Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I was informed earlier today that the word ago is actually a postposition and the only one of its kind in English. Is this correct? If so, why do dictionaries not use this classification and prefer to label it an adverb instead?

share|improve this question
2  
We don’t have many left-branching forms in English, but the productive -wards suffix can also be seen as an enclitic postposition. –  tchrist Nov 14 '12 at 14:24
    
Umm. What use is a linguistic classification category that has only one member? –  FumbleFingers Nov 14 '12 at 14:25
1  
David Crystal has a helpful blog post on this question: link –  Berthilde Nov 14 '12 at 14:30
1  
@FumbleFingers And yet later is classed as an adverb in three weeks later. –  tchrist Nov 14 '12 at 14:48
2  
@tchrist: I thought we'd established long ago that "adverb" is often just a general-purpose "bucket category" for people who insist every (specific usage of a) word must fall into some particular category/"part of speech". –  FumbleFingers Nov 14 '12 at 15:07
show 3 more comments

1 Answer

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Some sources do list ago as English's sole postposition, but there are actually quite a few other words that pattern the same way:

  • hence: five weeks hence

and the following words, and others, have senses where they follow this usage, although otherwise they are prepositions and/or adjectives:

  • through: the whole day through
  • (a)round: the world around
  • away: ten miles away
  • wide: four feet wide
  • long: ten feet long
  • high: eight miles high

It's interesting that these all seem to result in phrases that act as adverbs of temporal or spacial extent.

share|improve this answer
2  
I'd have thought there are many more contexts where other "prepositions" can be "postpositioned". I see nothing unusual in "ten miles off", "ten miles out", "six inches in", for example. –  FumbleFingers Nov 14 '12 at 14:38
1  
Consider adverbial late or later: It arrived a day late and a mile short. Just two weeks later, everything fell apart. –  tchrist Nov 14 '12 at 14:49
1  
@coleopterist No, enclitic -wards is also used only in that fashion. –  tchrist Nov 14 '12 at 15:00
1  
@tchrist: Assuming I understand what you mean by enclitic there, does not the same apply to, for example, "repeat {something} parrot-fashion"? Or "walk crab-wise"? –  FumbleFingers Nov 14 '12 at 15:22
2  
@FumbleFingers But -fashion and -wise are run-of-the-mill “mannerly” left-branching affixes like -ly, whereas -wards is a left-branching directional affix. An important difference between a bound morpheme and an unbound one is that the clitic does not distribute across the entire phrase, whereas the free-standing adpositions do. In both “Just three years ago” and “over/during/for the last three years”, the freestander applies itself to the whole phrase, but if you are inclined Queenwards, the -wards applies only to the Queen itself — unless you have suspension hyphens. –  tchrist Nov 14 '12 at 15:33
show 9 more comments

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.