We're upstairs.

In this sentence, is upstairs a noun or an adverb? I think it's the latter because if it was a noun, the sentence is missing a preposition before upstairs. To my knowledge, in a SVC sentence, only nouns or adjectives can be a complement. Are adverbs of location, or locatives, exceptions to this rule?

  • Trad grammar treats it as an adverb, modern grammar as a preposition. – BillJ Sep 13 '18 at 9:06
  • I'm confused. So is it both correct to say you don't need a preposition before upstairs because it's an adverb and it's an exception, AND to say that you don't need a preposition in the sentence because upstairs is already a preposition, depending on how you'd look at it? – Sean Kim Sep 13 '18 at 12:45
  • 1
    Some modern grammars treat it as a preposition, but most don't. It's a location, which is usually a noun; in this case it's a predicate noun. But the fact that it's locative is more important than its POS, which is irrelevant anyway, since English words can assume practically any POS. – John Lawler Jan 26 '20 at 18:10
  • @John Lawler Could you please give the names of some modern grammars that dispute the vaunted infallibility some ascribe to CGEL on this issue? – Edwin Ashworth Jan 26 '20 at 19:24

Given that "upstairs" is a compound derived from the preposition up and the noun stairs, it seems most likely that it will act like a one-word prepositional phrase. For example, we can use the adverb right before it ("They are right upstairs"). Some linguists classify words that behave this way as prepositions (specifically, "intransitive prepositions"; for analyses and discussion, see Is "now" a "preposition"?).

If you accept that classification, then the use of "upstairs" as a predicative complement is not exceptional behavior. Prepositional phrases can clearly be predicative complements, as in the sentences "They are in the house" or "They are on the bus."

If you don't accept that classification, then I guess you do have to say that "adverbs of location" or whatever you call words like upstairs, downstairs, indoors, outside... (as well as "particles" like in, out, up) can be predicative complements.

  • prepositional phrases without prepositions work like nouns, since prepositions are mostly used to mark nouns and many constructions treat PPs like nouns anyway. – John Lawler Jan 26 '20 at 18:12

How about "We're home."? In your sentence, "We're upstairs.", the word upstairs is used as an adverb. See upstairs in google dictionary for more.

  • "I'm home." is the exact sentence that I came up with when I was told adverbs cannot act as a complement. But if you think, "I'm quickly," it's not grammatically correct at all. So in general, you would think most adverbs are not accepted as a complement. Hence my question: Are adverbs of location exception to the rule? Is it correct if I say adverbs of location can act as a complement, and they're one of the exceptions to nouns and adjectives being only forms of a complement? Or is it a complete false statement that only nouns and adjectives can be used as complements? – Sean Kim Sep 13 '18 at 11:59
  • Notice that "quickly" is an adverb that is only used to express the extent of an action verb used; however, in "I'm quickly.", 'am' is a 'be'-verb which is not an action verb hence you cannot use adverbs of action-verbs with those which are not action verbs – Zeeshan Ali Sep 13 '18 at 13:51
  • Also, 'be'-verbs tells the state / status of the topic / subject. – Zeeshan Ali Sep 13 '18 at 13:53

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