Preposition or Adverb?

I’m going out (adv) — out (prep) of my mind!

In, out, up, down, on, off. Everyone knows words like these can be prepositions. But did you know some words like these can also be adverbs? How can you tell the difference? And what about phrasal verbs or expressions like “turn off”? This question recently came up at ESL Library when a customer mentioned that in the phrase “push the switch down”, “down” is an adverb, not a preposition. Let’s review the basic rules, discuss the trickier cases, and decide if it’s worth teaching this difference to our students.

Prepositions

A preposition takes an object. If there is a noun following the term, it usually indicates the term is a preposition, not an adverb (but see the “Tricky Cases” section below).

Examples:

  • He ran down the stairs.
  • Maria looked out the window.
  • They talked in circles and couldn’t reach a decision.

For practice, try our Prepositions lesson.

Adverbs

An adverb doesn’t take an object (but see the “Tricky Cases” section below). Adverbs such as these usually appear at the end of the clause or sentence.

Examples:

  • She sat down.
  • We’re going out at 7:00 tonight.
  • When you arrive at the hotel, make sure you check in.

For general adverb practice, try our Adverbs of Manner lesson.

Tricky Cases

What happens when a word appears to have an object, and therefore looks like a preposition, but is actually functioning as an adverb? Cases like this include phrasal verbs. In these cases, the adverb is defining or describing the verb, not the object.

Examples:

  • He looked up her number. (up = adverb)
  • The class president called off the meeting. (off = adverb)
  • You should check the schedule out. (out = adverb)

According to the Chicago Manual of Style, a good test for determining whether the term before an object is an adverb is to detach the term + object and see if it makes sense. They give the example “I looked up his biography”. Detaching “up his biography” doesn’t make sense, and therefore “up” is an adverb in this case.

However, what about other verb expressions like “push down” (that our customer asked about)? You can say “push down the switch” or “push the switch down”. Is “down” defining the verb “push”, or is it part of the prepositional phrase “down the switch”? Does Chicago’s test help us here? Is “down the stairs” in the sentence “He ran down the stairs”, which is clearly a preposition, similar to “down the switch” in the sentence “He pushed down the switch”, and therefore also a preposition?

We can turn to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary for help with these expressions. Under the adverb entry for “down”, they give the following examples:

  • They set the cake down on the table.
  • Lay down your book for a minute.

Clearly, Merriam-Webster’s classifies the terms in these types of verb expressions as adverbs, not prepositions. I must admit, I’m still a bit puzzled by cases like this. Can we say that the rule is that if you’re able to move the object, it is always an adverb (as in turn on the light / turn the light on)? Do you agree that the last two bullet examples are adverbs, not prepositions? I’ll accept it, but I’m not 100% convinced. I don’t see a whole lot of difference between go down the stairs (preposition) and lay down your book (adverb).

Should we teach this to our students?

In my experience, most textbooks don’t get into the difference in parts of speech for words like down, on, off, etc. The many textbooks that I’ve seen during my teaching career simply called these terms prepositions. I believe that, in general, students are capable of learning and understanding the sentence positions and meanings while grouping these words under the “preposition” umbrella. My feeling is that this could be a discussion you could have with higher-level students, but for lower-level students, it would only create unnecessary chaos and confusion. What do you think?

I hope everyone is down with this info! ;)

Tanya

Sources

  • The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition, section 5.180.
  • Collins Cobuild English Grammar, section 6.82–6.87.
  • Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition, entries such as “down”.

51 comments

Leave a Comment ↓

  1. Ade says:

    May 05, 2019 at 10:03 pm

    Hello Tanya,

    Great article, it has really helped me and (judging by the comments) countless other people, I really appreciate your time in creating this. I’m not an expert by any means, I do teach primary school though in England (and I am a bit of a Grammar geek, admittedly).
    I wanted to express my thoughts on a couple of things in your article, and see if you would be inclined to agree with my viewpoints…

    —Prepositions—

    – He ran down the stairs.
    I agree, ‘down’ is the preposition and ‘down the stairs’ is the prepositional phrase. ‘He ran’ is the main/independent clause.

