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Concourse 2

Place adjunct adverbials


Here, we are considering how English refers to where or to where.
In many grammars (especially those written for learners) a distinction is made, rightly, between adverbs and prepositional phrases.  For example:

  1. He looked upwards
  2. He looked to the sky

In the first sentence, we have a place adverb, upwards, and in the second we have a prepositional phrase of place, to the sky.  However, both the prepositional phrase and the adverb modify how we see the verb look so they both function as adverbials and, to be more precise, as adjuncts, integral to the clause but omissible because they add extra information.
For this reason, this guide will cover all place adverbials, and not distinguish except in passing between adverbs proper, such as
    here, there, northwards, aboard etc.
and prepositional phrases such as
    in my house, at my desk, to the office, to the south, on the boat etc.
Hence the title.

We are only considering adverbial adjuncts in what follows, i.e., adjuncts which modify verb phrases.  Adjuncts can also modify, for example, noun phrases as in:
    The argument after dinner was soon settled
in which the adjunct, after dinner, modifies the noun phrase the argument
    She was very happy

in which the adjunct very modifies the adjective happy
    He drove too quickly

in which the adjunct too modifies the adverb quickly.
The technical terms for these sorts of adjuncts are, respectively, adnomial, adadjectival and adadverbial but those are not terms which should delay you or your learners.

open and closed

Open and closed word classes

Prepositions are traditionally referred to as members of a closed class of words because it is, in theory, possible to make a complete and exhaustive list of all the prepositions in a language.  In English, a full list would be over 200 items long.  If you would like a list of 200-odd prepositions, there is one here.
Adverbs on the other hand, are an open class of words because it is possible, in theory, to create an unlimited number of new ones.  These may not appear in a dictionary (by definition) but few people would have a problem identifying the new adverb in
    He staggered home unsoberly.
Any attempt to provide an exhaustive list of adverbs is, therefore, doomed.

However, when we consider adjuncts of place, the situation is reversed.  Prepositional phrases, rather than prepositions, because they consist of the preposition plus its complement (usually a noun) form an open class because the number of nouns which can act as complements of prepositions is, in theory at least, unlimited.  Nouns are members of an open class and new ones are continually created.
Prepositions which function within place adjuncts form, however, a closed class so in theory again, they can be listed and the list may be exhaustive.
Here's a short list of 90-odd of the most common, and probably the only ones you might consider teaching:

aboard, about, above, abroad, across, after, ahead, along, alongside, anywhere, around, ashore, aside, astern, away, back, before, behind, below, beneath, between, beyond, by, down, downhill, downriver, downstairs, downstream, downward(s), east, eastwards, elsewhere, everywhere, far, forward, here, hereabouts, home, in, indoors, inland, inshore, inside, inward(s), left, locally, near, nearby, north, northwards, nowhere, off, offshore, on, opposite, out, outdoors, outside, outward(s), over, overboard, overhead, overland, overseas, past, right, round, sideways, skyward, somewhere, south, southwards, there, through, throughout, under, underfoot, underground, underneath, up, uphill, upriver, upstairs, upstream, upward(s), west, west, westwards, within

If you would like that list as a PDF document, click here.  That list is long enough but doesn't include some specialised nautical terms such as starboard, larboard and aft or some uncommon adverbs such as moonwards, sunwards and so on.  The suffix -wards can be used with almost any noun representing a place or destination so new formulations such as Londonwards, are always possible.  There are probably other omissions, too.
(One other small note is that American English usage generally favours -ward rather than the British English -wards.)

Here, we are discussing these words in their costume of adverbials.  Many of them can slide across word classes so, for example, we can have
    An upstairs room (adjective)
    A voice from the beyond (noun)
    Home is where the heart is (noun)
    A north wind (adjective)
    Somewhere interesting (determiner)
    An offshore breeze (adjective)
    It's cold in the north (noun)
and so on.

The most important word-class change for our purposes is that many of these adverbs are also prepositions in other circumstances.  Common ones are: around, behind, down, in, off, on, over, so we can have the words used in both ways:

Adverb use Preposition use
He came around They walked around the town
She fell behind The hid behind the curtain
The building fell down They walked down the road
Are you going in? I left it in my bedroom
The bracket fell off They pulled it off the wall
I drove on Put it on the table
He knocked the glass over I poured water over her

It will not have escaped everyone's notice that the fact that some prepositions also function as adverbs explains much about phrasal verb use.  For example, using up as a preposition in something straightforward such as:
    I passed the book up to him
leads quite naturally to unpacking the meaning of the adverb particle in
    I brought the subject of money up
Many other ostensibly opaque meanings of particles in phrasal verbs can be explained by reference to what the word means when it is used as a preposition and employing a little imagination to see how the meaning is extended, but not fundamentally altered, when it is an adverb.


