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Grammatical Functions of English Postpositions and Postpositional Phrases

Although traditional grammars speak only of prepositions in the English language, the preposition belongs to the larger category of adposition. Adpositions are words that “link to other words, phrases, and clauses” and that “express spatial or temporal relations.” In addition to prepositions, adpositions in the English language also include postpositions. In contrast to prepositions that precede a prepositional complement, postpositions follow a postpositional complement. The three grammatical functions of postpositions and postpositional phrases are:

  1. Postpositional phrase head
  2. Adjunct adverbial
  3. Disjunct adverbial

Postpositions as Postpositional Phrase Heads

The first grammatical function that postpositions perform is the postpositional phrase head. A postpositional phrase consists of a postposition plus another word or phrase that functions as the postpositional complement. For example, the following italicized postpositions function as postpositional phrase heads:

  • ten years ago
  • seven acres apart
  • bad behavior aside
  • five miles away
  • the lack of evidence notwithstanding
  • the whole night through

Postpositional Phrases as Adjunct Adverbials

The second grammatical function that postpositional phrases perform is the adjunct adverbial. An adjunct adverbial is a word, phrase, or clause that modifies an entire clause by providing additional information about time, place, manner, condition, purpose, reason, result, and concession. For example, the following italicized postpositional phrases function as adjunct adverbials:

  • My husband and I bought our house six years ago.
  • The best friends lived a mile apart.
  • The baby cries the whole night through.
  • My uncle traveled fourteen miles away to meet the new president.
  • The evidence notwithstanding, the consensus is that the jury will not reach a verdict.
  • Here and there chains and nets may upset the stability of the submarine, hydroplanes notwithstanding.

Postpositional Phrases as Disjunct Adverbials

The third grammatical function that postpositional phrases perform is the disjunct adverbial. A disjunct adverbial provides additional information to frame an entire clause. For example, the following italicized postpositional phrases function as disjunct adverbials:

  • Joking aside, we must decide on a plan of action by the end of the week.
  • My opinion notwithstanding, the students must study harder for the standardized tests.

Note that postpositional phrases rarely function as disjunct adverbials.

The three functions of postpositions and postpositional phrases in English are postpositional phrase heads, adjunct adverbials, and disjunct adverbials.

References

Brinton, Laurel J. & Donna M. Brinton. 2010. The linguistic structure of Modern English, 2nd edn. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Hopper, Paul J. 1999. A short course in grammar. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Huddleston, Rodney. 1984. Introduction to the grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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