    – Maria looked out the window.
    I agree, ‘out’ is the preposition and ‘out the window’ is the prepositional phrase. ‘Maria looked’ is the main/independent clause.

    – They talked in circles and couldn’t reach a decision.
    I agree, ‘in’ is the preposition and ‘in circles’ is the prepositional phrase. ‘They talked’ is the main clause in the sentence (‘and couldn’t reach a decision’ is not a second main clause, or even an adverbial clause, because it is missing a subject – likely to be ‘they’ – which makes it an adverbial phrase for the verb ‘talked’.)

    Normally, we put the preposition after the verb, however it is grammatically possible, of course, to put the preposition/prepositional phrase before the subject. Just ask Yoda…

    – He ran down the stairs. = Down the stairs, he ran.
    – Maria looked out the window. = Out the window, Maria looked.
    – They talked in circles and couldn’t reach a decision. = In circles, they talked.

    —Adverbs—

    – She sat down.
    I agree, ‘down’ is used as an adverb of place as it modifies the main verb to tell the reader where the subject sat, but doesn’t include an object such as ‘on a chair’, or ‘on the floor’. If you swap ‘down’ with ‘nearby’ or ‘close’ you can see how you would still have an adverb of place. And, without the adverb ‘down’, the main verb and subject still exist so you have a clause; as it is a complete thought (main) clause – ‘She sat.’ could be a sentence all on its own without the adverb of ‘down.’

    – We’re going out at 7:00 tonight.
    I agree. I think ‘We’ is the subject, ‘are going’ is the verb phrase (are = auxiliary verb, going = main verb), ‘out’ is the adverb, and ‘at 7:00 tonight’ is a prepositional phrase.

    – When you arrive at the hotel, make sure you check in.
    This is where I disagree. ‘When you arrive at the hotel’ is an adverb clause (subordinate) so we can ignore that for now, ‘make sure you check in’ is the main clause…

    ‘make sure’ is an idiom (it is a phrase replacing ‘must’ in this clause: ‘you must check in’, so essentially ‘make sure’ is acting as a modal auxiliary verb in this clause) the subject of the clause is ‘you’, and so the main verb is ‘check in’ – the two words are acting together to form a phrasal verb. Imagine: you could replace ‘check in’ with ‘register’ or ‘pay’, etc. But, you could not remove ‘in’ from ‘check’ and have the clause retain the same meaning of ‘you must sign your name to say you have arrived at the hotel.’

    So, to clarify, ‘make sure’ = ‘must’ = a modal verb / ‘you’ = subject / ‘check in’ = the main verb (phrasal) of the clause. Therefore, I cannot agree that ‘check in’, in this sentence, is being used as an adverb because ‘check in’ has to be the clause’s verb, and it has to be the main clause of the whole sentence because the preceding clause is subordinate/dependent (being an adverbial clause).

    ‘quickly’ or ‘straight away’ could be added in, and they would be adverbs. For example, … ‘make sure you check in right away’, or ‘make sure you immediately check in.’ or even, ‘you must directly check in without delay’. But in any example, ‘check in’ is the main verb. I realise I’ve waffled on here, but I hope I’ve clarified myself as clearly as possible.

    —Tricky Cases—

    – He looked up her number. (up = adverb)
    I disagree. I think ‘He’ is the subject, ‘her’ is the determiner for ‘number’ which is the object. If ‘up’ was to be an adverb in this simple sentence then ‘looked’ would need to be able to serve as the main verb on its own, but similarly to the prior example, ‘looked’ requires ‘up’ to be part of the main verb (thus creating a phrasal verb) because ‘looked up’ means essentially ‘found’ or ‘sought’. The word ‘up’ is an (confusingly named) adverb particle.

    Imagine the sentence: ‘Mary looked up at him’. Here, ‘up’ is an adverb because it modifies the verb ‘looked’ and is not part of the verb. The sentence could be as bare as, ‘Mary looked.’ (subject + verb) as long as this made sense in the context it was presented of course. So, in this example, ‘up’ has been added to the clause to tell the reader where she looked, so ‘up’ is an adverb of place.

