I have seen sentences similar to the following:

(1) See the reference above.

(2) See the reference below.


(3) See the above reference.

But not,

(4) See the below reference.

Are all these forms acceptable? Which is/are preferred in formal writing?

  • 3
  • I first began seeing "the below email" in emails from non-native speakers of English... but now I even see it coming from native speakers of the language in the UK. I can only conclude, from my experience and serial observation, that the former are influencing the semi-literate latter.
    – user32199
    Dec 13 '12 at 5:13
  • 1
    A prompt response I once received had just once sentence with a citation: "With reference to your above, please see my below."
    – Kris
    Dec 13 '12 at 5:30
  • I couldn't find any evidence suggesting that either form is incorrect, although from my experience, it would seem that "The reference above..." would be far more common usage than "The above reference...". Above can also be used either way when separated by a comma, "Above, the reference..." and "The reference, above, ...". Without a specific citation, though, I'll leave this to the experts.
    – phyrfox
    Nov 4 '14 at 6:02
  • Consider how you cannot swap in below for any adjective in “Their eager young eyes stared at the stormy grey sea.” Because it cannot substitute for an adjective in syntactic tests such as these without yielding an ungrammatical result, this failure provides strong evidence that below is not an adjective at all.
    – tchrist
    Jul 8 '17 at 17:56

There is not really any difference between reference above and above reference, but some publishers may prefer one or the other. Below reference will be rare, if it is found at all.


On reading the page RegDwight ΒВB linked and dictionary entries for above and below, I have come to realise that above is listed as an adjective as well as a preposition (and adverb, too), but below is only a preposition (and adverb), so only (1), (2) and (3) are correct.

  • Presumably "See the reference above/below." is short for "See the reference above/below this statement." i.e. using "above"/"below" as prepositions.
    – Gnubie
    Jul 11 '12 at 14:01
  • 1
    I'd argue that 'i.e. using "above"/"below" as prepositions' should read 'i.e. is a shortened form of a fuller expression using "above"/"below" as prepositions'. Reams have been written on 'intransitive prepositions', and in my opinion, they're a lumping too far (see stl.recherche.univ-lille3.fr/sitespersonnels/cappelle/… for a strong argument about classifying words as 'intransitive prepositions'). Apr 10 '13 at 10:34
  • @EdwinAshworth How 'bout turning it around though? - prepositions are transitive adverbs. Apr 30 '13 at 22:43

"above" is an adverb and can't be used as an attributive adjective before a noun. So "the above gun" is wrong grammar.

"above" is also a preposition. See OALD:


There is even an entry about above as adjective. One special case, in letters, e.g. "the above person". As this is short for the above mentioned person, I would not say that it is adequate to lable "above" simply as adjective. At least a remark would be necessary, "above, attributive adj., limited use".

  • 1
    The Corpus of Contemporary American English has 1,209 citations for the above + noun, so its pretty clear that above can be used attributively. However, we'd need rather more context to know if 'the above gun' is acceptable. It cannot, for example, be used of one of two guns that is above the other on a wall.
    – tunny
    Nov 4 '14 at 8:01

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.