Syntactic Theory

The Preposition

Tests to identify prepositions

  • there is no clear semantic criterion.
  • since prepositions don't show morphological change in English, there is no morphological criterion either.
  • synctactic test:
    • Prepositions occur right before an NP, i.e. in the environment:
      __ NP

It is not entirely clear whether preposition is an open or a closed word class:

  • arguments for treating P as an major class:
    • the preposition anent (in line with/ in front of) is probably about to disappear from the language (see Kaplan 1989, p. 158)
    • forming complex preposition may show a certain degree of productivity/openness: on behalf of, by means of, ...
  • arguments for treating P as a minor class:
    • Some prepositions only occur to fulfill grammatical requirements, i.e. they have a functional/grammatical meaning.
      Examples: a teacher of chemistry, be keen on ice cream, wait for Chris, ...
    • the set of prepositions is fairly stable.

Categories: Glossary