Adjunct or adverbial
PP complement verbs

We should pause for a moment to consider another slightly technical distinction: the difference between an obligatory adverbial and an adverbial adjunct.  Both are adverbials but they differ in how they are used.

  1. By definition (adjunct means a non-essential extra), adjuncts provide optional data and removing them does not affect the central meaning of the clause.
    For example:
        He ran to the door
        He ran off
    contain the prepositional phrase adjunct, to the door or the adverb adjunct off, but the clause can stand alone and still maintain its meaning as
        He ran
  2. However, in:
        I put my laptop on my desk
        I put my laptop away
    we have a non-adjunct adverbial phrase, on my desk and the non-adjunct adverb away, and we cannot omit either and leave a comprehensible clause:
        *I put my laptop

What we are dealing with here is a semantic rather than grammatical distinction because some verbs in some of their senses require adverbial complementation.  These verbs are often called PP complement transitive verbs because they are always transitive and require a prepositional phrase or other adverbial complement.  The verbs are usually those referring to causing something to be somewhere and they include:
    keep, lay, place, plonk, position, put, rest, set, site, situate, stick, stuff.
There is also one verb, venture, which requires an adverbial complement so we allow, e.g.:
    She ventured into the cave
but not:
    *She ventured.
In none of these cases can we have a well-formed sentence which lacks a place adverbial although the polysemous nature of some of them makes it possible in certain senses.  For example, we cannot have:
    *John laid the book
    *I placed the vase
    *I stuck the suitcase
    *She put the car
    *She plonked herself
    *The woman rested her head
    *They set the chair

and so on although, of course, the following with other senses of the verb are possible:
    The chicken laid an egg
    I placed my bet
    I rested my case
    Mary set the clock

    We ventured a question
and so on.
The verb stay can be included when it means live temporarily so
    I stayed in a hotel
is possible but, in the same sense of the verb,
    *I stayed
is not.
When stay simply means remain, it requires no complementing adverbial so
    John left but I stayed
is acceptable.


Position and destination

If you have followed the guide to prepositional phrases, linked in the list of related guides at the end, you will know that one essential distinction is between those that refer to direction and those that refer to place.  For example, the prepositions into, onto, past can only refer to movement to a destination.  We allow, therefore:
    Put it into the box
    I nailed it onto the wall
    I ran past the shop
but not:
    *It is into the box
    *It's onto the wall
    *I stood past the shop
(There are times when past refers to a place as in, e.g.:
    The bank is past the next junction
but, even here, there is a sense of direction because it is implicitly necessary to go past the junction to arrive at the bank.)
In one of these cases, we are dealing with an adverbial which is not an adjunct because omitting it leaves a malformed clause as we saw above.
We can have:
    I nailed it
    I ran
but not
    *I put.

So it is with omissible adverb adjuncts:
after, along, aside, before, by, downward(s), forward, inward(s), left, outward(s), over, past, right, round, sideways, skyward, upward(s) refer solely to direction and not to place so we can allow, e.g.:
    I stood aside
    The car slid sideways
    I sauntered past
but not:
    *I remained aside
    *I was sideways
    *I stayed past

The first major distinction is, then, between place adjuncts of position and place adjuncts of destination.
Because these distinctions are specific to English in terms of which words act in which ways, much error can arise unless the teaching focuses on this fundamental use distinction.  If your learners are making mistakes such as:
    *I was sideways
    *The house lay past
    *He sat left

then a failure to distinguish in teaching and presenting the forms is probably the cause.


Stative and dynamic verb use

There are two basic rules:

  1. Direction adjuncts cannot be used with any verbs which do not refer to motion or direction.
  2. Position adjuncts can be used with all verbs whether the use is dynamic, stative or copular.

Exemplification will help a little.