    Returning to our sentence, if you were to remove ‘up’, you would be left with ‘He looked her number’, which doesn’t make sense because the meaning of the verb we want for our context is ‘tried to find it by skimming through a book’ but of course, ‘looked’ on its own means ‘to focus one’s vision on something with your eyes’.

    You could say instead: ‘He found her number on the page.’ or, ‘He sought her number in the book.’ but these sentences would now contain a prepositional phrase of course. If you wanted an adverb/adverbial, you could for example say: ‘He hurriedly found her number.’ or, ‘He sought her number rather desperately.’

    – The class president called off the meeting. (off = adverb)
    I disagree. ‘called off’ here is serving as a phrasal verb. ‘The class president’ is the noun phrase acting as the subject, ‘the meeting’ is acting as the object, which leaves ‘called off’ as the main verb with ‘off’ as the adverb particle. The word ‘off’ here serves to modify the original main verb (‘called’) to mean ‘cancelled’ essentially. Therefore: ‘called (main verb) + off (adverb particle)’ = phrasal verb = main verb of the clause = not an adverb.

    Compare this sentence to: ‘The class president told off the representatives.’ In this example, ‘The class president’ and ‘the representatives’ are subject/object respectively. This leaves ‘told off’ to act as the main verb, and without the use of ‘off’, the meaning of the sentence would be different. The context we want, is ‘scolded’ or ‘reprimanded’, not ‘informed them of some information’. Therefore ‘told’ and ‘off’ must stay together to create the verb, and this of course would be called a phrasal verb.

    If we wanted this sentence with an adverb we could say: ‘The class president rarely ever called off the meeting.’ or ‘The class president called off the meeting somewhat harshly.’ In these examples, ‘called off’ is being modified by frequency (‘rarely ever’) or manner (‘somewhat harshly’).

    – You should check the schedule out. (out = adverb)
    I disagree. ‘You’ = subject, ‘should’ = modal auxiliary verb, ‘check out’ = main verb, ‘the schedule’ = determiner + object. ‘out’ is acting as a particle in a phrasal verb again, but it is a transitive particle (it can be separated from its verb) and that’s what has happened in this example.

    Compare: ‘You should check the schedule out.’ with ‘You should check out the schedule.’ Note how the previous two examples are also transitive particles, see where you can move the location of ‘off’ or ‘up’ and still have the meaning of the sentence preserved. Also note, how from the example before those ‘check in’ is not transitive, it is intransitive – it has to be ‘check in’, it would not work to separate these words. Take for example: ‘Can you check in at the front desk’ and try to change the position of ‘in’ to another place in the sentence…

    To illustrate this point further, let’s take another example: ‘The people walked down the road.’ If the phrasal verb, ‘walked down’ is transitive it should work when the position of the particle ‘down’ is moved. As you can see though, ‘The people walked the road down.’ does not work, unlike, ‘He looked her number up.’ or ‘The class president called the meeting off.’ Both cases have phrasal verbs being utilized, but observe how some phrasal verbs are transitive while others are not.

    I have tried to look at the Chicago Manual of Style you reference but one needs to be a member to view it online, so I can’t speak to what that text claims, sorry. However, going off what you cite from the CMoS: “According to the Chicago Manual of Style, a good test for determining whether the term before an object is an adverb is to detach the term + object and see if it makes sense. They give the example “I looked up his biography”. Detaching “up his biography” doesn’t make sense, and therefore “up” is an adverb in this case.” I would have to disagree with this method of ascertaining if a word is an adverb or not.

    Hopefully, what I have said would make anyone realise that ‘look up’ is a phrasal verb with the particle (you could call it an adverb particle I think, but this is not the same thing as an adverb) placed after the main verb. It is transitive because you could just as well have said: ‘I looked his biography up.’ and this holds the same meaning.

