I'm aware of the adverbialization of the word "home" in English.

I go home. I read letters at home/home.

  • But in what kind of sentences could we find that home and at home can't be interchangeable?
    (I need a generalization, i.e a general rule, if possible of course.)

  • So, is there an exception to the use of home when it creates ambiguity?
    As, would the use of a transitive verb create an ambiguity?

For instance "to study", and "to write".

(1) I study home.
(2) I write home.

Would any of the (1) or (2) ambiguous, because used with a transitive verb (I write letters, I study something)?

For (2) I write from home? To home? Being at home?
Can it be ambiguous in any way, with the adverbialization of "home" in English?

home, adv.
1. a. To or towards one's home, house, or abode; to the place, region, or country where one lives.

  • 2
    I wouldn't call "home" an adverb at all. In examples like "Kim is coming home" and "Kim is home", it's best seen as a preposition. And in "Kim is at home", it's a noun, meaning 'place of residence'. See here: link.
    – BillJ
    Oct 23 '19 at 15:42
  • That is why some linguists say that home is always a noun Oct 24 '19 at 2:56
  • It's very controversial, always a noun, or an adverbialised noun. A lot of linguistics, and a lot of theories and explanations. That's the problem.
    – Quidam
    Oct 24 '19 at 11:41

Adverbial "home" works like other little words in English that follow a word for a motion and indicate the destination of that motion. There is no standard term in common use for these words, but it would be reasonable to call them destination particles.* Here are some examples:

Be sure to take the trash out tonight.

Next, we should carry the couch up.

Come inside before it gets dark.

Thompson's pass inside never found its target.

The King called back the courtiers whom previously he had sent away.

Notice, as in the case of "inside", that these can often serve as an adjective as well as an adverb (modifying the noun "pass" above).

Now here are some well known sentences and phrases to memorize, all containing "home" as a destination. Most other usages of "home" as a destination particle work by analogy with these. I've marked both "home" and the word or phrase that it modifies in bold:

Come home before it gets dark.

Go home!

And this little piggy cried "wee wee wee" all the way home.

The trip home always seems shorter than the trip there.

Do you know the way home?

The show was good, but it was nothing to write home about.

We're almost home.

The example from This Little Piggy is instructive.† "Cried" doesn't indicate motion. The motion in that sentence is provided by the phrase all the way, which functions as an adverb indicating that the piggy cried while going somewhere. The word home here works in the usual manner of destination particles: it follows the word or phrase for the thing whose destination it supplies. It indicates that "all the way" terminates at "home".

"Home" as the object of a verb

If "home" doesn't follow a word or phrase for some sort of motion, or at least something that has a destination (e.g. "The road home is full of potholes"), then "home" won't be heard as a destination particle. So, if you say:

I study home.

a listener will understand "home" as the object of "study", so the sentence means that you study some place or object that you call "home". There is no ambiguity regarding whether "home" functions as an object or a modifier, in this sentence or in any of the other examples.

Letters home

Now you're ready to understand what happens in this sentence:

I read letters home.

A listener will understand "home" as the destination of the letters, not as the location where you read the letters. If the notion of destination can somehow make sense with whatever preceded "home", then "home" can comprehensibly play the role of destination particle. But there can be no rule precisely demarcating how far you can push the analogy with the very well known examples above and with other destination particles. The following sentence goes too far and will be heard as ungrammatical:

The bomb squad inspected packages home.

Adverbial "home" as location, not destination

Here is something else that a rule likely can't fully characterize. There are a few contexts where adverbial "home" indicates a location but not a destination, analogous with here and there in these same contexts:

This little piggy stayed home.

Are you home?

Nobody's home.

We'll be home when you arrive.

I don't want to sit home all day.

This doesn't generalize. If you memorize the above sentences, you'll know pretty well when this sense of "home" works in English. It is possible to use "home" in this way with other verbs, but that will usually be heard as creative or unconventional language. Even "sit home" is somewhat unusual.

* There is specialized terminology for these words, in use by linguists, mentioned here, but that terminology clashes so strongly with the terminology in common use that I think it introduces more confusion than it prevents.

Everyone who learns English must memorize This Little Piggy. Its five short lines teach a great deal and are a widely recognized cultural landmark.

  • @Quidam I've never seen this topic covered in a dictionary. It's somewhat outside the scope of dictionaries, since it's grammar—and it's a matter of grammar that is seldom explained, since English lacks common terminology for it. However, motion is suggested by "to or toward". Note that English invokes motion metonymically for spatial (or other) relationships more than most languages do, as illustrated here. So, you can say "The road home is in poor condition" even though "road" doesn't literally denote motion.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Oct 23 '19 at 15:35
  • @Quidam I'll edit the message to clarify that the motion need not be explicit.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Oct 23 '19 at 15:36
  • I would have no issue with “inspected packages home” and I don’t see a reason to object to it. I’m sure there’s a line but I don’t think that’s it. Something less mail-like perhaps (“apples home” sounds abnormal, but even that has plausible contexts). Oct 24 '19 at 7:25

When you say "at home" you are specifying where you are, or where an action is taking place:

I write at home.
I study at home.
I work at home.

All of these mean that you are carrying out the action indicated by the verb (write/study/work) whilst in your own home.

"Go home" and "write home" idiomatically mean that you are writing to your home address, or going to your home. You can also walk home or drive home, meaning you are walking or driving towards your home.

"Write home" would, therefore, suggest you are presently somewhere other than your home and writing a letter to your family who are still at home; although, idiomatically, many people continue to refer to the action of writing to their parents' address as "writing home", even after they move out and have their own home.

We don't say "study home", or "work home" - those just are not idiomatic. However, we might say "home study", or "home working" ("homework" tends to mean school work done at home).

  • 1/ but if I say study home, would it mean that I study the home? 2/ So, there's no rule, it's just that it's not idiomatic. I'm a bit disappointed. When is it idiomatic, what is the list of words? (need rule)
    – Quidam
    Oct 23 '19 at 10:03
  • And I sleep home? Are you sure there's no hidden rule, or reason, behind the possible use, and the impossible use? That's was my question.
    – Quidam
    Oct 23 '19 at 11:10
  • "Study home" has no meaning that I am aware of. I suggested that "home study" would be understood as "studying at home". There is no rule. Likewise "sleep home" means nothing. "Sleep" has no direction (unlike drive, or walk) so you sleep at home.
    – Astralbee
    Oct 23 '19 at 12:46
  • @Quidam So idiomatic language has no hard rule that lets you distinguish it from other language other than it is natural to the native speaker. Any word or phrase could become idiomatic if it becomes commonly used and understood. That means that your phrase study home could at some point become idiomatic even though it is not currently.
    – gmiley
    Oct 23 '19 at 17:28

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