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UNIT 17

SPATIAL REFERENCE: POSITION, DIRECTION AND


DISTANCE.

OUTLINE

1. INTRODUCTION.
1.1. Aims of the unit.
1.2. Notes on bibliography.

2. A THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK FOR THE NOTIONS OF SPATIAL REFERENCE.


2.1. Linguistic levels involved in the notion of spatial reference.
2.2. On defining spatial reference: what and how.
2.3. Grammar categories: open vs. closed classes.

3. THE EXPRESSION OF SPATIAL REFERENCE: AN INTRODUCTION.


3.1. Prepositions: main features.
3.2. Spatial reference in terms of other grammatical categories.
3.3. A classification of prepositions: main functions.
3.2.1. The morphological function.
3.2.1.1. Simple prepositions.
3.2.1.2. Complex prepositions.
3.2.2. The syntactic function.
3.2.2.1. The structure of prepositional phrase.
3.2.2.2. Adposition vs. postposition types.
3.2.2.3. Main syntactic functions.
3.2.2.4. Spatial reference at sentence level.
3.2.3. The semantic function.
3.2.3.1. The spatial reference.
3.2.3.2. Basic spatial dimensions.
3.2.3.3. The notions of position, direction and distance.

4. THE EXPRESSION OF POSITION.


4.1. The notion of simple position.
4.1.1. At-type prepositions.
4.1.2. In-type prepositions.
4.1.3. On-type prepositions.
4.2. The notion of relative position.
4.3. Position and direction.
4.4. The expression of place by other means.

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5. THE EXPRESSION OF DIRECTION.
5.1. The notion of direction in relation to position.
5.2. Main types of directional prepositions.
5.2.1. Direction.
5.2.2. Passage.
5.2.3. Relative destination.
5.3. The notion of resultative meaning.
5.4. The placing of direction at sentence level.
5.5. The expression of direction by other means.

6. THE EXPRESSION OF DISTANCE.


6.1. The notion of distance.
6.2. Main type of prepositions.
6.3. The expression of distance by other means.

7. EDUCATIONAL IMPLICATIONS.

8. CONCLUSION.

9. BIBLIOGRAPHY.

10. APPENDIX.

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1. INTRODUCTION.

1.1. Aims of the unit.

Unit 17 is primarily aimed to examine in English the different ways of expressing spatial reference
in terms of place, direction and distance, namely achieved by means of prepositions, and also by
means of prepositional complements drawn from adverbs, adjectives, noun phrases and other clause
structures. In doing so, the study will be divided into nine main chapters. Thus, Chapter 2 provides
a theoretical framework for the notion of spatial reference, and in particular, of those grammatical
categories which are involved in it. Moreover, within the field of grammar linguistic theory, some
key terminology is defined in syntactic terms so as to prepare the reader for the descriptive account
on the expression of space localisation in subsequent chapters.

Chapter 3, then, presents and defines the notion of spatial reference mainly regarding prepositions,
adverbs and other grammatical categories involved. Moreover, prepositions are classified according
to their three main functions: morphological, in terms of formation processes (simple and complex
prepositions); syntactic, which introduces the notion of prepositional phrase, adposition and
postposition types, main syntactic functions, and their placing at sentence level; and finally, the
semantic function, in terms of different types of prepositions, among which we shall focus on those
referring to space localisation in terms of position, direction, and distance.

Once the notion of spatial reference is established within the linguistic framework, we are ready to
examine the notion of space types individually. Therefore, Chapter 4 offers a descriptive account of
the expression of place position by analysing, first, the notion of simple position (or absolute), in
which we distinguish three types: at, in and on-type prepositions; second, we review the notion of
relative position; third, the relationship between position and direction; and finally, the expression
of place by other means.

Similarly, Chapter 5 does the same on the expression of direction by examining the notion of
direction in relation to position, main types of directional prepositions, among which we review
direction, passage and relative destination; then, we examine the notion of resultative meaning, the
placing of direction at sentence level, and finally, how the expression of direction is carried out by
other means.

Chapter 6 on the expression of distance starts by examining first, the notion of distance; second, the
main type of prepositions; and finally, how other means rather than prepositions may also express
distance. Chapter 7, then, provides an educational framework for the expression of space
localisation within our current school curriculum, and Chapter 8 draws a conclusion from all the
points involved in this study. Finally, in Chapter 9, bibliography will be listed in alphabetical order
and in Chapter 10, readers are referred to an explanatory chart on a specific section.

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1.2. Notes on bibliography.

In order to offer an insightful analysis and survey on the expression of spatial reference in English,
we shall deal with the most relevant works in the field, both old and current, and in particular,
influential grammar books which have assisted for years students of English as a foreign language
in their study of grammar. For instance, a theoretical framework for the expression of space
localisation is namely drawn from the field of sentence analysis, that is, from the work of Flor Aarts
and Jan Aarts (University of Nijmegen, Holland) in English Syntactic Structures (1988), whose
material has been tested in the classroom and developed over a number of years; also, another
essential work is that of Rodney Huddleston, English Grammar, An Outline (1988).

Other classic references which offer an account of the most important and central grammatical
constructions and categories in English regarding the expression of space localisation, are Quirk &
Greenbaum, A University Grammar of English (1973); Thomson & Martinet, A Practical English
Grammar (1986); and Greenbaum & Quirk, A Student’s Grammar of the English Language (1990).

More current approaches to notional grammar are David Bolton and Noel Goodey, Grammar
Practice in Context (1997); John Eastwood, Oxford Practice in Grammar (1999); Sidney
Greenbaum, The Oxford Reference Grammar (2000); Gerald Nelson, English: An Essential
Grammar (2001); Rodney Huddle ston and Geoffrey K. Pullum, The Cambridge Grammar of the
English Language (2002); and. Angela Downing and Philip Locke, A University Course in English
Grammar (2002).

2. A THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK FOR THE NOTION OF SPATIAL REFERENCE.

Before describing in detail the different ways of expressing spatial reference in English, it is
relevant to establish first a theoretical framework for this notion, since it must be described in
grammatical terms. In fact, this introductory chapter aims at answering questions such as where this
notion is to be found within the linguistic level, what it describes and how and which grammar
categories are involved in its description at a functional level. Let us examine, then, in which
linguistic level it is found.

2.1. Linguistic le vels involved in the notion of spatial reference.

In order to offer a linguistic description of the notion of spatial reference, we must confine it to
particular levels of analysis so as to focus our attention on this particular aspect of language. Yet,
although there is no consensus of opinion on the number of levels to be distinguished, the usual
description of a language comprises four major components: phonology, grammar, lexicon, and

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semantics, out of which we get five major levels: phonological, morphological and syntactic,
lexical, and semantic (Huddleston, 1988).

First, the phonology describes the sound level, that is, consonants, vowels, stress, intonation, and so
on. Secondly, since the two most basic units of grammar are the word and the sentence, the
component of grammar involves the morphological level (i.e. simple and complex prepositions) and
the syntactic level (i.e. word order in the sentence ). Third, the lexicon, or lexical level, lists
vocabulary items, specifying how they are pronounced, how they behave grammatically, and what
they mean. Finally, another dimension between the study of linguistic form and the study of
meaning is semantics, or the semantic level, to which all four of the major components are related.
We must not forget that a linguistic description which ignores meaning is obviously incomplete,
and in particular, when dealing with the notions of space localisation.

Therefore, we must point out that each of the linguistic levels discussed above has a corresponding
component when analysing the notion under study. Thus, phonology deals with pronunciation of
prepositions (i.e. out, onto, forward, through, behind, etc) and help distinguish prepositions from
adverbs since prepositions normally unstressed are accented when they are prepositional adverbs
(i.e. He ‘stayed in the ‘house vs. He ‘stayed ‘in); morphology deals with compound words (i.e. into,
onto, etc); and syntax deals with which combinations of words constitute grammatical strings and
which do not (i.e. NOT: she goes at school in bike BUT she goes to school by bike).

On the other hand, lexis deals with the expression of spatial reference regarding the choice between
prepositional phrases or adverbial phrases (i.e. He works here vs. He drives in this bank), lexical
choices regarding different types of prepositions (i.e. on vs. above vs. over; opposite vs. in front of,
and so on), the use of specific prepositions (i.e. upwards, onto, inside, etc), and other means such as
other formal realizations of these notions (i.e. a noun phrase, a verbless clause, a finite clause, etc);
and finally, semantics deals with meaning where syntactic and morphological levels do not tell the
difference (i.e. ‘He left the keys on the table = on the surface and not inside a drawer).

2.2. On defining spatial reference: what and how.

On defining the term ‘spatial reference’, we must link this notion (what they are) to the grammar
categories which express it (how it is showed). Actually, the term ‘spatial reference’ is intended to
add information about ‘where’ a situation has happened, by providing details about ‘place’,
‘direction’ and ‘distance’ in order to fully describe the action.

