(1) A: Where are you from? B: I'm from the U.S.

(2) A: When do you leave? B: I leave a week from tomorrow/July 7th/this coming Sunday.

Traditional grammar classifies where and when in (1) and (2) as adverbs but some modern grammars (such as The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language and Oxford Modern English Grammar) classify them as prepositions.

I was wondering if it would be possible to classify them as pronouns, in part because, as shown above, they seem to correspond to noun phrases such as the U.S., a week from tomorrow, July 7th, this coming Sunday, etc.

Hence the question: Does any grammar (book or theory) classify 'where' and 'when' as pronouns?

Although the above examples are interrogative clauses, relative clauses can also be discussed.

Traditional grammar's classification of where and when as adverbs is problematic because too many words whose POS are hard to classify are lumped together as adverbs. By the same token, I believe that CGEL and OMEG's classification of where and when as prepositions is also problematic because too many words whose POS are hard to classify are lumped together as prepositions.

So there may well be some grammarians/linguists who are trying to find the middle ground between the two extremes, hopefully.

  • 1
    To respond to a comment on a now-deleted answer, prepositions can take PPs as complement, as in "a noise came from inside the house". So the fact that where can serve as a complement of from does not prove that where is a pronoun as opposed to a preposition. (I do think it's better to avoid using the word "adverbial" to indicate that something functions like a prepositional phrase)
    – herisson
    Jun 4, 2020 at 5:13
  • @herisson I basically agree with every aspect of your comment. (Note that I haven't used the word "adverbial" except to describe traditional grammar.) Granted, some prepositions such as from can take PPs as complement, but does that mean any preposition can? For example, can at take prototypical PPs as complement? I can't think of any such case. But you can easily say: Where are you at?
    – JK2
    Jun 4, 2020 at 6:02
  • @herisson Please see the edit.
    – JK2
    Jun 4, 2020 at 6:20
  • Addressed at Why don't most sources classify when, where and _why_as relative pronouns?. 'I am researching the use of relative pronouns and most websites, including the British Council, list ...[not inc where & when] ' ... 'Because where, when, and why have very limited use as relative pronouns. They are most common in headless relative clauses (or disjunctive embedded question complement clauses, depending), l... pseudo-cleft constructions' [J Lawler]' Jun 4, 2020 at 14:00

2 Answers 2




14. the place or situation in, at, or to which
he lives two miles from where he works
15. what or which place
where do you come from?


  1. pronoun You use when to introduce a clause which specifies or refers to the time at which something happens.
    He could remember a time when he had worked like that himself.
    She remembered clearly that day when she'd gone exploring the rockpools.
    In 1973, when he lived in Rome, his sixteen-year-old son was kidnapped.
  • This appears to be because Collins uses a class of "relative pronouns" including these since they head relative clauses, and unsurprisingly uses that as a proper subclass of the class of "pronouns". So they don't mean the same thing by "pronoun" as @JK2 does. Huddleston and Pullum have their own understandings, and terminology to go with them, so we're not surprised it's confused. Jun 4, 2020 at 22:18
  • 1
    @JohnLawler Expanding the category of prepositions as did H&P seems to go back as far as Otto Jespersen, and thus doesn't seem to be something H&P has invented out of nowhere. GKP himself said "Specifically, there are many words that older traditional views take to be adverbs which, the way The Cambridge Grammar analyzes them (following the great Danish grammarian Otto Jespersen), are prepositions that don't require object noun phrases." itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/000889.html Bas Aarts also adopted the same approach in OMEG. I'm looking for grammarians who don't.
    – JK2
    Jun 5, 2020 at 4:17
  • I have no problem understanding this terminology; I like the idea of using preposition as an intransitive category. It reminds me of the way Mayan languages use ergative affixes; since every verb has an absolutive marker, only the transitive ones have an ergative marker, and that makes the paradigm available for to mark possession on nouns. Bandwidth will be used. But I don't use this term often, because the specialized term particle already refers to the intransitive preposition used in English serial verbs and subject to Particle Alternation. Jun 5, 2020 at 16:45

The short answer is "None that I have ever read." The long answer is quite long.

The examples are very complicated and revolve around several points.

The meaning of “where… from”; the prepositional phrase “from the US”; the adverbial nature of when; the use of noun phrases as adverbs.

In the above, “where” and “when” are adverbs, respectively “at, in, on, etc, which place” and “at, upon, on, in, etc, what time, day, occasion, etc.”

I say this as (1)

Where are you from? Arises from the disuse of the genitive “whence”(adv.) = Of which place. Where are you from? = Of which place are you? = whence are you?

1855 Lord Tennyson Brook in Maud & Other Poems 102 O babbling brook,..Whence come you? (= “Of which place is the origin of your travels?”)[3]

More linguistic confusion is caused by the almost synonymous use of “of”[1] and “from”[2] that was caused by the use/translation of the Norman French “de” as opposed to the Saxon genitive ‘s’. From indicated an origin, and of indicated an attribute or quality and we can see how this led to confusion.


It is made of gold

It is made from gold

Considering “from” as either an adverb or preposition, we have the emphatic locative sense of “originating” (adv.).

1720 Delany News from Parnassus. 19 From whence is this Fool? – From of which place has this fool come?

And (2)

As you say, where and when, may correspond with “the US and “July 7th” but they are not referents.

In “Where are you from? and “When do you leave?” the questions are asked in order that the speaker might learn or become aware of something. That the “fact” might contain a noun phrase is irrelevant:

A: “When shall I do it?” B(i): “Weekly.” B(ii) “Each week” (noun phrase acting adverbially)

The language has dropped the genitive ‘s’ in colloquial/informal contexts and now the uninflected noun is often heard “The shop is closed Sunday, but will open Monday” in which Sunday and Monday are understood adverbially with the preposition omitted -> “on Sunday” or “on Monday”

The Pronoun

The essence of a pronoun is that it has a referent: the speaker and listener must both know or be aware of the object that is the pronoun. E.g. The sentence “It does not work”, is essentially meaningless unless the speaker and the listener are aware of the thing that “it” is, whereas “When/where does it work?” is comprehensible.

[1]Of, from and off all have overlapping meanings. – I made it of gold; I made it from gold; I took it from the shelf, I took it off the shelf; The apple is from that tree, The apple is off that tree.

[2] From this point, we need to look at the adverbial genitive https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_possessive

Another remnant of the Old English genitive is the adverbial genitive, where the ending s (without apostrophe) forms adverbs of time: nowadays, closed Sundays. There is a literary periphrastic form using of, as in of a summer day. There are also forms in -ce, from genitives of number and place: once, twice, thrice; whence, hence, thence.

There is also the "genitive of measure": forms such as "a five-mile journey" and "a ten-foot pole" use what is actually a remnant of the Old English genitive plural which, ending in /a/, had neither the final /s/ nor underwent the foot/feet vowel mutation of the nominative plural. In essence, the underlying forms are "a five of miles (O.E. gen. pl. mīla) journey" and "a ten of feet (O.E. gen. pl. fōta) pole".

[3]Note that the fronting adverbial allows the inversion of subject and verb.  

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