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Consider the following sentence:

Where have you been all day?

What category does where belong to in that sentence? Is it a determiner or a preposition? Is it something else?

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    It's the locative interrogative (or wh-) word. It is not a preposition. Many might call it a determiner, but since it's indefinite and interrogative, the name determiner is not a terrific description. If you wanted to call it an interrogative adverb or an interrogative pronoun, that would be OK, though it's not an ordinary adverb or pronoun, either. – John Lawler Jan 6 '18 at 16:04
  • Trad grammar treats this "where" as an interrogative adverb, but modern grammar takes it as a preposition. Its function in the clause is that of locative complement of "been".The complement use of "where" can question location: "Where have you been?": "at what place?", where the prepositional meaning becomes clear. – BillJ Jan 6 '18 at 16:48
  • @JohnLawler It is an intransitive preposition according to those grammars that recognise intransitive prepositions, such as CamGEL, and also for writers such as Jespersen or Emonds. Unlike adverbs it can function as a locative complement and can't be modified by very. Unlike pronouns and adverbs, it can be modified by the specialist adverbs right and straight and can post-modify noun phrases. It's ability to function both as a locative complement and an adjunct is a characteristic property of prepositions and preposition phrases. – Araucaria Jan 7 '18 at 12:40
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    In other words, it's not a good example of any traditional syntactic category, so you can call it whatever you want to, if you can argue for it. Rather like trying to determine whether worth is an adjective or a preposition; whatever you call it, the name isn't a good fit. I prefer to call it "the locative interrogative (or wh-) word" because that's what it is, and further classification is purely metaphoric. – John Lawler Jan 7 '18 at 13:38
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    Where as a preposition is a creation from artificial features that are hardly normal for prepostions. Like I said, you can call it anything you want. But a preposition is hardly helpful without a fully-equipped theory of preposition that actually works. This is unlikely – John Lawler Jan 18 '18 at 23:35
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John Lawler wrote in a comment:

It's the locative interrogative (or wh-) word. It is not a preposition. Many might call it a determiner, but since it's indefinite and interrogative, the name determiner is not a terrific description. If you wanted to call it an interrogative adverb or an interrogative pronoun, that would be OK, though it's not an ordinary adverb or pronoun, either.

  • So, as a mod, can you tell me why the comment wasn't removed as there is a specific injunction against answers as comments? – David May 7 '18 at 18:42
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BillJ wrote in a comment:

Trad grammar treats this "where" as an interrogative adverb, but modern grammar takes it as a preposition. Its function in the clause is that of locative complement of "been". The complement use of "where" can question location: "Where have you been?": "at what place?", where the prepositional meaning becomes clear.

  • How, then, can where take an object? Seems to me you've proven it's a pronoun, since the expected answer is a prepositional phrase: at the store, in his room, on Saturn. – KarlG Jan 6 '18 at 18:32
  • @KarlG You’re going to have to ask BillJ that question. – tchrist Jan 6 '18 at 18:33
  • How can it be a pronoun, KarlG? That's a ridiculous analysis. Pronouns prototypically stand in for nouns, not prepositional locative expressions like "at what place". – BillJ Jan 7 '18 at 8:53
  • @KarlG For the last 100 years or so (since Otto Jespersen), many syntacticians have argued that, just like verbs, adjectives or nouns, different prepositions may or may not take complements/objects. This has been the majority view amongst syntacticians for the last 30 years or so. The interrogative preposition where does not take NP complements - but is still a preposition. This is similar to how the verb disappear does not (when used with its normal meaning) take NP complements, but is still a verb! :) – Araucaria Jan 7 '18 at 12:49
  • That was not a ridiculous analysis but an ironic one. The existence of statal or other intransitive verbs says nothing of the "prepositionness" of "where." Are there other objectless prepositions I should know about? – KarlG Jan 7 '18 at 14:00

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