  1. Directional adjuncts with verbs of motion or direction:
    1. We allow the use with these sorts of verbs:
      1. Turn right here
      2. I pushed it forwards
      3. She shot round the corner
      4. I drove past your house
      5. Step aside, please
    2. but we do not allow the use with stative verb uses or copular verbs:
      1. *It stayed forwards
      2. *It is right (where on the right is intended)
      3. *I remained past
      4. *It seemed along
  2. Positional adjuncts with all kinds of verbs, including the copular verb be:
    1. We allow:
      1. It seems warmer ashore
      2. I have it here
      3. He stayed home
      4. He went home
      5. The party will be upstairs
      6. The party is happening upstairs
      7. The house lies round the corner
    2. but we do not, of course, allow progressive forms with copular verbs:
      1. *The party is being upstairs
      2. *It is appearing colder in the north

Exceptionally, some adjuncts which are only directional can be used with a copular verb but the meaning is that the state or direction of movement has been or will be achieved so they are really stative uses.  For example:
    The deadline will be past by the time you finish
    She will be along in a minute

The story so far.
Here's a summary of the distinctions we have made with some simple examples.



Ordering adjuncts

Here, again, there are two rules (of thumb):

  1. Put the reference to smaller places first, so prefer:
        He works in a restaurant in London
        He works in London in a restaurant
        She went to a party in a house in Margate
        She went to a party in Margate in a house
  2. Direction adjuncts are conceptually closer to the verb than position adjuncts.  So, put the direction adjunct first and the position adjunct second, and prefer:
        He went upstairs to his room
        He went to his room upstairs (where upstairs can be interpreted as a postpositioned adjective)
        They dropped me off near my office
        *They dropped me near my office off
  3. Additionally, prepositional phrase adjuncts usually come after adverb adjuncts so we get, e.g.:
        They walked down to the pub
    not *They walked to the pub down
        She drove westwards to the mountains
    not *She drove to the mountains westwards
        Students can eat here in the canteen
    not Students can eat in the canteen here (in which the word here modifies the canteen, not the verb)
        She went home to her father's house
    not *She went to her father's house home

To avoid the consequences of emphasising the position adjunct by placing it near the end of the clause (a phenomenon known as end focus), it can be placed in the initial position, for example:
    In Britain, people change to a new job every 8 years on average
rather than
    People change to a new job every 8 years on average in Britain (which over-emphasises the position adjunct).

Place prepositional phrases are routinely put in the initial position so we can have either
    In the drawer I found my new socks
    I found my new socks in the drawer
with very little change in meaning although fronting the prepositional phrase lends it a degree of markedness.
There are discourse constraints operating however in longer texts because the fronted position for the adjunct implies that it is marked in some way.  So, for example, we would normally prefer:
    I looked everywhere for my car keys, even in the fridge, and in the fridge I found them.
    I looked everywhere for my car keys, even in the fridge, and I found them in the fridge.

Place adjuncts appear in the initial position frequently, but there are restrictions:

  1. Both position and direction adjuncts prefer the final position so the more natural form is:
        It was raining hard outside
    rather than
        Outside it was raining hard
        He was sitting quietly in the garden
    rather than
        In the garden he was sitting quietly
    because the fronted position emphasises (marks) the adjunct.
  2. The adverbs here and there are, however, often fronted, even in informal speech and especially with pronouns:
        Here she is at last
        There he goes
    with nouns, too, the initial position is common but the subject and verb must be reversed:
        Here comes Mary
        Here is your newspaper
        There goes the neighbourhood
        There's his sister
    This inversion does not happen when the subject is a pronoun:
        Here he is
        *Here is he
    (Inversion also does not happen with time adjuncts
        Then John arrived
        *Then arrived John)
  3. When the subject of the verb is a noun (rather than a pronoun), the subject and verb are reversed, without, as is often the case with inversion, employing the do operator.  For example:
        Into the house marched the police
        In the kitchen stood her sister
        Out went the lights
        Over went all the glasses

        Below the village lies a wonderful restaurant
    Often, with this kind of inversion, we need the do or did operator with present simple and past simple forms so we get, for example:
        Never did I hear of such stupidity
        Rarely do we meet nowadays

    However, with these place adverbials no such use is required, so:
        *Into the house did the police march
        *Below the village does lie a wonderful restaurant
    are disallowed.
    Fronting adverbials like this is often done for literary effect and the final position is by far the safest place for learners to place the adjunct.

