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I met a friend of mine at the crossroads up ahead.

What is the meaning of this phrase? What is it grammatically called when a preposition followed by another?

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The collocation up ahead could be understood as the first preposition taking the following preposition (phrase) as its object—that is a common construction, as in He took it from under the bed.

In this case however I think it is better understood as stacked preposition phrases. That too is common, as in He drove from New York to Boston through Providence or He looked out over the street.

In fact, up and ahead are likely to be near-synonyms here: unless the context requires up to signify that the path actually rises to the crossroads, it may be taken to mean approximately farther along [the path] in the direction we are going, and ahead of course means in the direction we are going/facing. Once more, this sort of duplication is quite common, particularly in colloquial registers:

They live over beyond Ryker's Crag.
We dug down below the surface.
They sure do talk funny down under.

Duplication may be deliberately intensive, but as often as not it's mere colorful repetition—which is probably why your more pompous stylists are quick to condemn it as “superfluous” or “redundant”


I use the term phrase here in a technical sense: a single word is considered a ‘phrase’ when by itself it plays the syntactic role which is ordinarily played by a multiword phrase. For instance, proper names and most pronouns are determinate noun phrases (NPs), not nouns(Ns) or nominals(N′s). Prepositions deployed without an object (‘intransitive prepositions’) ordinarily act as preposition phrases, and some prepositions act only as preposition phrases. Ahead for instance never takes an object: it's a PP, like in front, and if you want to provide a relative reference you have to say ahead of X.

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  • This surprises me. Couldn't we make the case that ahead is an adverbial here? In "The dog ran ahead" it seems like one, and in "The dog ran up ahead", the whole thing acts like an adverb. In the OP's sentence, it acts like a locative adverb phrase. Commented Jul 29, 2017 at 23:55
  • @P.E.Dant That's certainly the traditional way of reading it. But contemporary grammars tend to regard these preposition phrases as complements of the verb, not modifiers: particularly with verbs of motion they express physical or figurative {locations/goals/origins/paths} which semantically characterize the subject rather than the verb. After the action of your sentence it is the dog, not the running, which is (up) ahead. Commented Jul 30, 2017 at 0:00
  • I can clearly see that the phrase modifies the dog in "The dog up ahead is running" and "The dog is up ahead ." In "The dog ran up ahead", though, it seems to tell us where he was running, and I can't see why that isn't a garden variety locative. In the OP's sentence, it tells us the location of the crossreads where the meeting took place. Guess I'm still not thoroughly modern. Commented Jul 30, 2017 at 0:07
  • @P.E.Dant Ah, I see what you're getting at. There's an ambiguity here: I took up ahead as the trajectory or goal of the action, where you intended it as the location of the action: the dog did all his running up ahead. In that case, however, it is an 'adverbial' only in the traditional loose sense: I would call it an adclausal--an adjunct to the clause rather than to the verb. Note that you can move it from the back to the front: Up ahead (the dog ran/ran the dog} (depending on whether it's integrated or supplemental). Commented Jul 30, 2017 at 0:17
  • @P.E.Dant In any case, I'm not suggesting that up ahead modifies the dog but that it's a complement of the verb. Commented Jul 30, 2017 at 0:19

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