On making the appropriate choice of prepositions, following Greenbaum & Quirk (1990), we may
refer to a point in space (i.e. in, on, at, etc ), a line of passage (i.e. across, over, along, etc ), a surface
(i.e. on, through, onto, etc), an area (i.e. inside, outside, in, out, etc), and a volume (i.e. through,
under, behind, etc). We must point out that this function is mainly carried out by prepositions, but
also by other grammatical categories which function as complements in prepositional phrases, such
as adverbs or adverbial phrases (i.e. over here, over there), noun phrases (i.e. three kilometres

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away) and other clause structures like idiomatic expressions (i.e. so far, as far as I am concerned, in
my view, etc).

Following Traditional Grammar guidelines, prepositions are classified according to their main
semantic roles: space (position, direction, passage), time (position, duration), cause and purpose,
means and stimulus, accompaniment, concession, and other relations, from which we shall mainly
deal with those referring to spatial reference. Moreover, these notions are also classified according
to their morphological and syntactic function which is mainly predicative.

2.3. Grammar categories: open vs. closed classes.

In order to confine the notion of spatial relations to particular grammatical categories, we must
review first the difference between open and closed classes. Yet, grammar categories in English can
be divided into two major sets called open and closed classes. The open classes are verbs, nouns,
adjectives and adverbs, and are said to be unrestricted since they allow the addition of new
members to their membership, whereas the closed classes are the rest: prepositions, conjunctions,
articles (definite and indefinite), numerals, pronouns, quantifiers and interjections, which belong to
a restricted class since they do not allow the creation of new members.

Then, as we can see, when expressing spatial relations, we are mainly dealing with prepositions
that, when taken to phrase and sentence level, may be substituted by other grammatical categories,
in particular, adverbial phrases, noun phrases and specific clause structures. The classification of
phrases reflects an established syntactic order which is found for all four of the open word classes
(i.e. verb, noun, adjective, and adverb) where it is very often possible to replace open classes by an
equivalent expression of another class (i.e. noun, adjective, preposition or another adverb), and also
closed classes (i.e. prepositions, conjunctions, quantifiers) as we shall see later.

3. THE EXPRESSION OF SPATIAL REFERENCE: AN INTRODUCTION.

In this introductory section, the expression of spatial reference will be first examined through the
category of prepositions, and then we shall offer a descriptive approach through other grammatical
categories related to it, which function as complements in prepositional structures, such as adverbs,
nouns and other grammatical structures like finite and non-finite clauses, idiomatic expressions or
verbless sentences as possible answers to the question of Where ...?

Moreover, before we continue, we must note that, although prepos itions are mainly classified
following morphological and syntactic rules, our study will be primarily based on the semantic
field, since it is here where we find the notion of prepositions of place, and therefore, it will lead us
to the analysis of spatial reference in terms of position, direction and distance.

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In the following chapters, then, we shall examine the main issues that will provide the base for the
whole unit. Thus, (1) main features of prepositions; (2) the expression of spatial reference in terms
of other grammatical categories, (3) a classification of prepositions according to their main
functions, thus morphological, syntactic, and semantic, in order to fully develop the latter one for
our purposes.

First, within the morphological function, we shall examine the formation of prepositions (simple
and complex). Second, within the syntactic function, we shall examine the notion of prepositional
phrase and the different types of syntactic organization (adposition vs. postposition), together with
the main syntactic functions, and the placing of spatial reference at sentence level. And finally,
within the semantic function, we shall examine, first, the notion of spatial reference; second, basic
spatial dimensions; and finally, the different types of prepositions, from which we shall draw the
main issue of this unit: the expression of position, direction and distance.

3.1. Prepositions: main features.

Following Greenbaum & Quirk (1990), prepositions belong to the closed class items which first, are
formally invariable and second, connect two units in a sentence, specifying a relationship between
them (i.e. place, time, instrument, cause, etc). The former of these two units is often a noun,
adjective or verb, and the former, normally represented by a prepositional complement, is a noun or
any other phrase similar to it, such as pronouns (This is a present for him), nominalized adjectives
(He fought against the most intelligent), nominalized adverbs (We observed him from here),
infinitives (He ran to win), and noun phrases (A man in the front row).

According to Huddleston (1988), at the general level the preposition is one type of adposition, the
other type being the postposition. Compare the order in the sentence: ‘Does he live in this house?’
vs. ‘Where does he live in?’, to be discussed in subsequent sections. The adposition may then be
defined as a grammatically distinct closed class of words with the following properties:

(1) First, they include, among the most central members of the class, words expressing such
spatial relations as ‘at’, ‘in’, ‘on’, ‘under’, ‘over’, ‘to’, ‘from’, etc. Very often they also
include words serving to show the semantic role or grammatical function in the clause of
their noun phrase complement; for instance, in English ‘by’ marks the agent phrase in
passive clauses (i.e. He was arrested by the police); ‘to’ marks the recipient role with such
verbs as give, send, talk, listen, etc (i.e. Listen to me); ‘from’ marks the source with verbs
such as be, come, emerge (i.e. He is from California ) and adjectives such as different (i.e.
You car is different from mine ).

(2) Second, they usually show no inflectional marks (i.e. in –preposition- vs. inner –adverb-).
Although not to enter into inflectional contrasts is a negative property, it helps differenciate
prepositions from verbs, adjectives and nouns, which prototypically do inflect. However,

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prepositions allow only a modest amount of modification by expressions of temporal or
spatial extent, as in ‘three hours after the start’, ‘far below the surface’. Also, degree
modification with ‘very much’ (not very alone) tends to occur with metaphorical rather than
literal meanings of prepositions, as in ‘You are very much against the idea’.

(3) Third, the second unit in a prepositional structure, which is a prepositional complement,
may be linked to a verb (i.e. He is drinking out of a dirty glass), to an adjective phrase (i.e.
He is afraid of spiders), and to a noun phrase (i.e. The man in blue jeans is looking at you ).
In these cases, the dependents of verbs can be either noun phrases (out of a dirty glass) or
prepositional phrases (in the kitchen); the dependents of noun phrases will tend to occupy
the more nuclear functions of subject (a man in the queue ) and object (She believes in God);
and prepositional phrases will function as adverbials, that is, adjuncts (In a few minutes,
we’ll know the results/We’ll know the results in a few minutes).

(4) Finally, they prototypically take a noun phrase complement which, as stated before, is
realized by pronouns (This is a present for him), nominalized adjectives (He fought against
the most intelligent), nominalized adverbs (We observed him from here), infinitives (He ran
to win ), and noun phrases (A man in the front row).

3.2. Spatial reference in terms of other grammatical categories.

Prepositions denoting spatial reference, then, may be represented by means of other categories
within a larger linguistic structure in order to modify verbs, adjectives and nouns. For instance, the
answer to Where is the book? may be mainly drawn from the closed category of adverbs and
adverbial phrases (i.e. As adjunct: On the shelf would be the best place; or disjunct: From my point
of view, it would be placed on the shelf) or linked as complement to other closed categories, such as
verbs (i.e. I put it in the box), prepositional verbs (verb + preposition), as in account for, looking for,
and so on; adjectives (i.e. It is ready for recycling it) or other grammatical structures, such as
infinitives (i.e. Andrew took it to read it).

We must bear in mind that prepositions function as head in a prepositional phrase structure, and that
prepositional phrases in turn have a variety of functions related to other grammatical categories, for
instance, within the structure of a verbal phrase, noun phrase, adjectival phrase, adverbial phrase, a
larger prepositional phrase, or at sentence level, functioning as a connector (disjuncts: however,
although, because, due to, etc).

This is not to say that all prepositions are found in all of these functions, far from it, but virtually all
can occur as head in phrases functioning as adjuncts, that is, modifiers in verbal phrases (i.e. in the
morning) or peripheral dependent in a sentence (i.e. In my view, you are right). In this respect they
are like adverbs but they differ most sharply from adverbs in their complementation and in the fact
that many of them do also occur in other constructions. So far, let us briefly examine the expression
of spatial reference in terms of other grammatical categories.

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(1) First, let us examine the duality between prepositions and prepositional adverbs. As stated
before, another major kind of expression which can function like a prepositional phrase is an adverb
or an adverbial phrase, which belong to the closed-class category, and which behaves like a
preposition with ellipted complement. Note ‘A car drove past the door’ where ‘past’ is a
preposition vs. ‘A car drove past’ where ‘past’ is a prepositional adverb meaning ‘something or
someone identified in the context’.

Moreover, it must be borne in mind that an adverbial phrase may also function as adjunct or
modifier, as in ‘Despite the fine weather, we stayed in all day’ (place adjunct) or postmodifier or
connector, as in ‘The day before , I had seen him in the town centre’ (time adjunct). Note that three
prepositions not found in the adjunct construction are ‘than’, ‘except’ and ‘but’ while ‘of’ although
overall the most frequent preposition, is here more or less restricted to idiomatic expressions like of
course, of his own free will, and so on.

So far, many words can be used as either prepositions or adverbs, for instance compare: ‘He got off
the bus at the corner ’ (preposition) vs. ‘He got off at the corner’ (adverb). The most important
words of this type are above, about, across, along, before, bhind, below, besides, by, down, in, near,
off, on, over, past, round, since, through, under, up. As we may note, most of them refer to spatial
positions: ‘Peter is behind us’ (preposition) vs. ‘He’s a long way behind’ (adverb); ‘She climbed
over the wall’ (preposition) vs. ‘You’ll have to climb over too’ (adverb), and so on.