    “However, what about other verb expressions like “push down” (that our customer asked about)? You can say “push down the switch” or “push the switch down”.”
    Here, ‘push down the switch’, you will notice ‘push down’ is again, a phrasal verb with a transitive particle (‘down’) because you can, of course, move the position of the word to the end of the sentence as you have already shown.

    Is “down” defining the verb “push”, or is it part of the prepositional phrase “down the switch”?
    I would have to say that ‘down the switch’ is not a prepositional phrase… it doesn’t make any sense – even a phrase has to have some unit of meaning. ‘the switch’ is a determiner + object (a noun phrase). Something like: ‘…down the stairs’ could be a prepositional phrase if your verb was separate from the word, ‘down’. For instance: ‘Bob ran down the stairs.’ ‘Bob’ = subject / ‘ran’ = verb / ‘down the stairs’ = modifies where he ran + object = prepositional phrase.

    “Does Chicago’s test help us here? Is “down the stairs” in the sentence “He ran down the stairs”, which is clearly a preposition…”
    I agree. “…similar to “down the switch” in the sentence “He pushed down the switch”, and therefore also a preposition?” Not in my opinion…
    ‘He’ = subject / ‘pushed down’ = phrasal (main + particle) verb / ‘the switch’ = object. If you wanted to add a preposition to this you could say: ‘He pushed the switch down on the dashboard.’ Or Yoda would say: ‘On the dashboard, he pushed the switch down.’

    — Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary: ‘down’ Adverbs —
    – They set the cake down on the table.
    I agree. ‘set’ is the main verb on its own, the sentence works fine without ‘down’. ‘Set’ in this context, used as a verb, means to place something down, usually using one’s hands, often onto a table or other furniture piece. The word ‘down’ does very little to modify the meaning of the verb, but it is an adverb of manner for the verb ‘set’.
    ‘on the table’ is the prepositional phrase, ‘on’ being the preposition word. ‘gently’ would have been a better adverb as it would serve to clarify that the cake was being put down carefully at least. Why use ‘down’ when ‘set’ already tells the reader it is being put down?

    – Lay down your book for a minute.
    I disagree. ‘lay down’ needs both words to form a phrasal verb. You couldn’t use: ‘Lay your book for a minute.’ and still expect to make sense. You could say: ‘Put your book down for a minute.’ It is a transitive particle and so part of the main verb of the sentence and not an adverb or a preposition. ‘for a minute’ is a prepositional.

    Which leads us to, “Clearly, Merriam-Webster’s classifies the terms in these types of verb expressions as adverbs, not prepositions. I must admit, I’m still a bit puzzled by cases like this. Can we say that the rule is that if you’re able to move the object, it is always an adverb (as in turn on the light / turn the light on)?”
    I believe you mean move the particle of a phrasal verb? If you can move the particle, it is not an adverb or a prepositional. Adverbs and/or prepositional phrases are separate things and would be added to the subject + verb clause. If you can move the particle of the phrasal verb, it just means you have a transitive phrasal verb.

    For instance: ‘Can you please turn the light on in three minutes?’ consists of: ‘can’ = modal verb / ‘you’ = subject / ‘please’ = adverb, modifying ‘turn on’ / ‘turn on’ = phrasal (main) verb / ‘the light’ = object / ‘in three minutes?’ = prepositional.

    “Do you agree that the last two bullet examples are adverbs, not prepositions? I’ll accept it, but I’m not 100% convinced. I don’t see a whole lot of difference between go down the stairs (preposition) and lay down your book (adverb).”
    I hope now you are a little more convinced in seeing that CMoS may not be quite right.

    “In my experience, most textbooks don’t get into the difference in parts of speech for words like down, on, off, etc. The many textbooks that I’ve seen during my teaching career simply called these terms prepositions.”
    I have to agree, most websites are not very clear on the subject. It appears that scholars are either unsure themselves, or I am lacking in finding the appropriate guidance. Teaching Year 5/6 children (9-11 years old) I don’t have to go into this much depth (thankfully), but they do need to know what the basic adverbs/adverbials are, and prepositions.

