominal system, playing the same role that complimentizers play in the verbal system. Several authors have argued that preposition is heterogeneous: some prepositions are lexical; others are functional (see, Riemsdijk 1990).

The distinction between lexical and functional categories has played an important role in generative theories of syntax (Principles and Parameters, Government and Binding, and most recently Minimalism). The idea that the functional element inflection heads the sentence, according to (Chomsky, 1986) eventually led to a parallel reanalysis of Noun Phrases (NPs) as Determiner Phrases (DPs), therefore, paving ways for attentions to the roles of prepositions. Prepositions have generally been treated as a single category in linguistic theories for a review, and since Jackendoff (1973), it has been generally accepted that they belong to one of the four major lexical categories, along with nouns, verbs, and adjectives. However, there are problems with a unified approach to prepositions; their characterization as a lexical category is problematic. All of the other three major lexical categories (noun, verb, adjective) are open-class categories, and thus are characterized by a high rate of membership and are readily able to add new members. Prepositions, however, are taken to be a closed class, with a limited and small membership.

But even the categorization of prepositions as a closed class is awkward. Their membership is taken to range from 50 – 60 members, as found in traditional grammars of English to 248, as found in a corpus study of prepositions (Fang, 2000). Moreover, it is widely accepted that new prepositions can be added to the class, nevertheless, at a very slow rate. There are, however, contradictions within the category of prepositions itself. Most prepositions express semantic relations, as realized in their assignment of theta roles. But a few, like of and (arguably) the dativeto seem to be purely syntactic; they are required for Case assignment, but do not add any thematic properties to the structure. According to Ura (2001), majority of prepositions assign Case structurally (just like verbs).

In order to explore the inherent properties of prepositions in UG, Tremblay (1996) draws on a variety of characteristics of the French preposition avec ‘with’ to claim that this preposition is semantically vacuous. Most pertinent to the topic at hand is that she assumes a division between lexical prepositions and semantically vacuous prepositions, and further calls for the latter group to be divided into two classes: the “Dummy Case signers” and “true empty” prepositions. Similarly, Cadiot (1997) draws on the idea of “colourless” prepositions to propose two main categories of French prepositions, colourless and colourful, which can be seen as the two ends of a continuum, with some prepositions falling inbetween the two extremes. Of interest here is that the distinction between colourless and colourful is primarily based on the preposition’s contribution to semantics and syntax: colorless prepositions do not contribute to the meaning of the phrase, but are inserted due to syntactic requirements, while colourful ones add a salient meaning to the phrase.

Rauh (1993) argues that prepositions are a heterogeneous category, and uses syntactic and semantic properties. He was directly in favour of a distinction between lexical and non-lexical prepositions. In other words, certain prepositions should be lexicalized as others remain functional. Those with characteristics analogous to the other lexical categories (according to Rauh) are termed “lexical” and are argued to have their own entries in the lexicon. Non-lexical prepositions, however, are those which have undergone some forms of grammaticalization, and therefore, have no autonomy of lexical entry, but are listed under the entry of their governor in the case of head prepositions. From her view, we achieve two types of preposition: Case prepositions and those found in fixed phrases (prepositions which arguably form a single syntactic unit with their noun).

As was noted above, a line of argument suggesting a split of prepositions has been advanced within the framework of generative grammar. Van Riemsdijk (1998) makes a strong argument for functional heads in prepositions within this framework. While his aim is to design a more restricted, cogent theory of “endocentricity”, he uses the category of prepositions to illustrate his framework. Drawing data from German and Dutch prepositions (“postpositions” and “circumpositions”), he argues that the best account of the data requires an analysis of these prepositional elements where some are purely functional heads and others are lexical. Using van Riemsdijk’s (1990) work as a spring-board, Rooryck (1996) elaborates a Minimalist account of prepositions, and uses data from English, German, Dutch and French to show that the structural Case of prepositional phrases is assigned within a functional projection via Spec-Head agreement. While these four models differ in their details, they are similar in suggesting an overall theme. As a category, prepositions are not homogeneous, but should be considered poly-categorical.

(7.1) Lexical Features of the English Prepositions
From the discussion so far, it is apparent that the general role of prepositions is to express the relation between two entities. Prepositions also characteristically select an NP. Examples:

            (i) A cup on the table.
(ii) A message from where she lives.
(iii) A present for going to school.
         (i) James lives on his salary.
       (ii) John relies on his wishes to win the game.
         (iii) John relies on his father’s wealth.