It is worth mentioning at this point the contrast phrasal verbs (verb + adverb) vs. prepositional verbs
(verb + preposition). Following Aarts (1988), they differ from phrasal verbs in that, as a rule, the
adverb in phrasal verbs (call up) is stressed (i.e. They have called ‘up all applicants for an
interview) whereas in prepositional verbs the stress falls on the verb, the preposition being
unstressed (i.e. Just ‘look at him/It is better not to ‘call on him).

Another variant regarding phrasal verbs is that of phrasal-prepositional verbs, which are
combinations of a verb + an adverb + a preposition. However, the majority of them are non-
transitive verbs (i.e. I am afraid I do not feel up to the job; We do no get on well with our
neighbours; Do you go in for squash?).

(2) Another kind of syntactic structure involves clause subordination, where we find different types
regarding verbs. Thus (a) the more nuclear dependents of the verb, subject in clause structure and
complement in verbal structure, which are prototypically filled by noun phrases (i.e. in the street,
after two hours); (b) prepositional phrases are mainly either of place (i.e. at home ), direction (i.e. to
school) or time (i.e. at night).

We also distinguish (c) complements to prepositional verbs, where the verb selects from a handful
of short prepositions (i.e. ask for, consist of, depend on, hope for). In this type, verbs are usually
monotransitive complement verbs, or in other words, the constituent that follows them function as
direct object (i.e. long for, refer to, rely on, succeed in, think of/about, wait for, wish for, and so on).

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Moreover, we find (d) non-finite verb clauses (or infinitival clauses) which function as modifier of
the verbal phrase, and in which the verb is (i) an infinitive, as in ‘I was surprised to hear her
opinion’, and (ii) a present participle –ing, as in ‘I was surprised at her saying this’. Furthermore,
(e) we may find the finite content clause as modifier of an adjectival phrase, as in ‘I was so
surprised that I couldn’t say anything’. Also, we may find (f) a noun phrase (i.e. I was surprised at
the financial estimates’) or (g) a wh- phrase (i.e. I was surprised at what she said).

Furthermore, (h) we must not forget that we also find place conjuncts (Quirk, 1973), which denote
stqatic position and also direction, movement, and passage under the general term ‘direction’. Place
adjuncts are mainly realized by means of prepositional phrases (i.e. in the park, out of my house,
etc) since these roles can be clearly and conveniently specified through the respective prepositional
meaning (i.e. in-out, from-to, up-down, through, onto, etc ) although sometimes we need noun
phrases to amplify meaning (i.e. a very long way, several miles away).

Most placed adjuncts are prepositional phrases (i.e. in a small village, a long way from here, past
the sentry, wherever he went, from the desk, etc) which evoke responses to a ‘where’ question, such
as to position (where?), direction (where?), source (where from?), and distance (how far?) with
stative or dynamic verbs. For instance, position and distance use stative verbs (live, stay) whereas
direction and source use dynamic verbs (go to, come from).

And finally, (i) we must not forget that idioms constitute that ‘free process of forming lexical
lexemes’ which permit grammatical contrasts (i.e. What about...?/It’s up to you/It’s over/Eat it
up/etc). This process is known by Huddleston (1988) as lexicalization, that is, the process of
forming lexical items or single unit of vocabulary which can be larger than usual. Yet, idioms may
cause conflict instead of the usual congruence between what counts as a unit from a lexical point of
view and what counts as a unit from a grammatical point of view.

Thus, in the sentence ‘They are pulling Daniel’s leg’, the lexical unit is pull + the possessive
component + leg, but this is clearly not a grammatical constituent. Such a mismatch between
lexicon and grammar is found in the prepositional sequences of idioms. Lexicalisation, then, leads
to large-scale reduction in the range of permitted grammatical contrasts, contrasts in inflectional
number for the noun (by virtues of), in choice of the determiner (for this sake of the premier) or in
presence or absence of modifiers (in immediate front of), among many others.

In the sequence verb + noun + preposition idioms, the noun cannot be modified nor can it become
the subject of a passive sentence. Consider then the following sentences in ‘We caught sight of the
plane’ vs. ‘We caught sudden sight of the plane’. For these reasons we look upon such idioms as
invisible units having the function of predicator in the structure of the sentence. These multi-word
verbs are always monotransitive (Aarts, 1988). Other sequences are ‘make allowance for, make fun
of, pay attention to, take advantage of, take care of, take notice of , and so on’.

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Then, as we can see, all these items have the same function but belong to different grammatical
categories or class (i.e. noun, adjective, finite clauses, and so on). We may observe that although
such subordinate clauses have broadly the same function as adverbs, we do not normally find
anything like the close semantic equivalence to adverbs illustrated above for prepositional phrases.

Then, once we have seen how both function and word class are relevant for our present purposes,
we are ready to examine the expression of spatial reference, and especially, position, direction and
distance through them. These expressions can be grouped together into word classes (also called
parts of speech) following morphological, syntactic, and semantic rules, bearing in mind the
phonological one when pronouncing prepositions or other periphrastic expressions (i.e. in the air).

3.3. A classification of prepositions: main functions.

Prepositions are classified according to their main functions, which correspond to three main types:
(1) the morphological function, by which prepositions are simple or complex; (2) the syntactic
function, which is related to the structure of prepositional phrases and word order of prepositional
phrases at the sentence level; and finally, (3) the semantic function, which is related to intrinsic
aspects of prepositions , in particular for our purposes, how to express position, direction and
distance.

We shall follow then five main figures in this field in order to develop this section, thus Quirk &
Greenbaum (1973), Sánchez Benedito (1975), Thomson & Martinet (1986), Huddleston (1988),
Aarts (1988), Greenbaum & Quirk (1990), Eastwood (1999) and Nelson (2001).

3.2.1. The morphological function.

The open class ‘preposition’ is, then, the most common repository for the expression of spatial
reference (i.e. position: in, on, at, above, under; direction: to, from, along, up, down; and distance:
near, next to, away from, after 2 km) together with adverbial phrases (i.e. towards, on the top of,
etc).

As seen before, prepositions are basically invariable although they may allow a modest amount of
modification in the expressions of temporal and spatial extent. Yet, morphologically speaking, we
may distinguish two types of prepositions: simple, which consist of one word (i.e. at, between, by,
from, in, on, up) and complex, which are multi-word combinations (i.e. in front of, next to, out of).

3.2.1.1. Simple prepositions.

With respect to simple prepositions, we must note that most of the common English prepositions are
monosyllabic items, such as at, in, on, to, from, typically unstressed and often with reduced vowel

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except when deferred. It is worth pointing out that ‘deferred’ prepositions is a term coined by
Greenbaum & Quirk (1990) which refers to those prepositions which do not precede their
complements but are placed after them (i.e. Where are you from?).

3.2.1.2. Complex prepositions.

With respect to complex prepositions, we must say that these polysyllabic prepositions are also
popular, and that some of these compounds were formed historically from the monosyllabic ones
(i.e. inside, outside, within, into, onto, etc ) or derived from participles (i.e. during, concerning,
granted) or adopted from other languages (i.e. despite, except, etc). Regarding prepositions of
foreign origin, not all of them are thoroughly ‘adapted’ in general use, as in ‘que, re, vis-à-vis, à
propos’. Thus although prepositions are a closed class in comparison with truly open classes like
nouns, they are less literally a closed class than determiners or pronouns (Greenbaum & Quirk,
1990).

The number of prepositions has been increased by mainly combining prepositions with other words
to form ‘complex prepositions’, among which we find three main categories: (a) first, a simple
preposition preceded by an adverb or preposition (adverb/preposition + preposition), as in ‘through
along, away from, out of, up to, etc’; (b) second, a simple preposition preceded by a participle
(verb), adjective, or conjunction (participle/adjective/conjunction + preposition), as in ‘owing to,
due to, because of); and finally, (c) a simple preposition followed by a noun and then a further
simple preposition (prep + noun + prep), as in ‘by means of, in front of, with respect to, on behalf of,
etc’. This type is by far the most numerous category, where the noun in some complex prepositions
is preceded by a definite or indefinite article (i.e. on the top of).

Finally, there are some comments worth mentioning, for instance, firstly, regarding phonology,
polysyllabic prepositions are normally stressed, and in complex prepositions, the stress falls on the
word (adverb, noun, etc), preceding the final preposition; and secondly, regarding items of quasi-
preposition status, we must include those which admit comparison, such as ‘near (to)’, as well as
‘than’ and ‘as’ which can also be conjunctions. For instance, ‘Your car is further than my car’
(conjunction), ‘Your car is further than it’ (conjunction with ellipsis, rather formal), and ‘Your car
is further than mine’ (preposition).

3.2.2. The syntactic function.

Regarding the syntactic function, prepositions, as seen, play their role within a larger linguistic
structure in order to modify verbs, adjectives, and nouns by means of other categories.
Consequently, in order to examine the expression of spatial reference through them we shall review
first the notion of prepositional phrase and then, the different types of syntactic organization
(adposition vs. postposition ) by means of which word order is established within the structure of the
prepositional phrase.

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3.2.2.1. The structure of prepositional phrase.