    Thank you again for putting time into your article. I hope my response has not come across as arrogant, I will admit again I am no expert. And thank you for reading, if you got this far down. Please let me know what you think.

    Regards,
    Ade

    References:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phrasal_verb.
    (I’m not sure how credible Wikipedia is, but this topic seems fairly comprehensive to the point it appears very credible.)

    https://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/up_1

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      May 06, 2019 at 2:00 pm

      Hi Ade,

      Thank you for your incredibly well-thought-out response to this post! You raise many interesting points, especially about phrasal verbs. I will have to come back and think about this a lot more later on. I admit that my head still swims for some of these tricky cases! During my first read-through of your comment, I think many your points sound logical. Thanks again! I’m sure many teachers will find your comment very useful and great food for thought!

  2. julia says:

    Feb 13, 2019 at 8:31 pm

    Tanya, In the phrasal verb to rule out? Is out a preposition or an adverb?

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Feb 13, 2019 at 8:50 pm

      Hi Julia, I believe that with most phrasal verbs, the second particle is an adverb because it’s connected to the verb, not the object. Let’s use an example sentence like “The heavy rain ruled out the picnic” (taken from Merriam-Webster). If we use The Chicago Manual of Style’s trick (in the Tricky Cases section above) and try to detach it, “out the picnic” doesn’t make sense. “Out” isn’t a preposition that’s part of a phrase in the same way that “down” is in “He ran down the stairs” (i.e., “down the stairs” is detachable/makes sense because “down” defines the direction in relation to the stairs, so “down” is a preposition in that case). In other words, “out” is an adverb in “ruled out,” at least as far as I can tell! :)

      • Julia says:

        Feb 14, 2019 at 6:06 am

        Thanks for your prompt and clear explanation!
        I found that the Collins dictionary provides examples with information about parts of speech .
        Do you think that it can be of any or some help? As you suggest there are no hard and fast rules …
        As a learner, It is not easy to RULE Out WITH PHRASAL VERBS whether we are in the presence of adverbs or prepositions
        Can you suggest bibliography?
        Thanks, thanks and infinite thanks Tania
        Julia

        • Tanya Trusler says:

          Feb 14, 2019 at 3:31 pm

          You’re very welcome, Julia! Thanks for the suggestion to check out Collins dictionary. I’m sure other teachers and students will find that helpful!

  3. Imma says:

    May 19, 2018 at 4:45 am

    Hi, i have a question; in the morphological structure of “without”, both ‘with’ and ‘out’ are prepositions?
    Thank you

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      May 21, 2018 at 7:40 pm

      Hi Imma,

      It depends. “With” is a preposition, whereas “out” can be a preposition or a adverb, depending on the sentence structure. When followed by a direct object, “out” is likely a preposition. (E.g., The bird flew out the window.) When not followed by a direct object, “out” is likely an adverb. (E.g., I went out last night.)

      Be aware that “without” can be a preposition or an adverb. (E.g., Those who have no money learn to do without. [adverb] / He lasted without food for five days. [preposition]) So while “with” is a preposition, I’d look at how “without” is being used in the sentence before deciding if “out” is a preposition or an adverb.

      • Pravin says:

        Dec 11, 2018 at 10:16 pm

        Superb explanation

  4. Gulzar Ahmad says:

    Nov 20, 2017 at 10:02 am

    Thanks very much for sharing this valuable information. It really helped me a lot to understand the difference between prepositions and adverbs. Thanks once again.

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Nov 20, 2017 at 2:48 pm

      You’re very welcome, Gulzar!

  5. Nayra says:

    Oct 27, 2017 at 12:30 pm

    your explanation was very useful and short. Thank you :)

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Oct 30, 2017 at 1:09 pm

      I’m happy to hear it! Thanks, Narya.

  6. Ruholla says:

    Sep 25, 2017 at 3:07 am

    Thank you for your fantastic simple explanation!

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Sep 25, 2017 at 1:54 pm

      You’re welcome! Thanks for commenting.

  7. David says:

    Sep 24, 2017 at 1:12 pm

    Hello Tanya Trusler.