We can represent this through phrase structure rules as:

Now, adopting the idea of Jackendoff (1973) and Emonds (1982) among others, this paper hopes to establish that English prepositions possess certain lexical features and show various complementation patterns. Many a time, these functions occur unanimously. Example:

(i) Transitive prepositions selecting an NP complement: in (the box), into (the Room), without (a trace), off (the bus) etc.
(ii) Transitive prepositions selecting a PP complement: out (into the garden),
from (under the bush), into (toward the garden) etc.
(iii) Intransitive prepositions selecting zero complement: around, in, out, away,         into, toward etc.
(iv) Ditransitive prepositions selecting an NP and a PP complement: from (A) (to B), down (A) (toward B), into (A) (from B) etc.

These variations in complementary selection are analogous to variations in verbs complementation, indicating that they should be lexicalized. As noted earlier, this work proposes that prepositions, in parallel with verbs, select various kinds of complements, and this information is encoded in the lexicon. Therefore, it is argueable here that, once a language user relies on the well-denned lexical properties of prepositions, several related phenomena also follow naturally. Seeing prepositions with some of the features that are characteristically lexical, it should be wedded into the family of lexical word class. Of course, if preposition should be found with transitivity, a role solely designated for verbs, I see no further concrete reason for which it should not be lexicalized. The various points stressed above are discussed below.

(7.1.1) The Transitive Role of Prepositions
Transitivity is basically the role found with verbs alone among the members of the lexical word class. It will, of course, be amazing to see prepositions in this same character of verbs. The possibility of this situation assigns certain credibility to Ura (2001:32), who asserts that, “Majority of prepositions assign Case structurally just like verbs, while the purely syntactic ones assign Case inherently for a concise review of Case assignment in Generative Grammar.” It is characteristic of central prepositions in English to select an NP as its complement and may not have a that clause or an infinitive clause as a complement. In another sense, as indicated in Lobeck (2000), Radford (1997) and Jackendoff (1973), prepositions may combine with a prepositional phrase (PP) to show what can be described as transitivity of prepositions, although it is often overlooked. See the following sentences for instance:

(i) He fell out of the window.
(ii) Many people outside of the immediate family know.
(iii) Peter nudged John up against the ropes.
(iv) The ball flew across the fence.

There are cases when one finds prepositions taking an NP only as in examples A below. The prepositions such as from and after in examples B all combine with PPs in consonance with the assertion of Quirk (1985):

            (i) He picked up the gun
A          (ii) She ran into the auditorium.
            (iii) The ball flew across the fence.
(i) He picked up the gun from behind the counter.

B          (ii) We didn't meet until after the show.
(iii) Food has been scarce since before the war.
(iv)The weather has been nice except in the north.

The transitive roles of the prepositions and PPs in the above examples are generally to locate the place of the entity which may be assumed as the objects’ case. This was the view of Mbah (2006: 162) when he, assessing the roles of prepositions in Generative Grammar, asserts that “Locative describes the place where other entity in a sentence is situated. Generally, the locative is introduced by prepositions or nouns incorporating a preposition notion”. 

We can equally assert that the locative property for this generative function is the preposition. In addition, the illustrations above show that the prepositional phrases underlined act as the prepositional complements of prepositions like fromuntilsince and except. The information that such prepositions are transitive prepositions selecting one complement, PP can be represented in the feature structure as seen below:

One could claim that the preposition selecting another PP here might be a specifier or optional adverbial element, as I may call it. But we could observe that, for example, the omission of out in the sentence, “He fell out of the window”, does not make the sentence unacceptable. Even though we can drop out prepositions like downup and over, we would have completely different meanings.

Radford (1997) stresses a situation which reveals that a preposition subcategorizes a PP. Nevertheless such examples – as he noted – could lead to a structure that may be ungrammatical. For instance, the sentence, “He is [so (out of touch)] in some ways”, may be considered ungrammatical if placed thus:

            He is [so out [in some way] of touch].

The contrast in the sentence follows naturally with the assumption that the complement PP oftouch is positioned before the adjunct PP in some ways. Also, another support comes from the fact that the PP complement and its head preposition behave just like a canonical preposition (the preposition that agrees with rules). For example, phrases of this form can occur as the directional complement of verbs like put and place. Example:

            - John puts the garbage [out of the window].

Since it is certain that a preposition can subcategorize a prepositional phrase itself, Jackendoff (1973:8) therefore, remarked that “the generation of iterating PPs could be predicted”. Under this condition, this paper insists that we are at liberty to generate sentences of the manner where the prepositions out and from both select a PP complement. Example:

(i) She jumped [out [from [under the culvert]]].
(ii) The man is said to be [from [out [of the darkness]]].
(iii) “[Down [from [above the altar]]] groaned a mysterious voice.”

It is pertinent to note that prepositions like into only select an NP complement.

