Most dictionaries seem to describe 'there' as an adverb. Oxford online dictionary definition Is this true?

"Last year we went to Paris. We stayed there for three nights."

In sentences like this 'there' is taking the place of a preposition and a noun - in this case 'in Paris'. So why is it referred to as an adverb?

Is there a case for describing it as a preposition? It is a substitute for a prepositional phrase ('on the table'. 'in the room', 'to Paris', 'in Paris' etc), and like a preposition, and unlike an adverb, it may be modified by 'right' or 'straight'. "We flew straight there." "The book is right there - in front of you." Prepositional phrases

So, is 'there' (and I suppose we could extend this to its interrogative: 'where') an adverb, a preposition or some other category of word?

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    It is an adverb because it takes the place of an adverbial prepositional phrase; i.e. taken as a whole, in Paris acts adverbially.
    – Anonym
    Jul 8, 2014 at 22:50
  • Analysing locatives and directionals can get messy. In 'Is Peter home yet?', 'home' seems more akin to an adverb than anything else in the traditional armoury – but is one allowed to use an adverb with 'be'? I'm happiest with 'locative (/directional) particle', though not totally convinced. Jul 8, 2014 at 22:57
  • Related: english.stackexchange.com/q/111058 english.stackexchange.com/q/112556 english.stackexchange.com/q/75491 where you may, or may not, discover that there is the distal deictic locative in English, just as here is the proximal one. We once had one that was at even further remove — yonder — but it gets scant use in formal writing these days.
    – tchrist
    Jul 8, 2014 at 23:00
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    @tchrist I do here such phrases as over yonder, up yonder, down yonder and so on quite frequently where I live, although I rarely use them myself.
    – Anonym
    Jul 8, 2014 at 23:41
  • @Anonym In I'll see you Tuesday is Tuesday an adverb because it's behaving adverbially? Jul 11, 2014 at 1:11

3 Answers 3


As is well-recognised by linguists, dictionaries are not a good place to start when trying to establish parts of speech. A good reference grammar is. Of the three great grammars of the English language from the last hundred years, the most recent and up-to-date is The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, Huddleston and Pullum, 2002. It says the following:

Locative there is an intransitive preposition contrasting with here: it has deictic and anaphoric uses ... (p. 1319)

(For a fuller account, consult pages 598-691). Part of the reason given for there and here being prepositions is that, exactly as OP has commented, they are modifiable by straight and right. Furthermore, these words function in the same way as other prepositional phrases: they are able to function as locative complements of the verb BE, and also as spacial and temporal adjuncts.

Many phrase types have the latter function, including adverbs and adverb phrases, however adverbs don't generally function as complements of the verb BE. Furthermore adverbs are not modifiable by either right or straight:

Complements of BE

  • The comments were erroneously. * (adverb complement)- wrong
  • The comments were locally. * (adverb complement)- wrong
  • The comments were out of order.
  • The comments were at the bottom.
  • The comments were below.
  • The comments were here.
  • The comments were there.

Straight and right as modifiers.

  • He flew straight beautifully. * (wrong)
  • He flew right directly. * (wrong)
  • He flew straight to Paris.
  • He flew right over the house.
  • He flew straight in.
  • He flew straight there.

This all goes to show that the OP is indeed correct: there does indeed seem to be a preposition.

Hope this is helpful

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    Okay, now I understand. H&P have, as usual, created a highly controversial definition of preposition conflicting with the way most others use the term. In their own words: "It should be clear that the term 'preposition' is by no means ideal for our purposes, ..." (p. 602). I wonder why they didn't pick a different word for what is perhaps a useful category/class of words; but it is in character for them to attack all traditional terminology and subvert it by using it to mean very different things. They have every right to do that, but it is perhaps best marked as "preposition_HP", then. Jul 11, 2014 at 2:52
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    @Cerberus Actually, the fact prepositions are still prepositions when they don't take 'objects' is not an observation of H&P's. It's a very, very old idea. It's been talked about by famous linguists like Otto Jespersen (1924), Joseph Emonds (1972), Ray Jackendoff (1973) and since then many, many others. It's what many people would intuitively think anyway. (-Their reassignment of the class of subordinating conjunctions, however, is a different kettle of fish.) As they say, it's a bit difficult to relabel the class of words, the label's just too well established. I'd suggest "relators". Jul 11, 2014 at 16:18

First a caveat: you cannot always reliably test what function a certain word or phrase has by replacing it with some other word or phrase. However, normal adverbs serve the same function as many prepositional phrases do, so what you said about how it can replace in Paris supports treating there as an adverb.

A preposition occurs before a nominal phrase, like a noun; but there Paris is not possible, unlike in Paris. And so it is not a preposition, unlike the preposition in.

There is often called an adverbial demonstrative pronoun. While it does normally have an adverbial function (it describes where something happens), it has an antecedent: it refers back to a place that was mentioned earlier or that the listener or reader knows is relevant. So in your example, it refers back to Paris, a place; in its capacity of referring back to an antecedent, it is pronominal, functioning like a pronoun.

It is demonstrative because you can point at something while saying it, just like the demonstrative (personal and adjectival) pronouns this, that, those and these: I see that [pointing at object], we went there [pointing at place] etc.

Note that, in certain idiomatic constructions, there has almost evolved into something more like a particle, as in there was noöne in the room.

The words straight and right in your example are a bit complicated; they could be analysed in different ways. The two most obvious ways would be to either classify them as adverbs modifying there, or as adverbs modifying the verb in parallel with there. The simplest structure of I flew straight there would be the latter: how did you fly? I flew straight, not via some other point. Where did you fly? There. Those are two adverbs, one of manner and one of place/destination.

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    @Cerberus Thanks for your explanation. But what do you make of the fact that 'there' can be modified by 'straight' and 'right'? Wouldn't this make it more preposition-like? Could it be classified as a prepositional phrase?
    – thecrease
    Jul 8, 2014 at 23:05
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    @keshlam Yes, but I was thinking particularly about the usage of 'there' in the examples I gave.
    – thecrease
    Jul 8, 2014 at 23:07
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    So 'in Paris' is an adverb, not a prepositional phrase?
    – thecrease
    Jul 8, 2014 at 23:27
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    What about 'The book is right there!' - Is there still an adverb in this case?
    – thecrease
    Jul 8, 2014 at 23:33
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    @Cerberus So when we classify 'there' we classify according to its external function rather than its internal structure, making 'there' an adverb in 'He went there last year' and 'there' an adjective in 'The man over there is my friend', despite the fact that in both cases it's implied internal structure is a prepositional phrase - to that place, in that place etc?
    – thecrease
    Jul 8, 2014 at 23:42

There is an adverb of place, and an adverb is used to modify a verb. In the sentence— We stayed there for three nights, stay is a verb and there is modifying it. it's answering us the question— where did we stay? To make the sentence more understandable a semi colon could have been put between both the sentences.

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