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Grammatical Functions of English P-words

P-words are prepositions and adverbs that no longer perform prepositional or adverbial functions. P-words are function words, which are defined as words that perform definite grammatical functions but that lack definite lexical meaning. P-words perform two grammatical functions within sentences in the English language. The two functions of adjective clauses are:

  1. Particles
  2. Infinitive markers

P-words as Particles

The first grammatical function that p-words perform is the particle. A particle is a function word that expresses a grammatical relationship with another word or words. Particles appear within three constructions in English: phrasal verbs, quasi-modal verbs, and determiner phrases. For example, the following italicized p-words function as particles:

  • Can you look some addresses up for me? (phrasal verb)
  • Her boss really laid in on her lack of initiative. (phrasal verb)
  • He ought to consider buying some new dress shoes. (quasi-modal verb)
  • You had better pick up some milk and eggs on your way home. (quasi-modal verb)
  • Two of the chickens escaped from the hen house again. (determiner phrase)
  • I have already read many of the assigned readings. (determiner phrase)

P-words as Infinitive Markers

The second grammatical function that p-words perform is the infinitive marker. An infinitive marker is a function words that distinguishes the base form from the infinitive form of an English verb. For example, the following italicized p-words function as infinitive markers:

  • To err is human.
  • To not graduate now would be a shame.
  • She likes to read.
  • Grandma still needs to pickle the eggs.
  • His uncle is afraid to fly.
  • Too many people will never find someone to love.

The two grammatical functions of p-words in English grammar are particle and infinitive marker.


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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