    Thank you for your explanation, I am learning English and this is very important topic for me. I have been studying adverbs and prepositions and now that I have studied it is much more esay to me undertand the English. I think that this topic is the most complicate for sudents.

    Thank you very much,

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Sep 25, 2017 at 1:55 pm

      You’re welcome, David! I’m so glad it helped you.

  8. alifia says:

    Sep 19, 2017 at 12:44 am

    Thanks God i’ve found this blog. such a great explanation! literally help me to do my homework
    thanks a lot!

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Sep 22, 2017 at 2:08 pm

      I’m glad it helped you, Alifia!

  9. Mian Umaer Abid says:

    Jul 12, 2017 at 11:00 pm

    Easily got your points ! A simple explanation to understand for every beginners or learners.

  10. Sunita Sharma says:

    Mar 25, 2017 at 9:21 am

    Hello Tanya!
    Loved your views on not confusing the very young learners with such nuances as differentiation between a preposition or an adverb. The usage, as it is, is too complex even for grown ups!

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Mar 27, 2017 at 2:50 pm

      It sure is! Thanks, Sunita.

  11. wordy smith says:

    Dec 11, 2016 at 12:08 pm

    Great example of “turn up” with a man as a subject! I didn’t have the signifying “to arrive” as a main priority.

  12. vici says:

    Nov 07, 2016 at 5:50 am

    I think there are some other examples that above tricks couldn’t help to distinguish between preposition and adverb. for example:
    1- she study with experiment
    2- she study with eager
    if we suffice to the point “a preposition takes an object”, we should consider the both as preposition, but I think in 2 “with eager” is adverb.
    would you help me understand it please?

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Nov 07, 2016 at 5:56 pm

      Hi Vici,

      It isn’t common to use “with + noun” after the verb “study” unless you’re explaining who you studied with. (E.g., I studied with my sister. My sister and I studied together.)

      For your example #2, we would definitely use an adverb and say, “She studied eagerly.”

      For example #1, I’m not sure exactly what you’re trying to say. Maybe you mean “She tried to study.” or “She studied by doing experiments.”

      If you can think of other examples where the tricks don’t work, let me know. I agree that it’s not always clear-cut. :)

  13. Ebed says:

    May 22, 2016 at 11:13 pm

    Thank you you just helped me a LOT, Im gonna have a test tomorrow and this just “saved my life” and i just wanted To say that you did a great Job writing this :D

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      May 24, 2016 at 6:42 pm

      Happy to hear that, Ebed!

  14. David says:

    May 22, 2016 at 2:32 am

    Think of “down the street” versus “down the book”. Think in terms of whether your are answering the question “where” or “when” (since we use spatial metaphors to talk about time).

    “down the street” and “along the street” depend on the fact that the street is a place and thus mentioning answers the question when, as well as metaphorical thinking about my eyes being high and looking down along the street which gets narrower with perspective, as well as the the idea of the street being narrow and long.

    “down the book” , “down the weapon”, “down the receiver”, and “down the pill” don’t have this “when” type attribute and thus “down” is adverbial in nature here, and without mention of the verb here even coerces the adverbial usage into having imperative verbal force. This is equivalent to including an implied verb “put” in the first three cases, because we literally and commonly “pick up” and “put down” books and weapons, and somewhere between literally and metaphorically one player may “put down” another player, and then his teammates may “pick up” the player. The particle/adverb nature is indicated by the way pronouns get inserted when they pick him up or he picks himself up.

    In the final example, the normal thing we do with pills is swallow them, so “swallow down” is the expanded version making clear the implied verb and the action that we are commanding.

    To give time based illustrations answering “when”, think of “within the hour”, “in an hour”, “on the hour”, “at two o’clock”, “on time”, “in time”, “over time”, “under time”.

    To give mixed space-time illustrations that answer both “when” and “where” note that “at work” implies both the workplace, the working day, and the working activities/scenarios. The statements “I’ll ring you at work” or “I’ll ring you from work” could be as much about the time or task as the place (it’s not appropriate to talk now or one of us doesn’t have the documents to hand at the moment, so I’ll ring you in working hours).

