I'm new here & don't know all the etiquette & ins & outs, but I have a question about something posted in another thread.

Modern grammar, however, recognises that prepositions can take many different types of complement, or may take none at all. In the following examples we see prepositions which are taking different types of complement.

Let’s meet before the concert starts.

Let’s meet after the concert.

Take it out of the box.

I’ve never seen this before.

If you call "before" in "before the concert starts" is a preposition, what would you call "although" in "Although he didn't know the answer, he raised his hand"? I've been running "although" through my head, & I can't come up with an instance where it could precede a noun phrase. I'd call both "before" (as it's used here) & "although" subordinating conjunctions. If you don't call "before" a subordinating conjunction, what ties the two clauses ("Let's meet" & "the concert starts") together? If you tell me there's an understood "that," I hope you also tell me you're coming from a transformational grammar point of view. I'm old school & have hated transformational grammar since the day I met it!

(Also, I'd call the last use of "before" an adverb, but calling it an objectless preposition doesn't bother me nearly as much as calling the other one a preposition.)

  • Some modern grammars. Jun 4, 2014 at 14:27
  • 1
    I quite agree with you that before is much simpler as a conjunction in the example given; but I fear this question is off-topic nonetheless as it stands: it is worded as more of a peeve than a question. If you edit it to make it more of an actual question (to which a more or less definitive answer can be given), it would fare much better—either here or on Linguistics. Jun 4, 2014 at 14:41
  • It would have been helpful if you had included a link to the original discussion, to make it easier for readers to see the context. Note that Araucaria did include a reference for this (admittedly unfamiliar) analysis: Huddlestone and Pullum, CGEL.
    – Colin Fine
    Jun 4, 2014 at 15:29
  • 1
    "Let's meet before noon"; "Let's meet before the game"; "Let's meet before Tom visits Jill" -- Which can be crunched down to: "Let's meet before [noon / the game / Tom visits Jill]". And that seems much simpler to parse and memorize and explain. Much simpler to memorize. Oh, did I mention that it's much simpler to memorize, especially for tests? :)
    – F.E.
    Jun 4, 2014 at 20:17
  • 1
    And to be more complete: "I've never met her before"; "I've never met her before now"; "I've never met her before Tom started dating her" -- which crunches down to: "I've never met her before [null / now / Tom started dating her]". That's so much easier to memorize. Less is best, especially for tests. :)
    – F.E.
    Jun 4, 2014 at 21:07

1 Answer 1


I, The McGraw-Hill Handbook of English Grammar and Usage, and Grammatically Correct, 2nd Edition agree with you. "Before" in the first example sentence is a subordinating conjunction, not a preposition. It is a subordinating conjunction because it begins an adverb clause, "before the concert starts". The McGraw-Hill Handbook provides the following example:

I had finished my popcorn before the movie even started.

The Handbook indicates that "before" is a subordinating conjunction here. (And you'll notice that the sentence is coincidentally similar to the one you've presented.) Grammatically Correct also explicitly lists "before" in its list of subordinating conjunctions.

"Although he didn't know the answer" is also an adverb clause, so "although" is also acting as a subordinating conjunction.

"After the concert" is a prepositional phrase, unless the writer intended an understood (sorry!) "ends" at the end of the sentence, in which case the formation would be an adverb clause. As the sentence is written, however, the formation is a phrase.

"Out of the box" is definitely a prepositional phrase, as there is no verb present at all.

Lastly, I would also call "before" in the last example an adverb modifying "seen", unless the writer intended an understood "now" at the end of the sentence. Again, though, going by what is written, "before" is an adverb.

  • Right. Adverbial clauses are simple, once you disentangle the introductory phrases. Mostly those are formulaic, like the ones in this list. But the clauses themselves are always just normal sentences -- occasionally with that required -- and they can go just about anywhere in the sentence parenthetically. Not nearly as troublesome as infinitives or gerunds. Jun 4, 2014 at 15:00
  • @John Lawler: Assuming your 'Right' isn't merely a focusing pragmatic marker, are you (a) saying you're agreeing with all comments in this answer (like ' "Before" in the first example sentence is a subordinating conjunction, not a preposition. It is a subordinating conjunction') rather than with Araucaria's claims (that these are all examples of prepositions); or (b) allowing that both analyses are tenable? Or are you (c) staying above these attempts at analyses as they are inherently unhelpful ...please? (Bet it's (d).) Jun 4, 2014 at 15:51
  • I don't see much need to distinguish between "preposition" and "subordinating conjunction" if they have the same function, meaning, and form, and their difference depends only on what kind of construction they introduce. Good for an exam question in advanced syntax, maybe, but not really relevant. Jun 4, 2014 at 16:35

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

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