The kind of fronting mentioned in b. and c. above with the inversion of subject and object is limited to a few verbs expressing relational processes such as stand, lie, and be and to an equally limited number of dynamic behavioural processes such as come, march, walk, go, fall etc.

Positional adjuncts can occupy a middle position in a clause but it is somewhat rarer.  For example:
    He is here enjoying the sunshine
    The weather is everywhere in the country awful this week
    She is in the garden pulling up weeds

Directional adjuncts can't take this position at all so
    *He is upstairs moving it
    *She is into the garden taking it

are not possible and the preferred form is to place the adjunct after the object:
    He is moving it upstairs
    She is taking it into the garden


Negation with adjuncts

Directional adjuncts

We can front direction adjuncts in declarative clauses so we can have, e.g.:
    Through the village and across the churchyard he came to my house
and that can also be:
    He came to my house through the village and across the churchyard
However, if we try to negate the first sentence we get the unacceptable
    *Through the village and across the churchyard he didn't come to my house
but the second produces
    He didn't come to my house through the village and across the churchyard
which is fine.

Fronted adjuncts cannot generally occur in negated clauses.

Position adjuncts

Position adjuncts are much more obliging and can be fronted in declarative and negated clauses so both these are acceptable:
    In this town there aren't any good pubs
    Outside nobody is smoking

but with these, too, the final position is more natural:
    There aren't any good pubs in this town
    Nobody is smoking outside

unless the speaker wishes to emphasise the location.


Modifying adjuncts

We can heighten the effect of both adverb and prepositional-phrase place adjuncts but the range of intensifiers is quite limited (and easy to teach).  For example:
    They are going further inland
    It lies far beyond the city
    They sailed due west, directly into the sunset
    He kicked it clean over the wall
    He went a good deal further up
    She turned sharp left
    He went right over the fence
    He fell a long way down

As you can see, the intensifiers are pretty much limited to far / further, clean, right, due, directly, sharp, a long way.
That's teachable in a single lesson and provides learners with a natural and useful set of intensified chunks of language.


Imperatives with place adjuncts

In children's stories and, sometimes for comic effect, direction adjuncts are often placed in the initial position, for example:
    Through the woods they tramped
    Over the hill they scrambled

and so on.
Outside of children's stories, and in informal speech, the verbs come, go and get are sometimes used in imperatives in the same way, usually with adverbs rather than prepositional phrases.  For example:
    Out you go
    On you get
    Off you go
    Over you come

Again informally, some directional adverbs can be used as imperatives with no verb at all.  They include:


Good dog.


Time and place together

Frequently, time adjuncts and place adjuncts co-occur in the same clause.
In English, there are no absolute rules for ordering time and place (as there are in many languages).  There are, however, rules of thumb:

  1. We place longer adjuncts after shorter ones so we prefer:
        He was working here for many years
    rather than
        *He was working for many years here
        He was working in 1990 at a prestigious and expensive Chinese restaurant in New York
    rather than
        He was working at a prestigious and expensive Chinese restaurant in New York in 1990
  2. When all the adjuncts come at the end of the clause, as is frequently the case, the usual order is place then time, because place is usually more closely linked to the verb than the time.  So, we prefer:
        He worked at a restaurant in London for three years in the mid-70s
    rather than
        He worked for three years in London, in the mid-70s at a restaurant
    or any other possible combination of the four adjuncts.
  3. When the first two rules conflict and to avoid stylistic problems, the time adjunct is often placed in initial position so the last example might be better as:
        In the mid-70s, he worked at a restaurant in London for three years
        For three years in the mid-70s, he worked at a restaurant in London

For special emphasis or to give one adjunct or another extra weight, speakers will flout these rules so we might get:
    At that time, of course, in London it was difficult to get a decent cup of coffee anywhere.

Related guides
prepositions of time for a guide to this set of prepositions
prepositions of place for a guide to this set of prepositions
time adjuncts for a parallel guide to these
prepositional phrases for a guide to prepositions and their complements
7 meanings of over for a short video presentation of the meanings of a troublesome preposition
adverbials for a guide to distinguishing adjuncts from disjuncts from conjuncts
adverbs for a general guide to adverbs
multi-word verbs for the differences between prepositional, phrasal and phrasal-prepositional verbs

Chalker, S, 1984, Current English Grammar, London: Macmillan
Quirk, R, Greenbaum, S, Leech, G & Svartvik, J, 1972, A Grammar of Contemporary English, Harlow: Longman