When I learnt grammar in school, I was taught that there are optional and obligatory adverbials. Trying to understand grammar in the form presented by Huddleston and Pullum (e.g. the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language and A Student's Introduction to English Grammar), I'm wondering how to deal with "obligatory adverbials" such as the following:

(1) He is in the garden.

(2) He was on his way.

(3) He went there.

(4) His birthday is today.

If I'm not completely mistaken, the PPs in (1) and (2) would simply be called PP complements, but what about the phrases in (3) and (4)? Are they too PP complements, in line with the rather drastic re-analysis the authors suggest for adverbs/prepositions/subordinators?

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    They are not adjuncts (your 'adverbials') but locative/temporal complements. That they are complements is evident from the fact that they are obligatory elements. Obligatory items are always complements -- they are required to complete the verb phrase. Optional elements may be complements or adjuncts.
    – BillJ
    Jan 20, 2019 at 12:26
  • @BillJ Thank you! So, is locative complement the actual name of the function (in the same way as we have direct object, predicative complement etc), or is it rather a term used to describe the semantic nature of these particular complements? I've found that H&P use the term PP complement to quite some extent, so I was wondering whether that would be the term to use, in analogy with direct object etc... Also, I'm wondering about (4): are you saying that's locative too? Because it's locative in time?
    – Hannah
    Jan 20, 2019 at 12:27
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    Locative and predicative are subtypes of complement, as are direct objects, but we generally use the function label "direct object" for the latter. I used the term 'locative' for (4) because it expresses temporal location. I've amended my comment for greater clarity.
    – BillJ
    Jan 20, 2019 at 12:38
  • @BillJ Yes, that's exactly what I meant – I wanted to know what subkind of complement we're dealing with here. I think I've got it now :) Thank you so much.
    – Hannah
    Jan 20, 2019 at 12:39

1 Answer 1


You are correct about (1) and (2)—CGEL would say they are locative complements in the form of a PP.

You are also correct about (3). CGEL does explicitly say that there is a preposition on p. 640, in the context of discussing prepositions whose complement is another PP:

The PPs here, there, now, then occur as complement to a wider range of prepositions than do such PPs as under the bed or after six. We find, for example, They live near here; Put it on there; I found it behind here; You should have told me before now; He certainly stayed past then.

However, CGEL says (p. 429) that today is not a preposition, but a deictic temporal pronoun:

Yesterday, today, tonight, and tomorrow are not traditionally analysed as pronouns, but belong in this subclass of nouns by virtue of their inability to take determiners. Compare, for example, Today/*The today is my birthday. They are also semantically like the central pronouns I and you in that they are characteristically used deictically. Unlike the temporal prepositions now and then, the pronouns have genitive forms: today's, etc.

As far as whether locative in locative complement is a syntactic or semantic characterization, CGEL seems to claim the former. On p. 257, in the section 'Relation between locative complements and predicative complements':

We will not assimilate the locatives to the predicatives, but will regard them as syntactically distinct kinds of complement that exhibit certain semantic resemblances.

  • Thank you so, so much!! And thank you for integrating my question about locative as well!! This answer is really helpful :) Just one more thing though: whereas I get the discussion of today, I wonder whether the analysis would be different in an example such as They arrived today, because it really doesn't make much sense saying today is a NP in that case, does it? So in that case, would it be an AdvP or a PP, I wonder...
    – Hannah
    Jan 20, 2019 at 12:48
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    @Hannah: I think it has the same syntax as "They arrived the day that I left". Such sentences have an NP that appears to function like an adverbial or PP. Apparently some have suggested that there is a "covert" preposition in such constructions, if I understand the following Linguistics SE post correctly: How common, crosslinguistically speaking, are 'bare NP' temporal adverbials?
    – herisson
    Jan 20, 2019 at 13:01
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    @Hannah In "They arrived today", "today" is an adjunct of temporal location realised by an NP with a deictic pronoun as head.
    – BillJ
    Jan 20, 2019 at 13:15
  • @Hannah I agree with what sumelic and BillJ said. One objection may be this: consider They arrived [the day that I left]/[Monday]/[today]. Now add on after arrived, and suddenly the today version becomes unacceptable. And if today were a pro-word that can stand for the other two, shouldn't it be able to function in the same way as the other two? Jan 20, 2019 at 13:45
  • @Hannah I don't have a perfect reply, but I will note that if Monday is replaced by this Monday, then the addition of on starts feeling a bit odd to my ear: ?They arrived on this Monday. Certainly the version with on is less common on google books. If I am correct about this decrease in naturalness, it shows that the acceptability of on in such constructions does depend on which temporal NP is supposed to be its complement, so it's not that far fetched that some temporal NPs cannot appear there at all. Jan 20, 2019 at 13:46

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