    The time-space-relevance corresponds to a series of wh-word (when-where-how/why/whose) type attributes being supplied by an adverbial phrase, including prepositional phrases (“on Monday”, “down the corridor”, “on the document”; “the author’s works/correspondence” = “[works] of/by the author” resp. “[correspondence] to/with/by the author” ) and of course also noun phrases (“last week” or “home” or “today”) that omit the preposition and act adverbially.

    Technically even single words of other parts of speech acting as adverbs are still playing a standard role those for those other parts of speech with the same semantics but implied context in contexts where many would relabel them adverbs (“home” or “today”) and they represent and can be expanded or altered into the more complex prepositional phrases (“at home”, “at my home”, “in my home”, “in the home”, “this day”, “the other day”, “the next day”).

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      May 24, 2016 at 6:46 pm

      Excellent insights and examples, David! Thanks for sharing.

  15. Carolina Cervantes says:

    Apr 20, 2016 at 11:00 am

    Thank you so much, I am a intermediate English student, an it helped me so much!

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Apr 20, 2016 at 2:45 pm

      I’m happy to hear that, Carolina! :)

  16. wordy smith says:

    Apr 05, 2016 at 9:20 pm

    Thanks for the sharing very great information. I appreciate it.

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Apr 07, 2016 at 10:23 am

      Thanks for your comment!

  17. nenny says:

    Nov 07, 2015 at 11:27 pm

    Dear Ms. Trusler,
    I have been confused with the word ‘to’. When is it a preposition that should be followed by a noun/gerund, like in ‘I look forward to it/seeing you’ and when is it part of an infinitive, like in ‘ I used to live there’ ?
    Would you please help me know the difference / how to identify it?
    Thank you.

  18. Muazzam Shah says:

    Jul 24, 2015 at 4:00 am

    Your explanation has been very helpful. Kindly explain the definite article THE. To the best of my knowledge, THE is partly dependent and partly independent. “He lives in the United States of America.” We must use it here as it is Dependent. “I have bought a book.” or the book. It is up to us what we want to say. If the object is a common noun, “a book” is correct. If we want to show that the object is a particular noun, “the book” is correct. Kindly guide me and correct me if I have understood it correctly. Thanks for your precious time.

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Jul 27, 2015 at 12:47 pm

      Hi Muazzam,

      A good guideline is to think of “the” as specific (definite) and “a/an” as general (indefinite). (Note that we don’t usually use the terms independent/dependent for articles.) We use “the” when there is only one of the noun (the sun) or when it’s defined (you can see it or everyone knows which one it is; e.g., the United States / the movie that I told you about / not the red pen but the blue pen). We use “a/an” when there are many of the noun and it doesn’t matter which one (I need a pen) or when it’s the first mention (I bought a bike. The bike was green.).

      So in your example, “I have bought a book.” is much more common because it’s the first mention. Only if you were pointing to it specifically, where we both could see it, would you possibly say something like “The book (on the table over there) is really good. I just bought it yesterday.” or “I have bought the book that you told me about.” There is usually a clue in the sentence/context that it is specific (definite).

      There are a lot more tips and a useful chart in this blog post: http://bit.ly/ArticlesChart. I’ve also written a lesson on Articles (accessible if you’re a subscriber): http://bit.ly/ArticlesLesson.

      Hope that helps!
      Tanya :)

  19. Vicki says:

    Apr 17, 2014 at 7:57 pm

    Thank you so much; you’ve helped me a lot. So to make sure I have understood the difference,in the following sentence “up” is an adverb, isn’t it?”I’m sure I could turn something up to satisfy the basic condition.”

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Apr 17, 2014 at 8:36 pm

      I’m glad this post helped you, Vicki! In your sentence, you’re correct that “up” is an adverb because it’s part of the phrasal verb “turn up”. However, I’ve never heard the phrasal verb “turn up” used with a subject that’s a person. It’s much more common with an subject that’s an object, as in “Something will turn up.” It’s not correct to say “I could turn something up”, so be careful how you use it. (Your sentence could be rewritten as “I’m sure something will turn up to satisfy the basic conditions.”)

