Consider the following setup. What would the word classes of "out" and "there" be?

"Where is James?"

"He is out there somewhere, right in the middle of the storm."

I was first thinking in the direction of "to be out there" being a phrasal verb, but I know that can't be true. This leaves me to think that there is a demonstrative pronoun (correct me if I'm wrong), but I can't figure out what the word class of "out" is in that case.

  • 'out there' acts like an adverb.
    – Mitch
    Jan 12, 2015 at 21:46
  • But shouldn't each word have a word class separately? Are they both adverbs then? Jan 12, 2015 at 21:48
  • I think out there is a set phrase.
    – Barmar
    Jan 12, 2015 at 22:03
  • There is routinely an adverb, while out is routinely used as an adverb, adjective, preposition, noun and verb. Think a bout it for a while.
    – ScotM
    Jan 12, 2015 at 22:05
  • 1
    No, each word does ALWAYS not get its own word class. For example, there exist multiword prepositions. See en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_English_prepositions for examples of multiword preps.
    – tchrist
    Jan 12, 2015 at 22:26

2 Answers 2


The words out and there are both prepositions. In this particular instance the preposition out is taking the preposition there as its complement. For a modern account of prepositions see one of the following vetted grammar sources:

  • The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language Huddleston & Pullum, 2002
  • Oxford Modern English Grammar Aarts, 2011

Whereas before the great linguist Otto Jespersen, people had identified prepositions as a family of words that occurred before nouns, Jespersen had the insight to observe that this family was being misidentified, or rather misdescribed. He noted that words such as in, on, at, after, before, until have the same syntactic properties regardless of whether they occurred before nouns or not. In a blinding flash of what can surely only be described as common sense, he decided that these were actually always the same words. This radical idea follows on rather mundanely, but methodically, from the way that we treat other parts of speech such as nouns or verbs.

Modern grammars such as CaGEL have gone one step further than this, but this need not bother us here. One knock-on effect of realising that prepositions need not always precede nouns, is that some prepositions don't occur before nouns at all, in the same way that some verbs never take objects. Such words include items such as:

  • abroad, here, there, away, back, out

Prepositions such as out and there have various syntactic properties in common with other prepositons:

  • they are modifiable by the specialised adverbs straight and right.
  • they occur as the complements of other prepositions.
  • they occur as complements of the verb BE.
  • they, and the phrases they head, can post-modify nouns.
  • they aren't modifiable by very.

Notice that out there is a complement of BE in the OP's example. We could also have :

  • He was right out there, in the middle of the storm.

The preposition phrase could be used to post-modify a noun:

  • The man right out there in the middle of the storm.

The whole phrase could be the complement of another preposition:

  • He went back out there.

All of this shows out there to be a preposition phrase. Notice that none of the tests above will work with adverbs. You can test this yourself with an adverb like locally, for example.

Hope this is helpful!

  • Not sure all those tests really work equally well. “That's very out there” sounds fine to me, as does “It happened right locally”; and in “that one there”, there surely post-modifies the head noun, doesn't it? Treating there as a preposition also entails a nomenclature that borders on the absurd, in that there cannot take an object and thus cannot be preposited at all. Jan 15, 2015 at 16:58
  • @JanusBahsJacquet It happened right locally might sound ok to you if you're from Yorkshire as might, she's right hot, but it's not standard in SSBE that's for sure. And, yes, very out there is idiomatic, but she went very out aint (as I'm sure you'll agree). Neither is Put it very there or she's very in the bath. Of course there's idiomatic compounds that are a bit different, but the generalisations hold true. I can't bothered to go and put freely and usually everywhere today! "That one there", if it does post-modify the noun surely backs up the point that prepositions ... Jan 15, 2015 at 18:27
  • @JanusBahsJacquet ... er, post-modify nouns! Yes, the absolute unforgibvable idiocy that identified a group of words according to the complements they take, left grammarians like H&P in a quandry. Their thinking is, it's just too widely used to change. They point out that there's loads of other idiot names out there like adverb and adjective, for words that describe words other than adverbs and aren't necessarily adjacent to nouns! I'd change the name - but it's not up to me. One thing's for sure, just because they've got a silly name doesn't mean we should be silly just to be consistent! Jan 15, 2015 at 18:30
  • Oh! I read that that as “they and the phrases they modify can’t post-modify nouns” and didn’t think. Duh. I don’t know, I just still feel like this whole Pullum-inspired fad of lumping more or less everything that doesn’t end in -ly in as a preposition is a smoke screen. Might as well stick to calling them adverbs and have that be the messy free-for-all category, ’cause that’s what prepositions are becoming to me. Does CGEL actually categorise where? as a preposition, or was that just somewhere else I saw Pullum talk about that? Jan 15, 2015 at 20:54
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Yes, they do p.614-5! Jan 17, 2015 at 16:58

Out there would be predicate adjective modifying He.

  • 2
    Welcome to ELU. Please support your answer with sources. That makes your answer stronger, and more likely to be viewed as correct. Otherwise, even if it's correct, it's only opinion. The site tour and the help center will give you guidance on how to use this site. Jan 13, 2015 at 4:16

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