The structure of prepositional phrase, as seen before, is that of preposition + prepositional


complement (i.e. at + the bus stop, from + what she said, by + cleaning the window) which is
characteristically a noun phrase or a wh- clause or present participle (-ing) clause. Their head
phrases usually function as dependents of verbs, nouns and adjectives and, therefore, this is why
this sequence is known as a prepositional phrase.

This structure is determined, according to Aarts (1988), by its two functions: prepositional and
prepositional complement. This means the constituent realizing the former (in) governs the one
realizing the latter (in Paris). Both functions are obligatory and they usually occur immediately
after each other, as in ‘At the end of the alley you will find the old black cat’ At five o’clock we had
run that distance’ or ‘The oak behind the pond seems to be dying’ ‘They are selling their
inheritance at exceedingly low prices’.

3.2.2.2. Adposition vs. postposition types.

The immediate constituents of prepositional phrases that function on clause or sentence level may,
under certain conditions, be found in different places in the clause or sentence. So far, normally a
preposition must be followed by its complement, but there are some circumstances in which this
does not happen. We shall review these two cases under the heading of adposition and postposition
as different types of word order in the sentence. Thus,

(1) adposition, that is, prepositions preceeding their complements, are usually placed after the
predicate or in final position when expressing spatial relations (i.e. at, in, on, under, opposite, from,
through + the car),. Note that at the sentence level, when ocurring next to time reference, spatial
prepositions preceed it (i.e. I saw you in the bank yesterday morning).

Spatial relations often occur in initial position but for the sake of emphasis (i.e. To which town are
you travelling to?), which denotes a formal style, although sometimes it may be postposed, being
considered then, informal English according to Quirk (1973; 1990) and Thomson & Martinet
(1986), as in ‘Which town are you travelling to?’

(2) The other type is postposition, that is, when prepositions are placed after their complement,
either because the complement has to take first position in the clause, or because it is absent. In this
case, the prepositional complement occurring in initial position and the prepositional after the
predicate or in final position is possible in informal English. It is worth noting that postposition is
referred to as ‘deferred prepositions’ by Quirk (1990), and also compared superficially to
prepositional adverbs, identical in form with the corresponding prepositions except that, unlike
them, they are never unstressed (i.e. I should have parked the car opposite the ‘house and not in
‘front).

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This detachment of the two immediate constituents of a prepositional phrase may take place in the
following cases, which are optional since they depend chiefly on stylistic preference:

(a) in WH- questions, where WH- interrogative pronouns function as constituents


(prepositional complements) of sentences. When the sentence is simple, it is either
interrogative (i.e. Where are you travelling to?) or exclamatory (i.e. What a beautiful place
you are travelling to!). Note that questions beginning with a preposition +
what/which/whom/whose/where/etc are used to be thought ungrammatical but it is now
accepted as a colloquial form. Compare ‘To whom are you talking?’ (formal) vs. ‘Who are
you talking to?’ (informal).

Yet, with some simple prepositions (i.e. through) and most complex ones (i.e. in front of,
through along,), postposition is not allowed.

(b) in WH- clauses, where WH- clauses with postposed prepositions can fulfil most of the
major sentence functions. These nominal relative clauses are always introduced by a wh-
element functioning as subject (i.e. Where he is travelling is a touristic place), object
complement (i.e. You can go whatever place you want), or prepositional complement (i.e.
Decide on whatever place you like), that is, they may be finite (i.e. Where they are staying
in is not cheap ) as well as non-finite (i.e. I do not know where to go to).

(c) Similarly in relative clauses, a preposition placed before which/whom (i.e. the friend with
which I travelled to Ireland) can be moved to the end of the sentence, but the relative
pronoun is often omitted (i.e. The friend I travelled with). Note that in the former case, it is
considered to be formal style whereas in the latter, it is rather informal.

(d) However, not all cases are optional, for instance, passive constructions, where the subject
of a passive construction corresponds to the prepositional complement in the active
analogue; thus ‘They have paid for the meal’ vs. ‘The meal has been paid for’.

(e) Also, where the prepositional complement is thematized in finite and non-finite clauses 1 ,
that is, functioning respectively as postmodifier in sentences with noun and adjective
phrases, or sentences with infinitives or –ing clauses. Thus, on finite clauses with noun
phrases: ‘Marbella, a nice place to go to, is crowded now’ and ‘The house where we stayed
in is Andrea’s ’; on adjective phrases: ‘She was not sure who to ask for’.

1
Following Aarts (1988), finite verb phrases contain a finite verbal form which is morphologically marked for the
category of tense and which may, in addition, be marked for the categories of mood and concord (i.e. he writes). However,
non-finite verbal forms are not morphollogically marked, and make reference to infinitive forms and participles, both
present (-ing) and past (-ed), as in ‘writing’ or ‘written’.

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On the other hand, regarding non-finite clauses, here you are the following examples with
infinitive: ‘It is uncomfortable to sit on that sofa’ or ‘That sofa is uncomfortable to sit on’;
and with –ing clauses: ‘It is not worth talking to her now’ or ‘She is not worth talking to’.

(f) Finally, Thomson & Martinet points out one more case of adposition, that of phrasal verbs,
where the preposition/adverb remains after its verb, so the formal type of construction is not
possible. Compare: ‘The children I was looking after was Chinese’ vs. ‘The children I was
looking was Chinese for’.

3.2.2.3. Main syntactic functions.

We shall briefly review now, following Quirk (1973), the main syntactic functions of prepositional
phrases regarding spatial reference, as described before. Thus:

(1) as adjuncts (i.e. The children were playing in the swimming pool);
(2) as attitudinal disjuncts (i.e. in view of);
(3) as conjuncts (i.e. As far as I am concerned, this report is excellent);
(4) as postmodifier in a noun phrase (i.e. The boys on the bus were singing);
(5) as complements of a verb (i.e. It depends on you);
(6) as complements of an adjective (i.e. Anne is so different from her sister).
(7) other functions as the nominal one, functioning as subject of a sentence (i.e. Between ten
and eleven will suit me).

3.2.2.4. Spatial reference at sentence level.

Before we move on to a semantic classification of space prepositions, we shall examine the position
of spatial reference at the sentence level since in our study it is relevant to know where to place it.
Similar to Spanish ones, it is worth pointing out that it is not sensible to establish strict rules
regarding spatial reference position since it may be submitted to changes under the influence of
emphasis, question structures, and old/new information. Yet, we may distinguish two different types
of considerations: (1) general and (2) particular cases.

3.2.2.4.1. General considerations.

The placing of prepositions may vary depending on specific syntactic and semantic guidelines but
generally, word order is normally determined by the syntactic function, that is, depending on the
grammatical element it complements. Thus, on complenting a verb, it is placed after it (i.e. they
worked in the field all day); on complementing an adjective/adverb, it is placed after (i.e. worried
about you); and finally, on complementing a sentence by means of an adverbial/prepositional
phrase, it has final position (i.e. They will go to Murcia tomorrow).

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So, we observe that in English spatial reference is said to have a fixed position within the sentence
structure (i.e. He came here when she left home; David is at school), usually in predicative
positions, middle or final. In fact, following Sánchez Benedito (1975), prepositions are normally
placed before their complements (i.e. in the air, on the beach, for you) and the most common
position is the final one, that is, at the end of the sentence, as in ‘Love is in the air, let’s go to the
beach , I have a present for you’.

Moreover, final position is restricted to certain grammatical categories, such as adverbial and
prepositiona l phrases, and semantically, with non-essential information since emphasis places
prepositions in initial position (i.e. At home there is someone waiting for you). In addition, note that
there can be more than one prepositional or adverbial phrase in end position (i.e. He turned up at
the door entrance(place) in a wet T-shirt (manner) last night (time)).

Furthermore, when there is a close link in meaning between a verb and a preposition, the
preposition goes next to the verb, especially with verbs of movement (i.e. come, go, move, jump,
turn, etc), as in ‘My children go to school every day). It is worth noting that a phrase of place comes
before time (i.e. She came here (place) last night (time)). But often two adverbial phrases can go in
either order (i.e. The concert was held at the stadium two weeks ago or two weeks ago at the
stadium).

3.2.2.4.2. Particular cases.

Following Sánchez Benedito (1975), when dealing with particular cases, we mainly deal with
prepositions in initial or final position due to specific syntactic changes at the sentence level. Thus,
we distinguish three main cases:

(1) First of all, prepositions can go in front position in WH- questions and exclamations, where WH-
interrogative pronouns function as constituents (prepositional complements) of sentences (i.e.
Where are you travelling to?) or exclamatory (i.e. What a beautiful place you are travelling to!).
Note that questions beginning with a preposition + where/what/etc are used to be thought
ungrammatical but it is now accepted as a colloquial form. Compare ‘To whom are you talking ?’
(formal) vs. ‘Who are you talking to?’ (informal).

(2) Secondly, in relative clauses, where the preposition placed before which/whom (i.e. the friend
with which I travelled to Ireland) can be moved to the end of the sentence. In these cases, the
relative pronoun is often omitted (i.e. The friend I travelled with). Note that in the former case, it is
considered to be formal style whereas in the latter, it is rather informal.

