Prepositions Vs Adverbs

The study of ‘appropriate prepositions’ and ‘adverbs’ belongs mainly to the province of English idiom. There are various words which work as preposition at certain places while as adverbs at other places, they do the function of adverbs; as:

i. Have you seen a balloon go up?

ii. The little boy climbed up the stairs.

In sentence (i) the word ‘up’ adds something to the meaning of the verb ‘go’. It is, therefore, an adverb (here) modifying the verb ‘go’.

In sentence (ii) the word ‘up’ shows the relation between ‘climbing of the little boy’ and the ‘stairs’. It is, therefore, a preposition governing the noun stairs.

Similarly, we can see numerous time’s words which are prepositions when they are used with a noun or pronoun and are adverbs when they are used alone and modify a word in the sentence; as:


i. I could not come before.

ii. Can he come in?

iii. The wheel comes off.

iv. Let’s move on.

v. Please sit down and listen

vi. What are you talking about?

vii. I left him behind.

viii. Come down.

ix. I have read the book through.


i. I came the day before yesterday.

ii. Is he in his room?

iii. The driver jumped off the car.

iv. The book lies on the table.

v. He rules over a vast area.

vi. Don’t bitter about the street.

vii. He hides behind the door.

viii. He runs down the road.

ix. The path leads through the bushes.


From the above examples, it can be observed that when words or phrases act as adverbs, they answer one of the five adverb questions:

When? Where? Why? How? Under what conditions?

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Example: We stood in the rain for hours.

This sentence contains two prepositional phrases used as adverbs.

In the rain tells us where we stood, and for hours tells us when we stood.

Example: Congress passed the Mining Act for the wrong reasons.

Adverb question: Passed why?
Answer: for the wrong reasons.

Thus, many phrases which are used as prepositions can be used by themselves as adverbs. For example, the following sentence does not contain a prepositional phrase:

Turn off the light.

Off is an adverb that describes the verb turn, and light is the object of the verb (not the preposition). Light answers the question “turn what?”, not the question “of what?”

Exercise In the sentences below, which of the five adverb questions does each prepositional phrase answer?

Example: The laundry room is located (in the back) (of the house).

1. The mail is usually delivered in the morning on Saturdays.

2. She looked at the baby for hours.

3. In a few minutes the candle will burn out completely.

4. This week our new teacher cancelled all of his classes.

5. The students passed in the final copies of their essays.

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