RE: prepositions

From: Jason Lee (
Date: Sat Aug 07 1999 - 03:37:11 EDT



On Thu, 5 Aug 1999 19:58:25 Joe A. Friberg wrote: >> -----Original Message----- >> From: jacob cohen [] >> Sent: Wednesday, August 04, 1999 10:25 PM >> >> As I am examine how a preposition is being used in a sentance what >> should I be asking myself about how to find out if the preposition is >> modifing the verb or a noun. For example Wallace points out that most >> preps. that take a dative or accusative function adverbally, this is >> also the case with genitives with EK and APO. > >This is an interesting point, and one I had not heard before. My first >reaction to this is to ask to what extent it is true, and, if trully >general, why? > >In general, I would expect most prepositional phrases (PPs) to function >adverbially, so it would be no surprise that whole classes of PPs would >function that way. Why would PPs which take the Gen. be different? > >My only thought would be (and in this I may be speaking far better than I >know, but I have heard) that the presence of prepositions in the PPs is a >secondary development--that the older usage within Indo-European (and even >w/in Homeric Gk) was to simply employ cases which had certain case >functions. With the reduction in available morphological cases, the >prepositions came to be employed to disambiguate the case functions. > This is supported by Smyth, particularly in the'Development of the Use of Prepositions'(sections 1637 and 1638 of Greek Grammar).

>Since the Gen. case is used most frequently as a modifier within a Noun >Phrase (NP), it stands to reason that with the addition of Prepositions, PPs >that employ the Gen. would more frequently modify Nouns than Verbs. >Conversely, Datives and Accusatives would be generally used only in PPs that >modify a Verb. Hence, the phenomena noted by Wallace would simply be a >residual from an historical process. > If one accepts the 'historical process' of preposition development and use as suggested by Smyth (sections 1636-1646), there seems not the need to make such generalizations for adverbial or adjectival tendencies of PPs' function based upon the case of the object in the PPs. One reason is that exceptions abound. There are verbs (and compound verbs)that require the 'direct object' to be in the genitive or dative rather than the accusative case. Genitive case does not have to occur in NPs. Also, in some situations, possessor dative can modify a noun attributively without a copulative. The other reason that downplays the need for such generalizations is that context often shows which function (adjectival or adverbial) makes better sense. I am not sure one can get much mileage from making descriptive rules based on the functions of prepositional phrase which, in turn, are said to depend on the case notion of the object of the preposition. I think it's important firstly to grasp the intrinsic notions of the case system and secondly to understand the development of the use of prepositions, i.e., how they started out as adverbs or case-forms and graduately picked up increasing roles diachronically until 'nouns were felt to depend on the prepositions' in the PPs.

If the basics are well understood, I think, each instance of PP can be diagrammed appropriately as to its function in the sentence, given room for a couple of possibilities as the occassion calls for.

In short, I don't see a whole lot of benefits for making more grammatical rules out of PP usage or associations to the historical development.


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