Adpositional phrase


Adpositional phrase

An adpositional phrase is a linguistics term that includes (a) prepositional phrase(s) (which are usually found in head-first languages like English) and (b) postpositional phrases (usually found in head-final languages like Dutch). The difference between the two is simply one of word order.

Both types of adpositional phrases are a syntactic category: a phrase which is treated in certain ways as a unit by a language's rules of syntax. An adpositional phrase is composed of an adposition (in the head position, which is why it lends its name to the phrase) and usually a complement such as a noun phrase. ("Adposition" is similarly a generic term for either a preposition or a postposition.) These phrases generally act as complements and adjuncts of noun phrases and verb phrases.

Prepositional phrases

The bolded phrases are examples of prepositional phrases in English:
*She is on the computer.
*He could hear her across the room.
*Sarah walked down the ramp.
*They walked to their school.
*Garrett ate in the kitchen.Prepositional phrases have a preposition as the head of the phrase.

The first example could be diagrammed (using simplified modern notation):

IP / NP VP
| N V
| PPShe is / / P NP
/ on Det N

the computer

Where by convention:
* IP = Inflectional phrase (sentence)
* NP = Noun phrase
* N = Noun
* VP = Verb phrase
* PP = Prepositional phrase
* P = Preposition
* Det = Determiner

The diagram shows that the prepositional phrase in this sentence is composed of two parts: a preposition and a noun phrase. The preposition is in the "head" position, and the noun phrase is in the "complement" position. Because English is a head-first language, we usually see the head before the complement (or any "adjuncts") when we actually read the sentence. (However, the head comes after the "specifier", such as the determiner "the" in the noun phrase above.)

See adposition for more examples of complements found in prepositional phrases.

Prepositional phrases generally act as complements and adjuncts of noun phrases and verb phrases. For example:

*The man "from China" was enjoying his noodles. "(Adjunct of a noun phrase)"
*She ran "under him". "(Adjunct of a verb phrase)"
*He gave money "to the cause". "(Oblique complement of a verb phrase)"
*A student "of physics". "(Complement of a noun phrase)"
*She argued "with him". "(Complement of a verb phrase)"

A prepositional phrase should not be confused with the sequence formed by the particle and the direct object of a phrasal verb, as in "turn on the light". This sequence is structurally distinct from a prepositional phrase. In this case, "on" and "the light" do not form a unit; they combine independently with the verb "turn".

Another common point of confusion is that the word "to" may appear either as a preposition or as a verbal particle in infinitive verb phrases, such as "to run for president".

Postpositional phrases

Postpositions are usually found in head-final languages such as Basque, Estonian, Finnish, Japanese, Bengali and Tamil. The word or other morpheme that corresponds to an English preposition occurs after its complement, hence the name "post"position. The following examples are from Japanese:

*"mise ni" ("to the store")
*"ie kara" ("from the house")
*"hashi de" ("with chopsticks" or "on the bridge")

And from Finnish, where postpositions have further developed into case endings:

*"kauppaan" ("to the store")
*"talosta" ("from the house")
*"puikoilla" ("with chopsticks")

Postpositional phrases generally act as complements and adjuncts of noun phrases and verb phrases.

ee also

*Transformational-generative grammar
*Structural linguistics
*Phrase chunking


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