(3) Finally, where the prepositional complement is thematized in finite clauses that is, functioning
respectively as postmodifier of noun, pronoun, or adjective phrases. Thus, on finite clauses with

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noun phrases: ‘It was a very nice house to live in’; with pronouns : ‘There is nowhere to go to ’; and
finally, with adjective phrases: ‘Cristine is impossible to talk to’.

3.2.3. The semantic function.

Semantically speaking, there are various types of relational meanings among which place and time
(here and now) are said to be the most prominent ones and easy to identify. Other relationships such
as those of instrument (with paper and ink) and cause (by the fact that) are also easy to recognize
but it is not so easy to describe their prepositional meanings.

3.2.3.1. The spatial reference.

Yet, for our purposes we shall concentrate on the spatial reference and the expression of it. As seen,
the term ‘spatial reference’ may provide details about ‘position’, ‘direction’ and ‘distance’ by
addressing a wide range of prepositions with reference to points in space (i.e. in, on, at, etc), lines of
passage (i.e. across, over, along, etc), surface (i.e. on, through, onto, etc ), area (i.e. inside, outside,
in, out, etc ), volume (i.e. through, under, behind, etc ), direction (i.e. to, from, towards, etc),
movement (i.e. through, past, across, etc ), among others.

Most of these details about an action are either spatial or figuratively derived from notions of
physical space, which often overlap different semantic ideas (i.e. at home/at five o’clock). Thus, the
preposition ‘in’ may have different meanings depending on the context: ‘in this room’ (place) vs. ‘in
the present month ’ (time). Also, compare ‘in danger’ (adverbial) vs. ‘in all seriousness’ (manner).
Moreover, we also find idiomatic expressions, such as ‘I ran across him today; over and over
again; to put up with something; they’re about to go; time is up’ and so on.

3.2.3.2. Basic spatial dimensions.

We must therefore begin by understanding the ways in which prepositions refer to some of the basic
spatial dimensions, which according to Quirk (1990) show three different types of distinctions as
represented in an imaginary chart. Thus, on the horizontal axis, prepositions are classified, first, (1)
as ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ (in vs. out; to vs. from), and second, (2) as ‘destination’ or ‘direction’
types (Quirk, 1973) which refer to movement with respect to a static location , in contrast with
‘position’ types, which refer to static locations (see Appendix 1).

Thirdly, on the vertical axis (3) we distinguish three dimension types. Thus, the first type (type 0),
refers to point, which is a dimensionless location with no reference to length, width or height. It
ignores the dimensional reference by treating location as ‘a point even if in reality it is a continent’
(i.e. He walked to the bar or she is at the cottage). This type is linked to at-type prepositions, such
as ‘to, away, away from, etc).

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The second type (type 1 or 2) refers to line and surface, which embrace ‘what is in real space either
one-dimensional or two-dimensional’. In other words, with a preposition like ‘on’ or on-types (onto,
off, across, over, along), we may refer either to (a) one -dimensional object (i.e. Sign on this
line!/You can walk along the river/across the frontier) making reference to length, but not height,
width or depth, or (b) two-dimensional objects in terms of surface, that is, lenght and width, but not
height, where the surface is often the top of some object but not necessarily horizontal. In this type,
‘the bar’ or ‘the cottage’, previously mentioned, become dimensional places, covered by a roof.
Other examples are: ‘fall on to the ground, take something off the wall, look through the window,
go across the field’, and so on.

The third type (type 2 or 3) refers to area or volume, that is, two actual dimensions embracing two-
dimensional or three-dimensional space. Thus, (a) if the place is regarded as two-dimensional or as
an area, this suggests that a piece of ground or territory is enclosed by boundaries. The preposition
‘in’ and the like (i.e. inside,within, into, through, out, etc) is capable of being used with objects
which are essentially two-dimensional, as in ‘The horse is in the field’ since ‘the field’ is thought of
as an enclosed space. Compare: ‘on the beach’ which is regarded as open space.

We may also achieve (b) a three-dimensional space by using the preposition ‘in’ (also ‘into, out of,
inside, indoors, through, etc’) as volume making reference to length, width and height, which
suggests the actual three-dimensional object which in reality it is, as in ‘in the cottage’ or ‘in the
bar’.

3.2.3.3. The notions of position, direction and distance.

So far, once we have examined the very origin of the expression of spatial reference, and set out the
dimensional orientation of the chief prepositions of place (at, on, in) regaring mere position,
line/surface, and area/volume, we are ready for analysing position, direction and distance
individually.

But before, it is worth mentioning that the notions of position and direction, that is, directional
movement and static position share a cause-and-effect relation which applies equally to positive or
negative prepositions. Thus, ‘Jack ran to the corner vs. from the corner’, ‘Leave the book on the top
shelf vs. Leave it off the table’, or ‘She walked into vs. out of the office’. And now, let us examine
the main issue of this study.

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4. THE EXPRESSION OF POSITION.

The expression of position (Greenbaum & Quirk, 1990), traditionally named ‘place’ is main ly
realized by prepositions, simple (i.e. at, on, in, onto, into, inside, etc) and complex (i.e. all around,
apart from, as far as, all through, all over, etc) and prepositional phrases (i.e. on top of, next to, out
of, etc) but also by other grammatical types, such as adverbs (towards, outdoors, indoors), adverbial
phrases (conjuncts: as far as I know), noun phrases (in the house), or even idioms (over and over
again ), as stated before.

The expression of position is usually placed in final position (i.e. ‘She came to my room last night)
but normally before the expression of time. In this section we shall provide a general overview on
this notion, as we shall review: (1) the notion of simple position and its main prepositions: at, in, on,
(2) the notion of relative position, (3) the relationship between position and direction, and (4) the
expression of place by other means rather than prepositions.

4.1. The notion of simple position.

The notion of simple position is brought about by the main prepositions whic h establish the spatial
dimensions, that is, ‘at’, ‘in’ and ‘on’ since position and dimension-types 0, 1/2 and 2/3 are related.
The notion of simple position, called ‘absolute’ by Quirk (1990), refers to static location, as in
‘Mike was at the door/on the floor/in the water’, where places are regarded as points on a route or
as institutions to which one is attached (i.e. at Lincoln’s street, at Harvard University). A
prepositional phrase of ‘position’ can accompany any verb, although the meaning is usually static,
as with the verbs ‘to be, stay, study, work’, etc.

So far, in general usage, we distinguish three main types of prepositions regarding position or place,
which are also named dimension-type prepositions. Therefore, we find (1) at-type prepositions, (2)
in-type prepositions and (3) on-type prepositions.

4.1.1. At-type prepositions.

At-type prepositions are applied when we refer to a small area such as a square, a street, a room, a
field meaning ‘at this point’ rather than ‘inside’, since it is usually compared to the preposition ‘to’,
since ‘at’ expresses position (i.e. She was at the doctor’s) and ‘to’ expresses movement (i.e. She
went to the doctor’s). It is related to dimension-type 0, for instance, we can be ‘at a building’, which
means that we are inside, in the grounds or just outside vs. ‘in a building’ that means ‘inside’ only.
Similarly, if someone is ‘at the station’, he may be in the street outside, or in the ticket
office/waiting room/restaurant or on the platform. Moreover, if we are ‘at the sea’, we are
‘near/beside the sea’, but note that ‘at sea’ means ‘on a ship’.

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In general, we use ‘at’ (a) when we talk about a particular point (i.e. at the bus stop, at the end of
the street); (b) with a building when we are talking about what normally happens there, and not the
building itself (i.e. She works at the bank=working everyday; I was at the cinema=watching a film;
We were at the pub=having a drink ); (c) with social activities refering to an event (i.e. We met at a
party, I saw him at the football match ); (d) in specific expressions (i.e. at home, at school, at work,
etc); (e) with addresses if we give the house number (i.e. They live at 65, Shirley Road); and finally,
(f) at a place on a journey (i.e. Does the train stop at London?)

4.1.2. In-type prepositions.

In-type prepositions (also into, inside, etc), as shown above, normally indicate position as well as
movement (i.e. Position: He was in the office vs. Movement: He came in the office), and usually
opposed to ‘on’ since they refer to volume and surface respectively (i.e. in the table=inside vs. on
the table=on the surface). ‘In’ refers to places, such as a country, a town, a village, a square, a
street, a room, a forest, a wood, a field, a desert or any place which has boundaries or is enclosed. If
we are ‘in a building’, we are ‘inside’ it, and similarly, ‘in the water’ means actually inside the
water.

‘In’ may be used with the verb ‘put’, either ‘in’ or ‘into’ (i.e. He put his hands in/into his pockets).
Also, ‘in’ may be an adverb (i.e. Come in! = enter; Get in the car= into the car). Remember that
the negative character of these prepositions is shown by paraphrasing (i.e. off=not on; out of=not in,
and so on). It is worth noting that place prepositions often overlap semantically with other types,
such as time (i.e. in December), adverbial (He came in time), and so on.

So far, we use ‘in’ (a) when we talk about an enclosed space that is surrounded on all sides (i.e.
There were forty people in the room; He got a mouse in his hand); (b) with buildings and areas
surrounded by walls (i.e. in a big house, in the park ); (c) with larger areas like cities, states,
countries, continents (i.e. in New York, in California, in Germany, in Europe); (d) with words that
describe the relative pos ition of something (i.e. in the corner of the square, in the middle of the
room, in the east of Spain); (e) with common expressions (i.e. in hospital, in church), though note
that if we add the article ‘the’ (i.e. in the hospital) we are not talking about that place about what
normally happens there but something unusual (i.e. visiting, delivering flowers, etc); and (f) with
newspapers and magazines (i.e. in the Daily Mail, in the New York Times).

4.1.3. On-type prepositions.

The third type, ‘on’ prepositions (also onto), is used for both position and movement, as in ‘He was
sitting on his chair’ or ‘The cat jumped on(to) the roof’. As we may observe, ‘onto’ is used with
people or animals when a change of level is implied (i.e. We lifted her onto the table). ‘On’ can also
be an adverb, as in ‘Go on! or Come on!’ It is worth noting again that place prepositions often

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overlap semantically with other types, such as time (i.e. on my birthday), adverbial (depending on
me), and so on.

In general, ‘on’ is used (a) when we talk about a horizontal or vertical surface (i.e. on the car) in
opposition to ‘in’ that indicates volume (i.e. in the car); (b) with any kind of line (i.e. on the border,
on the road to Paris, on the coast, etc); (c) with machines (i.e. on the radio, on TV, on the phone);
(d) with directions, specially with ‘right’ and ‘left’ (i.e. Turn on the right/left).

4.2. The notion of relative position.

Apart from simple or absolute position, certain prepositions may express relative position of two
objects or groups of objects, that is, indicate the position of something in relation to the position of
something else, often by means of contrastive pairs, such as ‘above vs. below; in front of vs. behind;
beneath vs. underneath; on top of vs. above; by, with, beside; between vs. among; around vs. about,
and opposite’. For instance, ‘He was standing by his wife’ (=at the side of) or ‘I left the keys with my
bag’ (=in the same place as).

Thus, ‘above’ and ‘below’ are ‘over vs. under’ respectively, though the al tter is said to mean
‘directly above’ and ‘directly below’. Note that ‘over’ and ‘above’ usually have the same meaning
(i.e. higher than) and imply ‘not touching the surface’ (i.e. Above/over the door there as a sign
saying ‘Non-Smoking’). With ‘on top of’ we combine the sense of ‘above’ with abutment
(=touching). However, ‘over’ can also mean ‘covering’, as in ‘She put a scarf over her shoulders’.

Similarly, ‘in front of vs. behind’ are ‘before vs. after’, although the latter pair implies relative
precedence rather than physical position. Like ‘under’ are the less common ‘beneath’ (somewhat
formal) and ‘underneath’. Abutment or contact is also normally implied with the prepositions ‘by,
beside, and with’ (i.e She left her bag by/beside/with her lipstick) whereas ‘close to’ and ‘near (to)’
generally exclude actual contact; these prepositions are unique in admitting comparative inflection
(i.e. closer to, nearer to the door).

With ‘between’, we positionally relate two objects or groups of objects, whereas with ‘among’ (also
amid(st), more formally) we are dealing with a more general plurality, and we do not see things or
people separately (i.e. She left the red dress among her dirty clothes ). The opposite of ‘between’
and ‘among’ is to some extent expressed by ‘around’ (AmE) and ‘round’ (BrE), as in ‘There were
some crocodiles around the river’ vs. There was a crocodile among the bushes’.

4.3. Position and direction.

As stated before, the notions of position and direction, static and movable respectively, have a
cause-and-effect relation which applies equally to both positive and negative prepositions (i.e. in vs.

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out, to vs. from, and so on). Therefore, where places are regarded as points of route or institutions to
one is attached, we use dimension-type 0 (i.e. at the traffic lights, at Oxford University).

However, following Quirk (1990), the places which are thought of in terms of residence, require the
dimension-type 2/3, as in ‘She has never lived in Paris or London’. Similarly, if the referent is
considered as a surface, dimension-type 1/2 is appropriate (i.e They were swimming on Lake
Victoria ) whereas if it is considered as necessarily enclosing, then dimension-type 2/3 comes into
play (i.e. They were swimming in Lake Victoria ).

We may observe that the contrast between ‘o n’ (surface, dimension-type 1/2) and ‘in’ (area,
dimension-type 2/3) has various implications according to the context, as the following examples
show. Note ‘on the window’ (as a glass surface) vs. ‘in the window’ (as a framed area); also, ‘on the
island ’ (as an uninhabited island) vs. ‘in the island’ (an institutional identity).

Moreover, in addition to the prepositions mentioned, against, about, and around are commonly used
as prepositions of simple position or destination: ‘against’ in the sense ‘touching the side surface
of’ (i.e. She’s leaning against the wall); ‘about’ and ‘around’ in the sense of ‘in the vicinity of’ (i.e.
She’s been wandering about/around the place all day). Also, two additional meanings of ‘on’ as a
preposition of position are ‘attached to’ (i.e. the lemons on the tree) and ‘on top of’ (i.e. She sat on
the wall for a while).

It is worth mentioning that the use of ‘at, in, on’ is often idiomatic; thus ‘on earth’ but ‘in the
world’. The sentence ‘She is doing well at school’ is often preferred in BrE while ‘She is doing well
in school’ is general in AmE. Similarly, ‘on land, at sea, and in the air’.

4.4. The expression of place by other means.

Apart from prepositions, we have seen in previous sections how to express ‘spatial reference’ by
other means. In fact, we shall review some of them in this section, such as by means of:

(1) adverbs (i.e. Madonna is here ; the appartmet above, and so on) and adverbial phrases (i.e.
As adjunct: On the shelf would be the best place; disjunct: From my point of view, it would
be placed on the shelf; or conjunct: As far as I know).
(2) linking as complement to other closed categories, such as verbs (i.e. I put it in the box),
prepositional verbs (verb + preposition), as in come from, travel to, listen to, and so on.
(3) noun phrases (i.e. in the street, after two hours), where prepositional phrases are mainly
either of place (i.e. at home), direction (i.e. to school) or distance (i.e. away from me).
(4) we also find place conjuncts (Quirk, 1973), which denote static position and also direction,
movement, and passage under the general term ‘direction’. Place adjuncts are mainly
realized by means of prepositional phrases (i.e. in the park, out of my house, etc) since these
roles can be clearly and convenie ntly specified through the respective prepositional

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meaning (i.e. in-out, from-to, up-down, through, onto, etc) although sometimes we need
noun phrases to amplify meaning (i.e. a very long way, several miles away ).
(5) And finally, by means of idiomatic expressions, where prepositions are used but not with
their literal meaning, as in ‘What about...?, it’s up to you, it’s over, what are you up to?,
time is up, he’s well off, I came across an old book, over and over again, and she’s by
herself’.

5. THE EXPRESSION OF DIRECTION.

In this section we shall provide a general overview on the notion of direction, as we shall review:
(1) the notion of direction in relation to position; (2) its main types and prepositions, where we
examine the expression of direction, passage and relative destination, (3) the notion of resultative
meaning, (4) the placing of direction at sentence level, and (5) the expression of direction by other
means rather than prepositions.

5.1. The notion of direction in relation to position.

According to Greenbaum & Quirk (1990), the notion of direction (Greenbaum & Quirk, 1990),
traditionally named ‘movement’ (Eastwood, 1999) is mainly realized by almost all those
prepositions regarding position since the notions of directional movement and static position have a
cause-and-effect relation, from where something is (position) to where it is going (destination). This
applies equally to positive and negative prepositions (i.e. to vs. from, inside vs. outside, up vs. down,
etc). Thus, observe the example: ‘Jane ran to the front door and then stood at the front door’ in
which the former verb is one of movement whereas the latter, is of static position.

Directional prepositions may be simple (i.e. in, into, above, down, up, etc) and complex (i.e. all
along, around, all through, right across, etc ), and the expression of direction is not only carried out
by prepositions or prepositional phrases (i.e. above, under, out of, up in the hill, etc), but also by
other grammatical types, such as adverbs both for position and direction (i.e. away, back, below,
elsewhere, near, here, over, past, through, under, up, within), and adverbs which denote direction
only (i.e. aside, backwards, forwards, sideways, upwards, etc.), adverbial phrases (i.e. from my
window), noun phrases (i.e. ten kilometres), or even idioms (i.e. Here we go, here you are, there you
are, over here over there).

Directional expressions are used only with verbs of motion or with other dynamic verbs that allow a
directional meaning, as in ‘He jumped over the fence’ or ‘Michael was whispering into the
microphone ’. However, some directional adverbial phrases are also used with the verb ‘to be’, but
with a resultative meaning, indicating the state of having reached the destination (i.e. He dived in

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the water). Note that in many cases, especially in colloquial English, ‘on’ and ‘in’ may be used for
both position and destination, as in ‘He fell on the floor’, ‘He is wandering around all day’.

5.2. Main types of directional prepositions.

The notion of direction is directly brought about by the main types of directional prepositions which
establish the spatial movements (i.e. by, over, under, across, through, past, up, down, along,
around, beyond). Here, dimension-type prepositions 0, 1/2 and 2/3 are related since they may
accompany any verb, static (i.e. to be, stay, study, work’, etc) or movement verbs (i.e. come, go,
jump, fell, wander, etc). Note that some of these prepositions, such as ‘over’, ‘around’ and
‘through’ have a pervasive meaning, especially when preceded by ‘all’ and ‘right’ (i.e. Crowds
were cheering (all) along the route or There were police (right) round the house).

So far, direction is expressed by a group of prepositions which convey the meaning of movement
with reference to different types of ‘motion’. In general usage, we distinguish several types of
directional prepositions regarding movement or destination with respect to (1) direction, (2)
passage, and (3) relative destination.

5.2.1. Direction.

Direction, together with the notion of passage, is frequently related to conceptual axes, which have
to do with a real or fancied point from which spatial relations are often expressed by orientation to
the speaker (i.e. up, down, along, across, past, from...to, towards, etc ). In fact, the preposition
‘towards’ indicate this category on its own, meaning ‘in the direction of’. For instance, ‘up the hill’
depends on where the speaker is situated since it implies ‘up somewhere further down from where I
am speaking’ or ‘further up from the place I am speaking about’.

In other words, direction implies an orientation point from the place the speaker is situated. Note
that difference between ‘(coming) up the road’ and ‘(going) down the road ’ may have more to do
with personal orientation rather than with relative elevation. Just as verbs like ‘come’ and ‘go’ may
strongly imply personal orientation, so others are congruent with prepositional meaning, even to the
extent of enabling the preposition to be omitted, as in ‘climb (up), jump (over), flee (from), pass
(by)’, and so on.

Then, these orientation points indicating direction shall be set out in an imaginary axis or directional
line, with a vertical and a horizontal axis. On the horizontal axis, we would find those prepositions
which indicate, on the one hand, the notion of ‘from one end towards the other’, such as ‘from ... to,
along, past, towards, etc’, as in ‘His car is past the post office’; and on the other hand, crossing the
horizontal line, those prepositions which mean ‘from one side to another’, such as ‘across, around,

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through, etc’, as in ‘The dwarfs went across the moors’. Note that ‘around’ implies a directional
path in an angle or curve, such as a corner or a centre, as in ‘The chemist’s is just round the corner ’.

Secondly, on the vertical axis, we would find the notion of ‘vertical direction’, and therefore,
prepositions indicating a relative elevation, increasing or decreasing, like ‘up and down’, as in
‘There is someone walking up and down the road’. However, note that ‘up’ and ‘down’ are also
used idiomatically in reference to a horizontal axis, as in ‘Anxiously, she walked up and down the
platform’. Here, ‘up’ and ‘down’ also express the notion of ‘along’, and need not have any vertical
implications.

5.2.2. Passage.

As stated above, the notion of passage, together with that of direction, is frequently related to
conceptual axes, which have to do with a real or fancied point from which spatial relations are often
expressed by orientation to the speaker (i.e. on, in, along, across, through, etc). The sense of
‘passage’ is the primary locative meaning attached to prepositions of dimension-type 0 (in, on ),
dimension-type 1/2 (across) and dimension type 2/3 (through, past, by).

The notion of passage combines prepositions of position and motion, for instance, ‘on the grass’
(position) vs. ‘across the grass’ (motion), but disregards prepositions of destination (i.e. He was
moving behind the door or She loves walking through woods in spring). Other prepositions
commonly used for passage are ‘by, over, under, across, and past’. It is worth noting the parallel
between positional ‘on’ and ‘in’ on the one hand and ‘across’ and ‘through’ on the other.

However, spatial relations regarding passage have more to do with motion at a horizontal level,
depending on where the speaker is situated since it implies ‘somewhere from where I am speaking’
or ‘from the place I am speaking about’. For instance, the pair ‘on the grass vs. across the grass’
treat the grass as a surface, and therefore suggest short grass. On the other hand, the other pair ‘in
the grass vs. through the grass’ suggest that the grass has height as well as length and breadth, that
is, that by treating the grass as a volume, we understand that it is long.

5.2.3. Relative destination.

As well as relative posit ion (Quirk, 1973), the following prepositions: ‘by, over, under, etc’. except
for ‘above’ and ‘below’, can express relative destination since most prepositions of relative position
can also be used of relative direction and destination; for example, ‘The fox scampered under a
bush and disappeared’. Here, ‘under’ has a distinct use from that denoting passage, as in ‘He
walked under the bridge’.

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5.3. The notion of resultative meaning.

As stated before, directional expressions are used only with verbs of motion or with other dynamic
verbs that allow a directional meaning of ‘motion’ or ‘direction’, as in ‘He jumped over the fence’
or ‘Michael was whispering into the microphone’. However, some directional adverbial phrases are
also used with the verb ‘to be’, but with a resultative meaning, indicating the state of having
reached the destination (i.e. He dived in the water). Note that in many cases, especially in colloquial
English, ‘on’ and ‘in’ may be used for both position and destination, as in ‘He fell on the floor’, ‘He
is wandering around all day’.

5.4. The placing of direction at sentence level.

Regarding the placing of directional expressions at sentence level, they are normally placed in final
position (i.e. ‘I’ll meet you downstairs, we are moving all the furniture into our new house next
week) and normally, before the expression of time. Moreover, directional expressions usually
accord with the interpretation of the verb. For instance, the verb ‘come’ concerns ‘arrival’, and
therefore the destination (to Edinburgh) is normally mentioned before the point of departure (from
Rome ), whereas ‘go’ concerns departure before the ‘arrival’, which would be placed after it.

When position and directional prepositional phrases co-occur in the sentence, position normally
follow directional expressions in final position. For instance, ‘The children are running around
(direction) upstairs (position)’. Moreover, position can be moved to initial position to avoid giving
it end focus: ‘Upstairs the children are running around’. However, when directional expressions
are juxtaposed in the sentence, their order depends on the verb meaning described above. For
instance, ‘They drove down the road to the city centre’.

Initial position is more unusual, but happens in certain situa tions. Thus, similarly with actions, the
earlier event would be placed in intial position, as in ‘And then from Venice the party proceeded to
Rome’. Yet, some directional expressions are put initially to convey a dramatic impact, and
normally co-occur with a verb in the simple present (i.e. Away she goes) or simple past (i.e. On they
marched). If the subject is not a pronoun but a noun, subject-verb inversion is normal in initial
position (i.e. Away goes the bride).

Moreover, directional expressions are put in initial position virtually only in literary English and in
children’s literature. Just a few exceptions occur in informal speech, mainly with ‘go, come, and
get’ in either the imperative with the retained subject ‘you’ in the simple present. For instance, ‘In
the bath you go; over the fence you jump; under the bridge you get; round you go; Here he comes,
Here I/we go’, and so on.

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5.5. The expression of direction by other means.

Apart from prepositions, we have seen in previous sections how to express ‘spatial reference’ by
other means. In fact, we shall review how to express ‘direction’ in this section, by means of:

(1) adverbs and adverbial phrases. In fact, place adjuncts denote direction, movement, and
passage under the general term ‘direction’. Most place adjuncts are prepositional phrases
(i.e. past the sentry), but we also find adverbs, common for position and direction (i.e.
above, along, around, away, back, down, here, in, near, off, out, over, past, and so on), as
in Madonna is here ; the appartmet above , and so on ); and a few adverbs denoting direction
only (i.e. aside, backwards, downwards, forwards, inwards, left, outwards, right, sideways,
upwards). Regarding adverbial phrases, we find adjuncts: ‘On the shelf would be the best
place’; disjuncts: ‘From my point of view, it would be placed on the shelf’; or conjuncts: As
far as I know).
(2) the sequence verb + preposition, where the directional prepositions functions as a
complement to the verb (i.e. I lift it up/He comes from Ireland/She goes to school). Note
that, as seen previously, just as verbs like ‘come’ and ‘go’ imply different orientation
depending on the preposition following (i.e. come up, come down), we find certain verbs
where the preposition is likely to be omitted, as in ‘climb (up), jump (over), flee (from),
pass (by)’ and so on.
(3) noun phrases (i.e. ten yards, eight kilometres), where prepositional phrases are mainly
either of direction (i.e. to school), passage (i.e. past the church ), or distance (i.e. away from
me).
(4) And finally, by means of idiomatic expressions, where prepositions are used but not with
their literal meaning, as in ‘Here you are’ meaning ‘This is for you’; ‘Here we are’
meaning someone has arrived at the expected place; ‘There you are’ meaning that supports
or proves what someone has said; ‘Here we go ’ meaning that someone is just about to start
moving, and so on.

6. THE EXPRESSION OF DISTANCE.

In this section, we shall approach the notion of distance by examining (a) the notion of distance, (b)
the main type of prepos itions, and (c) the expression of distance by other means.

6.1. The notion of distance.

The notion of distance differs from the notions of position and direction in that it answers to the
question ‘How far...?’ instead of Where? The expression of distance then is brought about by the

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notion of ‘measure’ since we shall answer in terms of ‘amount of’ yards, miles, kilometres, inches,
centimetres and also by other grammatical expressions, such as ‘a long way away’ or ‘after two
kilometres’.

6.2. Main type of prepositions.

The notion of distance also differ from both position and direction in generally being realized by
just a few prepositions (i.e. away from, outside, next to, near, from) which correspond to
dimensional types 1 /2 and 2/3. They generally refer to the notion of ‘orientation’, as the following
prepositions show: ‘beyond, over, past, away from, and so on’.

As stated before, most prepositions indicating direction can be used in a static sense of orientation
(i.e. up, down, along, across). This brings in a third factor apart from the two things being spatially
related, that is, ‘a point of orientation’, ‘at which in reality or imagination’, ‘the speaker is
standing’. This means that three points of reference are established, first, the one from which the
speaker is talking, second, the point at which we make reference in the distance, and the third
element refers to the personal measure the speaker makes of the distance between the two points
(i.e. I think the post office is two yards away=He is not sure, it may be two yards and a half).

Thus, we may say ‘He lives across the river’ (=from here) or ‘The village past the next bus-stop’
(=from where we are now). Moreover, the prepositions ‘up, down, along, across, and around’ are
used orientationa lly with reference to an axis and subjected to paraphrasing, for instance, ‘The shop
down the road’ (=towards the bottom end of the street); ‘His office is up the stairs’ (=towards the
top of the flat); ‘There is a restaurant across the road’ (=on the other side of the road); and finally,
‘He lives round the corner’ (=just on the other street).

6.3. The expression of distance by other means.

The expression of distance may be answered not only by prepositions or prepositional phrases (i.e.
along the street) but also by other means, such as:

(1) adverbs and adverbial phrases (i.e. away; extremely far away), in which case the notion of
distance can share realizations with position (i.e. near, in the corner of, etc ) and direction
(i.e. three kilometres from here).
(2) the sequence verb + preposition, where the directional prepositions functions as a
complement to the verb (i.e. North Europe is far from here).
(3) noun phrases (i.e. ten yards, eight kilometres, several miles), where prepositional phrases
are mainly either of direction (i.e. to school), passage (i.e. past the church), or distance (i.e.
away from me ). Note that prepositional phrases coincide with noun phrases (i.e. two miles
away).

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7. EDUCATIONAL IMPLICATIONS.

The various aspects of the expression of spatial reference, that is, position, direction and distance
dealt with in this study is relevant to the learning of the vocabulary of a foreign language since
differences between the vocabulary of the learner's native language (L1) and that of the foreign
language (L2) may lead to several problems, such as the incorrect use of place adjuncts expressions,
especially because of the syntactic, morphological, and semantic processes implied in these
categories.

This study has looked at the expression of place prepositions within lexical semantics, morphology
and syntax in order to establish a relative similarity between the two languages that Spanish-
speaking students would find it useful for learning English if these connections were brought to
their attention, especially when different categories may overlap (position and direction
prepositions: in).

According to Thomson & Martinet (1986), a European student may find especially troublesome the
use of prepositions when communicating in English since, first, he has to know whether in any
construction a preposition is required or not (i.e. He helped the old lady to carry the bags, and
NOT: He helped to the old lady to carry the bags) and, second, which preposition to use when one
is required (i.e. The plane was flying above/on/over the field ).

This choice becomes problematic for our Spanish students when they try to find a certain
construction in his own language which requires a preposition whereas a similar one in English
does not. For instance, the most common mistake for Spanish students, both at ESO and
Bachillerato level, is to express purpose as in Spanish, that is, preposition + infinitive (i.e. para
comer = for eat) whereas in English it is expressed by the infinitive only (i.e. to eat).

It has been suggested that a methodology grounded in part in the application of explicit linguistic
knowledge enhances the second language learning process. In the Spanish curriculum (B.O.E.
2002), the expression of place by means of prepositions is envisaged from earlier stages of ESO in
terms of simple descriptions of places, such as describing the items in a bedroom, up to higher
stages of Bachillerato, towards more complex descriptions of places, asking for directions,
describing a room, a city, people and things.

The expression of spatial reference implying the use of the discussed prepositions has been
considered an important element of language teaching because of its high-frequency in speech. We
must not forget that the expression of place adjuncts is mainly drawn from open class categories,
such as prepositions, and closed class categories, such as adverbs, adjectives, and nouns.

Hence, the importance of how to handle these expressions cannot be understated since you cannot
communicate without it. Current communic ative methods foster the ‘teaching’ of this kind of
specific linguistic information to help students recognize new L2 words. Learners cannot do it all on

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their own. Language learners, even 2nd year Bachillerato students, do not automatically recognize
similiarities which seem obvious to teachers; learners need to have these associations brought to
their attention.

So far, we have attempted in this discussion to provide a broad account of the expression of spatial
reference in order to set it up within the linguistic theory, going through the localization of place
adjuncts in syntactic structures, and finally, once correctly framed, a brief presentation of the main
prepositions under study. We hope students are able to understand the relevance of handling
correctly the expression of place adjuncts in everyday life communication.

8. CONCLUSION

Although the questions Where are you going tonight? may appear simple and straightforward, they
imply a broad description of the place you are going to. The appropriate answer suitable for
students and teachers, may be so simple if we are dealing with ESO students, using simple
grammatical structures and basic vocabulary, or so complex if we are dealing with Bachillerato
students, who must be able to describe things within a spatial frame using the appropriate
prepositions according to their dimensional characteristics.

So far, in this study we have attempted to take a fairly broad view of the expression of place since
we are also assuming that there is an intrinsic connexion between its learning and successful
communication. Yet, we have provided a descriptive account of Unit 17 dealing with Spatial
reference, whose main aim was to introduce the student to the different ways of expressing position,
direction and distance in English.

In doing so, the study provided a broad account the notion of spatial reference, starting by a
theoretical framework in order to get some key terminology on the issue, and further developed
within a grammar linguistic theory, described in morphological, syntactic and semantic terms. Once
presented, we discussed how prepositions, adverbs and other syntactic constructions also reflected
this notion.

In fact, lexical items and vocabulary, and therefore, the expression of place prepositions, is
currently considered to be a central element in communicative competence and in the acquisition of
a second language since students must be able to use these prepositions in their everyday life in
many different situations. As stated before, the teaching of place expressions comprises four major
components in our educational curriculum: phonology, grammar, lexicon, and semantics, out of
which we get five major levels: phonological, morphological and syntactic, lexical, and semantic.

In fact, for our students to express spatial reference properly, they must have a good knowledge at
all those five levels. First, on phonology which describes the sound level. Secondly, since the two

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most basic units of grammar are the word and the sentence, they must have good grammatical
knowledge, which involves the morphological level (i.e. simple and complex prepositions) and the
syntactic level (i.e. where prepositions of place are placed at sentence level).

Third, the lexicon, or lexical level, lists vocabulary items, that is, different prepositions (direction,
position, distance), and other expressions to denote place, specifying how they are pronounced, how
they behave grammatically, and what they mean. Finally, another dimension between the study of
linguistic form and the study of meaning is semantics, or the semantic level, in which students must
be able to distinguish the overlapping of semantic fields within the same preposition (in, for place
and time), and so on.

Therefore, it is a fact that students must be able to handle the four levels in communicative
competence in order to be effectively and highly communicative in the classroom and in real life
situations. The expression of spatial reference proves highly frequent in our everyday speech, and
consequently, we must encourage our students to have a good managing of it.

9. BIBLIOGRAPHY.

- Aarts, F., and J. Aarts. 1988. English Syntactic Structures. Functions & Categories in Sentence
Analysis. Prentice Hall Europe.

- B.O.E. RD Nº 112/2002, de 13 de septiembre por el que se establece el currículo de la Educación


Secundaria Obligatoria/Bachillerato en la Comunidad Autónoma de la Región de Murcia.

- Bolton, D. And N. Goodey. 1997. Grammar Practice in Context. Richmond Publishing.

- Council of Europe (1998) Modern Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment. A Common


European Framework of reference.

- Downing, A. and P. Locke. 2002. A University Course in English Grammar. London: Routledge.

- Eastwood, J. 1999. Oxford Practice in Grammar. Oxford University Press.

- Greenbaum, S. and R. Quirk. 1990. A Student’s Grammar of the English Language. Longman
Group UK Limited.

- Greenbaum, S. 2000. The Oxford Reference Grammar. Edited by Edmund Weiner. Oxford
University Press.

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- Hymes, D. 1972. On communicative competence. In J. B. Pride and J. Holmes (eds.),
Sociolinguistics, pp. 269-93. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

- Huddleston, R. 1988. English Grammar, An Outline. Cambridge University Press.

- Huddleston, R. and G.K. Pullum. 2002. The Cambridge Grammar of th e English Language.
Cambridge University Press.

- Nelson, G. 2001. English: An Essential Grammar. London. Routledge.

- Quirk, R & S. Greenbaum. 1973. A University Grammar of English. Longman.

- Sánchez Benedito, F. 1975. Gramática Inglesa. Editorial Alhambra.

- Thomson, A.J. and A.V. Martinet. 1986. A Practical English Grammar. Oxford University Press.

10. APPENDIX.

Appendix 1. Spatial dimensions of prepositions (Greenbaum & Quirk, 1990).

Spatial Positive Negative


Dimensions Destination Position Destination Position
Dimension-type 0
POINT to at (away) from away from

Dimension-type 1
or 2 on (to) on off off
LINE or
SURFACE
Dimension-type 2
or 3 in (to) in out of out of
AREA or
VOLUME

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