The definition normally given for adverb is similar to the following one:

a word or phrase that modifies or qualifies an adjective, verb, or other adverb or a word-group

Preposition is normally described using the following words:

a word governing, and usually preceding, a noun or pronoun and expressing a relation to another word or element in the clause

The NOAD, for which twice is only an adverb, uses the following examples for twice:

She had been married twice.
The tablets should be taken twice a day.
I'm twice your age.
an engine twice as big as the original

The same dictionary reports the following examples of prepositions:

the man on the platform
she arrived after dinner
What did you do it for

Looking at the examples, "she arrived after dinner" seems similar to "I am twice your age"; using the definition of preposition, I could say that twice express a relation between I and your age, in the same way after expresses a relation between she and dinner.
The man on the platform seem similar to the man twice your age; if on is a preposition on the first phrase, twice should be a preposition in the second one.

Giving the definitions for preposition, and adverb, it seems I could use classify a word as adverb, or preposition.

Are there more restrictive criteria, to distinguish a preposition from an adverb? Is the relation between two words used to be define preposition restricted to a specific set of relations? For example, on in the man on the platform is a preposition because the relation between man and platform is a specific one.


2 Answers 2


As retired Professor of Linguistics John Lawler says here:

twice is called an adverb in dictionaries because "adverb" is the traditional wastebasket category.

From this Wiktionary entry on "number words":

In some grammars, number words get assigned a dedicated part of speech, called "number" or "numeral". This part of speech can subsume cardinal numbers and ordinal numbers, and some other classes of number words.
These other words would in English include "double" (adjective), "triple" (adjective), "doubly", "triply", "twice", "thrice".

I've no reason to disagree with this Yahoo Answer to What part of speech is the word after?:

behind in place or position; following behind: men lining up one after the other.

behind; in the rear: Jill came tumbling after.

later in time; next; subsequent; succeeding: In after years we never heard from him.

subsequent to the time that: after the boys left.

Consider also my own question on ELU asking What exactly is an “adverb”?, where the answers basically net down to the fact that a word is an adverb only when and if it's used adverbially. Any given word isn't necessarily an adverb all the time; the categorisation attaches to the usage, not the word itself.

I think what all this amounts to is you reach a certain point in classification of "parts of speech" where the process is no longer helpful. Such terminology is a "post-hoc" attempt to describe how we actually use language, but it's an imperfect descriptive framework.

It's therefore my opinion that in a case like this, OP's attempt to narrow down the description so he can unambiguously classify specific "awkward" words as one thing or another is really a lost cause anyway.

  • 3
    Exactly. Short form: Parts of speech do not categorize words but uses of words. Feb 22, 2013 at 14:33
  • 1
    Yah. As Dr John keeps telling us, what matters is what it does, not what you name it. Feb 22, 2013 at 16:00
  • 1
    There are different words for what a word is and what a word does. Usually is an adverb, but it performs the role of an adverbial in the clause I usually get up later on Sundays. Feb 22, 2013 at 16:51
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers. Oh no. An adjective can be part of the Subject, part of the Object, part or all of the Complement, or part of the Adverbial. An adjective can't itself, at least in Standard English, be an Adverbial. Things like Subjects and Adverbials are functions. Things like nouns and adjectives are categories. Feb 22, 2013 at 20:06
  • 2
    @FumbleFingers. Yes, that page seems to be on the right lines. Huddleston and Pullum illustrate the difference between function and category by considering the sentence Some people complained about it. They say ‘Function is a relational concept: when we say that some people is subject we are describing the relation between it and complained, or between it and the whole clause . . . A category, by contrast, is a class of expressions which are grammatically alike.’ ('A Student's Introduction to English Grammar', p. 14) Feb 23, 2013 at 8:37

One way that I distinguish an adverb from a preposition, is the removing test; you can remove an adverb, and the sentence would still make sense, but not a preposition.

Adverb: We went out last night (We went last night).

Preposition: We went out the door (We went the door).

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .