It seems that phrases are viewed in two ways: one of function; other of construction.

It somehow dawned upon me that, barring the "infinitives" all prepositial phrases(PPs), whatever be its components, are mostly adverbials in function, if not used as a subject in a sentence. Here are certain representative, though not exhaustive, examples to drive home my point.

He came 'to me'.

This will last 'for ever'.

He is 'about to go'.

He is ignorant of 'how to swim'

It depends 'on how you do'

What do you know 'regarding this'.

The book is 'on the table'.

So is it correct to view PPs as mostly adverbials?

However, such PPs, when governing a noun/pronoun do they become adjctivals?

1 Answer 1


Prepositional phrases play a variety of syntactic functions: they may act not only as adverbials but attributive adjectivals modifying nouns and noun phrases, as complements of verbs and adjectives, and even as nominals.

In fact, I'm reluctant to call any of the PP you offer adverbials. Note that there is no ordinary 'core' adverb which could express what any of these express:

  • He came to me ... locative complement of a verb of motion—an argument of the verb designating the target, which is the subject he's concluding position

  • He is about to go ... predicate complement of a copular verb, describing the subject's state

  • He is ignorant of how to swim ... complement of the adjective, designating the matter which the subject's ignorance concerns

  • What do you know regarding this? ... predicate complement, modifying the subject/patient what

  • The book is on the table ... locative predicate complement, designating the position of the subject the book

  • It depends on how you do ... locative complement of the verb designating the origin from which the subject it figuratively hangs

The remaining PP is trickier:

  • This will last forever.

You can argue that forever might be replaced with the adverb eternally. I suggest, however, that it can be argued with equal cogency that last is a sort of copular which attributes a specific quality to the subject—viz., duration*mdash;and that forever is a temporal locative which modifies that quality and thus modifies the subject itself.

  • @StonyB I fail to understand what you call "complements of verb and adjectives ". Such words are treated as adverbs under general prescription. More over, we normally know that complements do not require prepositions to be a part of a sentence. Oct 15, 2015 at 2:02
  • @BaridBaranAcharya Traditional grammar treats them as modifiers, but more contemporary grammar distinguishes adverbials, which describe the action of a verb or quality of an adjective, from complements, which are constituents which "complete" the sense of these terms: they may be either obligatory, as in put the book on the table, or optional, as in I saw him across the street. Oct 15, 2015 at 14:16
  • @BaridBaranAcharya Nouns and adjectives also take complements: an expert in 19th-century art, familiar with this topic. Oct 15, 2015 at 14:20

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