(7.1,2) The Intransitive Role of Prepositions.
It was argued by many grammarians, especially Emonds (1985), that certain adverbs such ashomedownstairs, and afterward (also referred to as post-verbal particles) seem to be better treated as prepositions. It is not difficult to note that post-verbal particles behave just like ordinary prepositional phrases. Take for instance,
One simple way of capturing the similarity between PP and particle in above example is to assume that the particle in there is lexically specified to be an intransitive preposition projected into a PP as represented within the feature system of HPSG in:
There are also cases where particles behave just like a PP. Of course, one often observes case-concerned verbs such as put that require a directional adverb or a particle as exemplified in Emonds (1985), Quirk (1985) in the manner experimented below:
If these elements were not intransitive prepositions, the complementation pattern of verbs likeput would be much more complicated. Even in cases with verbs selecting an optional adverbial particle, we observed that intransitive prepositions are identical to ordinary prepositions selecting an NP according to Emonds (1985). See also the experiment below:
By specifying afterwardbefore and inside lexically, it requires no complement. We can easily predict their occurrence in the position of PP in cases using the sentence above for instance. Like the case with the transitive roles, one supporting argument for this intransitive preposition centers on inversion as observed in the next sentences. Using the first sentence in this section, we prove it true that unaccusative verbs (eg. race and stood) can trigger locative inversion in the manner that favours Jackendoff’s (1973) argument:

(i) [Into the movie theatre] raced James.
(ii) [On the corner] stood a frightened little boy.

Assimilating the assumption that particles like away (as in: she went away.) are prepositions projecting to a PP directly, the examples below follow naturally where they trigger locative inversion in agreement with Jackendoff, (1983) and Emonds (1985) argument.

(i) Downstairs rolled the little boy.
(ii) Away flew the remnants of James’ hat.
(iii) Down rolled the carriage.
(iv) Behind stood the thief.
            (v) Inside laid the nail.

Another similarity between PP and particle, as identified in Emonds (1985), can be found in constructions that constitute a directional phrase, with, and a definite NP.

(i) [Into the dungeon] with that traitor!
(ii) [To the river] with those sandbags!
(iii) [Out the door] with it!
(iv) [To hell] with this assignment!
Again, we can observe that particles behave just like directional prepositions in selecting an NP. As for the syntactic properties of prepositional phrases, they alone can be intensified by the wordright in the sense of “completely,” or by straight in the sense of “directly”. This idea agrees with the view in Radford (1997). Example:

(i) Go [right/straight [up the ladder]]
(ii) He walked [right/straight [into a hall]].

In summary, English grammar will be much more simplified if we accept the existence of intransitive prepositions that select zero complement and hence project up to the prepositional phrase. Words like right and straight cannot be of the category of degree as used above. Of course, if these elements were not intransitive prepositions, the complementation pattern of some active verbs would be much more complicated. Even in the case of verbs selecting an optional adverbial element, we concur with Emonds (1985) to conclude that intransitive prepositions are identical to ordinary prepositions selecting an NP.

(7.1,3) The Distributive Role of Prepositions:
From the discussion held so far, we can still establish that there exist distributive prepositions. This group of prepositions has been marked with the “ditransitive” role of prepositions in accordance with Jackendoff (1973). They are such prepositions as fromdown and into. Our studies of these prepositions indicate that there are situations where they are used to assign certain randomization roles to NPs. By distribution we give attention to the manner and ways prepositions tend to locate the function of some words belonging to the lexical class (especially nouns) from one position to another. The examples below illustrate this point:

The fact that such prepositions select NP and PP complements and generate the structures above is clear evidence proving the several occurrences identified in Jackendoff (1973) true. For example, these whole bracketed phrases may be seen further to behave as a single unit as shown in the restatement below.

(i) [From one end of the park to the other] raced the child.
(ii) [From one end of the park] raced the child [to the other].

We can notice that the NP and PP sequence alone cannot function as a constituent (serving as a subject).

What all these examples imply is that the preposition, NP and PP sequence forms a strong unit so that the NP and PP cannot appear without the preposition. Cleft constructions also show that the head preposition forms a constituent together with its NP and PP complements. The central feature that determines the position of the NP and the PP is the preposition from. Without the preposition, we have the NP and the complement PP in isolation; otherwise the meaning of the sentence will be affected, thereby rendering it ungrammatical.


The English prepositions are grouped traditionally under the functional or grammatical parts of speech with the view that – as is the case with the rest of the grammatical parts of speech – they do not possess the various qualities of the older group tagged “Lexical”. But, if the assumption of Oluikpe (2007) that the major difference between word classes is on the formation of antonym (which the lexical items possess but the grammatical items do not have) is put into consideration, it may be established that preposition should be lexicalized. Of course, prepositions, in parallel with verbs, select various kinds of complements, and this information is encoded in the English lexicon. These apparent variations in complement selections of prepositions which usually are analogous to variations in verbs’ complementation obviously indicate that they should be lexicalized. The target of this study is aimed at re-examining the variations in the English prepositions with verbal variations and their notions of grammaticality. The argument here is clear as it stresses the fact that, once a language user relies on the well-denned lexical properties of prepositions, several related phenomena also follow naturally.

We have argued in favour of the category preposition, insisting that it comprises transitive and intransitive features alongside its distributive roles. Of course, the effect of this analysis to the grammar of English language is left considerably open. We may claim that it is the most natural reflection of the facts as far as we have observed. From the foregone discussion, we hope to conclude that the rule that pinned prepositions to the grammatical category, instead of lexical category, is orthodox and should not be so conclusively classified. The fact that prepositions are adverbial particles, changed to adverbs for syntactic reasons, feature prominently in the locative examination of Generative Grammar and other functions captured the lexical claim for prepositions as argued by Chomsky, Jackendoff, Emonds, Oluikpe, Mba and many other authorities. To further promote the lexical qualities of prepositions is the attempts of Movement Paradox in Government and Binding Theory and the formation of Idiosyncratic Restrictions; relating that the possible range of complements a preposition selects are directly analogous to those in the case of verbs within the bound of the content structure. These two areas are not treated here. It is hoped that further researches on this idea shall cover that area. This paper’s claim here is that such lexical restrictions can be best treated in terms of properties of individual lexical items rather than by phrase structure rules.


Abney, Steven (1987): The English Noun Phrase in Its Sentential Aspect. - Doctoral    dissertation, MIT.
Baker, C. L. (1989). English Syntax, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Bresnan, Joan. (2000). Lexical-Functional Syntax. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.
Cadiot, Pierre. (1997). Les Parametres De La Notion De Preposition IncoloreFaits de Langues, 9: 127-134.
Corver, Norbert (1990): The Syntax of Left Branch Extractions. - Doctoral dissertation,        Tilburg University.
Chomsky, Noam (1981): Lectures on Government and Binding. - Dordrecht: Foris.
Crystal, David (1994). An Encyclopedic Dictionary of Languages. London: Blackwell    Reference.
Emonds, Joseph (1985): A Unified Theory of Syntactic Categories. - Dordrecht: Foris.
Emonds, J. E. (1976). A Transformational Approach to English Syntax. New York:     Academic Press.
Fang, A. C. (2000). A lexicalist approach towards the automatic determination for the          syntactic functions of prepositional phrases. Natural Language     Engineering, 6 (2):     183-20.
Jackendoff, R. (1973). “The Base Rules for Prepositional Phrases.” In S. Anderson     and      P. Kiparsky, (eds.) A Festschrift for Morris Halle, New York: Holt, Rienhart and       Winston.
Leech, Geoffery (2006). A glossary of English Grammar. Edinburgh University            Press.
Lobeck, Ann. (2000). Discovering Grammar. New York: Oxford University Press.
Oluikpe, Benson (2007). Categories and their Features. A lesson Note on Advanced English Syntax II. Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki.
Quirk, Randolph et al. (1985). A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. New        York: Longman.
Radford, Andrew. (1997). Syntactic Theory and the Structure of English. Cambridge:            Cambridge Univ. Press.
Grimshaw, Jane (1991): Extended Projection. - Ms. Brandeis University.

Munn, Alan (1992): A Null Operator Analysis of ATB Gaps. - In: The Linguistic Review 9, 1-   26.
Radford, Andrew (1993): Head-hunting: On the Trail of the Nominal Janus. - In: G.G. Corbett,           N.M. Fraser and Rauh Riemsdijk, Henk van (1990): Functional Prepositions. In: H. Pinkster and Genee (eds.): Unity in Diversity: Papers Presented to Simon C. Dik on             his 50th Birthday (Dordrecht: Foris) 229-242.
Robins (1968). Cited in Mbah, B.M. (2006). GB Syntax: Theory and Application to Igbo.           Association of Nigerian Authors, Enugu.  
Zwarts, Joost (1992): X' Syntax - X' Semantics: On the Interpretation of Functional and          Lexical Heads. - Doctoral Dissertation, Utrecht University.
Zwarts, Joost (1995b): Complex Prepositions and P-Stranding in Dutch. - To appear in                    Linguistics.

Ura, H. (2001). Case. In M. Baltin and C. Collins (eds), The Handbook of            Contemporary            Syntactic Theory. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 334-373.


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