How do a preposition and a postposition differ from a circumposition?
Are these three terms really used in schools, universities and "official classes" in general?
Is there someone who "officially" calls all three just prepositions, and says there are simply "different types" of prepositions?

  • Can you give example sentences of all three? In English, all you really ever care about are prepositions. The other two are kinda out of the ordinary.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 15:47

2 Answers 2


Prepositions, postpositions, and circumpositions are three types of adpositions defined by where they occur relative to the element they govern:

Prepositions are placed before the element they govern: “on the ground”, “without any help”, etc. English employs mainly prepositions. (For this reason, some people use the term ‘preposition’ to refer to all kinds of adpositions, especially in English.)

Postpositions are placed after the element they govern: “his claims notwithstanding”, “the whole night through”, etc. English has a few of these, but they are limited in both number and use. Other languages use them more prolifically or, like Japanese, exclusively (“アメリカAmerika-ni ‘in America’, “二時から八時までniji-kara hachiji-made ‘from two o’clock till eight o’clock’).

Circumpositions consist of two parts: one placed before the element they govern, and one placed after it: “from now on”, etc. These are quite rare in English (I can’t think of any other examples than this one, taken from Wikipedia), though they are quite common in languages that frequently use both prepositions and postpositions, such as Chinese.

The Wikipedia page linked to above has quite a thorough explanation of adpositions.

  • wisegeek also offers in place of, with a mind to and by virtue of. Commented Jul 16, 2013 at 3:21
  • 1
    I’m not sure I’d really count ‘in place of’ and ‘by virtue of’ as circumpositions. The ‘of’ here is really a preposition to the following element, marking a genitival relationship between it and ‘place/virtue’, and ‘in/by’ governs the entire prepositional phrase. Probably the same with ‘with a mind to’, come to think of it. And ‘from now on’ isn’t that good either, truth be told, since ‘on’ there is more an adverb than an adposition. Commented Jul 16, 2013 at 10:19
  • @ Janus: Well, both you and wisegeek agree circumpositions are at the very least rare in English. Wisegeek also makes the point that this is largely because English syntax isn't particularly conducive to such formations. Which is probably why I don't really understand them - I can't even see why from here on in doesn't count as a three-word example (but I'm guessing it doesn't! :) Commented Jul 16, 2013 at 16:02

Regarding officiality, the wikipedia article Adposition suggests that indeed “Some linguists use the word "preposition" instead of "adposition" for all three cases”, the three cases being prepositions, postpositions, and circumpositions.

Note that a circumposition has two parts and surrounds the complement, ie has one part per side.

The terms preposition, postposition, circumposition, and their hypernym adposition are in use in linguistics, where technical terms are needed for brief but accurate reference.

  • 2
    Though the term is used generally with this sense only in context; if the addressees understand the convention, that's OK. Otherwise, more precision may be required to avoid confusion. By the way, same prefixes, same senses, and same reference conventions for prefix, postfix, circumfix, and affix. Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 16:13
  • Wouldn't are in use only in linguistics... be more accurate? Commented Jul 16, 2013 at 10:29

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