      If you use the verb “turn” plus the preposition “up”, then you could have a subject that’s a person, as in “She turned up the radio.” But, of course, the meaning here is different than the phrasal verb “turn up”.

      • Baby says:

        May 05, 2016 at 11:41 am

        Hi Tanya,

        So far as I know turn up also means to arrive. In that sense we might use it with a person as a subject.e.g. He turned up late for the party.

        Regards

        • Tanya Trusler says:

          May 05, 2016 at 12:23 pm

          Great example of “turn up” with a person as a subject! I didn’t have the meaning “to arrive” in mind.

      • David says:

        May 22, 2016 at 2:57 am

        ”I’m sure I could turn something up” is perfectly grammatical and I have heard this used by native speakers. But perhaps the confusion is that it goes back to the root meaning of “turn” rather than the metaphorical (arguably intransitive) meaning of “turn up”.

        Of course, you can turn up a card or turn up the ground, and you do this when you are looking for a particular card, or something buried in the ground. The derivative meaning of a “solution” rather than a physical object “turning up” implies that with the current “turning over” of “ideas” we are confident we will eventually turn up the solution. The physical object can indeed be a person or a pet you are looking for.

  20. Madam.ph says:

    Mar 09, 2014 at 3:51 am

    Thank you so much. I’m teaching my Thai students about adverbs and they ask me how they can differenciate prepositional phrase of place with adverb of place. They are just beginners. So your suggestion helps me to decide if I should focus on the differences or not.

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Mar 10, 2014 at 4:26 pm

      Thanks for sharing!

  21. Zyan says:

    Mar 02, 2014 at 7:19 pm

    With the Merriam-Webster’s definition and taking the two examples you compared at the end:
    1)Go down the stairs. (preposition)
    2)Lay down your book. (adverb)

    I think that at least in this case we can actually say that the rule IS that as long as we can move the object, it is always an adverb.
    On the first example the subject is the one who is moving “I go down the stairs” and NOT the stairs, that is why it is taken as a preposition. And on the second example it is the book that is moving, and not the subject.

    Still, I may be wrong. I’m also confused, and your post helped me a lot with the project I had to work in for college. Thank you!

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Mar 03, 2014 at 6:38 pm

      Hi Zyan,

      That’s an interesting point! “If there’s an object that moves, it’s an adverb”—I wonder if this works most of the time. It still doesn’t help us with sentences without objects such as “She sat down” (adverb), but it would be nice to have a “rule” for the cases with objects!

      I wrote this almost a year ago, and it still makes my head spin! Thanks for your input. :)

  22. Tanya Trusler says:

    Aug 12, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    Hi Sandy,

    Tearing out your hair…yep, I’ve been there! Thanks for letting us know what you think.

    In that first example (“They set the cake down on the table”), you mentioned that we can remove “on the table” with no difference to meaning. I agree with that, but can we remove “the cake”? In this case, “they set down” doesn’t make sense alone, so I think it’s similar to “lay down”, which does make sense but only because it’s a whole other meaning, in the second example (“Lay down your book for a minute”). Because we need the objects to make the meaning clear, I’d argue that “down” is a preposition in both cases, and not an adverb as Merriam-Webster suggested. Yep, still confused! ;)

  23. Sandy says:

    Aug 12, 2013 at 10:49 am

    Thank you for posting this. I’ve been tearing my hair out trying to make sense of conflicting information on other websites. Just when I think I’ve understood the difference between an adverb and a preposition, I read something like the examples you cited from Merriam-Webster and start doubting my grasp of the subject all over again.

    I’d say that the first example is an adverb (because you could omit ‘on the table’ without changing the meaning) and the second is a preposition (because the object ‘your book’ is essential for the meaning – if you said ‘lay down for a minute’ without mentioning the book’, the sense is completely altered).

    I guess the lesson is that even the authorities can get confused by these grey areas of grammar.

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