We know that the words home, abroad, here, and there are adverbs because the dictionaries all say so.

But in The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (GGEL), authors Huddleston and Pullum tell us that well no, actually they are prepositions. (!)

  1. How and why does CGEL call these words prepositions? Does anybody else?

  2. Are there ways to still use these words as adverbs even if CGEL now considers them prepositions?


1 Answer 1


In an article published on Geoffrey Pullum's website, "The Theoretical Orientation of The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language," Pullum and Rodney Huddleston provide a succinct defense of their redefinition of preposition. In short, Pullum and Huddleston find that the conventional definition of prepositions arbitrarily groups similar usages under other categories of speech (like adverb and conjunction); it makes sense for them to consider words applied to all of these uses as prepositions.

Consider this extended excerpt, where the authors present the way that a similarly-appearing word may be classified in three different ways with only slight changes:

It is also clear that uncontroversial prepositions like in, up, down, over, through, etc., are sometimes not followed by a noun (or NP) or anything at all:

  • Soon they went in the house.

  • Soon they went in.

  • He came running up the street.

  • He came running up.

  • Does this hole go right through the wall?

  • Does this hole go right through?

  • They like to run around the yard.

  • They like to run around.

To take account of such facts, traditional grammar posits that a substantial subset of the prepositions have homophonous and virtually synonymous doppelgangers belonging to other categories. Thus they recognize the word down as a preposition in He fell down the steps (it is followed by the NP the stairs) but not in He fell down on the steps. In the latter, since there is no NP following it, down has to be an adverb (it does, after all, modify the verb fell). Another (overlapping) subset are alleged to have doppelgangers in the ‘subordinating conjunction’ category: in before her court appearance the word before is acknowledged as a preposition, but in before she appeared in court, where what follows before is a declarative content clause, it is claimed not to be.

There is no semantic, morphological, or phonological support for having three words spelled before. (emphasis mine on the last sentence)

The second of each example shows that "uncontroversial prepositons" already can appear in positions where they do not pre-pose or appear before any NP (noun phrase) at all. Why are other words, otherwise similar in how they appear in a sentence, grouped as adverbs or conjunctions instead?

To your question, I find the last example, "I like to run around," especially useful, because that sounds fairly close to the question you are raising with home. Around and home both have directional senses. If around here is a preposition, and you accept that not all prepositions have to precede NP, then why can't home function in a similar way as a preposition that doesn't have to precede an NP? So in I like to run home, home functions as an intransitive preposition (a preposition that takes no NP complement) rather than an adverb.

There is more to why Huddleston and Pullum categorize words as they do, for which I recommend a more careful reading of CGEL. Huddleston and Pullum are only one of several opinions on home - the traditional grammarians they are responding to still exist, for example.

  • 'The ferry docks right beside the road, a mile before one reaches Elbonia City. We knew we had plenty of time before it sailed. Arriving at the quay where the ferry was docked with over six hours to spare, we drove on.' Arguably, one sense of 'drove on' here looks very un-intransitive-prepositiony. Sep 21, 2020 at 19:30
  • 3
    Huddleston and Pullum tell us that well no, actually they are prepositions. Huddleston and Pullum tend to be rather "avant garde" and iconoclasts - I suspect that that is how they made their name. I find many of their explanations somewhat tortuous and often appear to be procrustean (i.e. enforcing uniformity or conformity without regard to natural variation or individuality.) They also give the appearance of being apologists. Nevertheless, they command a dedicated following. home, abroad, here, and there are adverbs.
    – Greybeard
    Oct 21, 2020 at 18:37
  • @Greybeard While I personally agree, I answered the question as I did because the focus is on CGEL and why it classifies as it does, rather than what I think of CGEL. Oct 21, 2020 at 19:05
  • 2
    They're being good descriptivists, putting lexical items into lexical categories by the usual rules, but applied generously. For instance, the idea of intransitive prepositions is a good use of an unused category; nobody applied transitivity to any other category beside verbs (and participles, if one sticks with the original eight). It works just as well for prepositions, which already have objects, so they're automatically transitive, leaving the intransitive uses free for phrasal and idiomatic use. Oct 22, 2020 at 1:38
  • 2
    This is indeed a very helpful answer to the first part of the question (why do they classify these words as prepositions?), but it needs to be supplemented by Greybeard's comment, which responds more explicitly to the second part ('Does anybody else?'). Part of the OP's puzzlement is probably caused by the book in question being sold and marketed as The Cambridge Grammar, which may create an illusion that the authority of the whole of the university somehow stands behind it. It would have been more honest and less misleading if it had been sold as 'Huddleston and Pullum's Grammar'.
    – jsw29
    Oct 22, 2020 at 16:44

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