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All the dictionaries I've consulted say that 'home' is an adverb and a noun, depending on context. For example:

(1) He went home. [adverb]

(2) He is at home. [noun]

Also, there's this answer of John Lawler's that seemingly resolves the issue of why 'home' sometimes should be analyzed as an adverb.

But what about this example?

(3) I can find my way home.

Can you also say that home in (3) is an adverb? It seems to me that home in (3) cannot be an adverb, because I think it functions as a complement of the noun way and that my way home as a whole is a noun phrase.

Even if we accept John Lawler's analysis in the above quoted answer of considering home "one of those idiomatic locative nouns that are allowed to drop determiners and occasionally even prepositions," we cannot say home in (3) is an example of "how a noun can be used as an adverb", because (3) can be analyzed as John Lawler suggests:

(3') I can find my way (to my) home.

Here, to my home is not an adverbial prepositional phrase but an adjectival prepositional phrase that acts as a complement of the noun way. So, to take what John Lawler said and adapt it to (3), "what it is is an [adjectival] prepositional phrase that has been stripped of its prepositions and determiners, leaving only a naked noun to stand for the whole phrase. That's how a noun can be used as an [adjective]."

Now, does this mean we should call home a noun, an adverb, or an adjective, depending on context?

  • In "home cooking," "home" should probably be viewed as an adjective. Problem is, language came first, and then a bunch of nerds started to attach rules to it, not all of them quite sensible or useful. In the phrase "I'll just find my way home," the word "home" stands in for "to the place where I currently happen to be residing," "place" being - what? - subject? - noun? - So I would think "home" in "my way home" is a noun after all, but what do I know. – Ricky Apr 20 '17 at 6:32
  • As John Lawler said, "home" acts most like a prepositional phrase, not like an adverb (prepositional phrases are not actually "adverbs", but they can be used adverbially). Prepositional phrases can be used after the word "way": " I can find my way to the store." So maybe it is no surprise that "home" can also be used in this position. – sumelic Apr 20 '17 at 11:34
  • @sumelic I'm not saying that "home" cannot be used after "way", or that "home" doesn't act like a prepositional phrase. Your comment doesn't address my question or only tangentially does so. – JK2 Apr 20 '17 at 11:39
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    The difference as I use the words is that "adverbs" are a class of words while "adverbial" is a type of function or grammatical role assigned to phrases. See Araucaria's answer here: english.stackexchange.com/questions/266755/adverbial-phrase/… – sumelic Apr 20 '17 at 11:55
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    I would say it is a single-word prepositional phrase. (A phrase may be but doesn't have to be more than one word.) If "home" were an adjective, it would be expected to come before "way". – sumelic Apr 20 '17 at 12:21
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Home is a preposition according to modern grammars such as Oxford Modern English Grammar (Aarts 2011) or The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Huddleston & Pullum 2002).

According to such grammars, although prepositions often—prototypically in fact—take noun phrase complements, this is not an essential feature of the word category. In the same way that verbs that don't take objects are still verbs, prepositions that don't take objects are still prepositions.

First of all, notice that home patterns like other preposition phrases in the Original Poster's example, as a complement of the noun way:

  • I can find my way out of the building.
  • I can find my way out.
  • I can find my way through.
  • I can find my way through the forest.
  • I can find my way home.

In addition home can be modified by the specialised adverbs right and straight, which modify prepositions but not usually adverbs:

  • Go straight home.
  • Go straight past the station
  • I have to go right home.
  • Go right through the forest.

In addition, home cannot be modified by the adverb very which freely modifies adverbs (at least those with a gradable meaning) but not prepositions (even those which are gradable):

  • *I went very home. (ungrammatical)
  • *I went very past the station. (ungrammatical)
  • I went very slowly.

Unlike adverbs, prepositions such as home can function as locative complements of the verb BE:

  • Are you in the building?
  • Are you home yet?
  • *Are you locally? (ungrammatical)

Unlike adverbs , preposition phrases commonly modify nouns:

  • people home alone
  • the man in a hat
  • *the locally shop (ungrammatical noun phrase)
  • *the shop locally (ungrammatical noun phrase)
  • *the beautifully woman (ungrammatical noun phrase)
  • *the woman beautifully (ungrammatical noun phrase)

Thus the evidence would seem to suggest that home is a preposition and not an adverb.

  • Thanks for your answer. Do you think that the traditional grammar, pervasive as it currently may be in all the dictionaries out there, cannot even logically explain what a simple word like "home" is? – JK2 Apr 20 '17 at 13:50
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    @JK2 That's the way I see it, yes. But of course others will disagree! :) – Araucaria Apr 20 '17 at 14:06
  • If indeed the traditional grammar cannot even explain what "home" is, it seems ridiculous that it's still being followed by all the dictionaries in the world. Talk about a mess. – JK2 Apr 20 '17 at 14:31
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    @JK2 Dictionaries are pretty rubbish altogether on parts of speech. Geoffrey K. Pullum would certainly agree with you. – Araucaria Apr 20 '17 at 14:46
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    @JK2 When you say "cannot even explain" and "a simple word like 'home'", I think you're reversing the comparison. The little everyday words tend to be the most complex. Look up "to", "for", or "set" in a dictionary and you'll see what I'm talking about. These common little words interact with context in the most complex ways. Rare, obscure, "big" words like "asthenosphere" and "umbraculiferous" tend to be the simplest grammatically. – Ben Kovitz Jun 22 '17 at 5:18
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To address the question in the title, I would say that "home" can certainly be an adjective as in (as one commenter noted) "home cooking" (as opposed to fancy restaurant-style cooking), "home base" (as opposed to other bases), or "home office" (as opposed to an office outside one's residence.)

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