English Adverbs vs. Prepositions


This module offers a review of adverbs and prepositions and their differences for learners who have previously learned about these grammar points in a previous English course.

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Prepositions are sometimes confused with adverbs and vice versa. Many prepositions can function as adverbs, but this occurs only when there is no object tied to the preposition. Adverbs are words that answer the questions when, how, where, and to what extent or degree an action is done (time, manner, place, degree).

Here are some prepositions that are often used as adverbs:

above          across          after          before          behind
below          by                 down         in                 inside
of                 off                on              outside        over
through        to                 up              with             without

Prepositions can sometimes have implied objects that are understood from the context, even if they are not written or said. For example:

     Ralph waited outside the restaurant for a few minutes, and finally he went in

The word outside is a locational preposition, even though in other sentences it can be an adverb by itself. The adverb in has no object following it, but it is implied that it is in the restaurant, which means “in” is still a preposition.

A similar example to the one above illustrates the use of prepositions as adverbs:

     Ralph waited outside for a few minutes before he went inside.

Because it is not clear where “inside” or “outside” are, these general terms are adverbs of place (no implied object). Here are a few more examples:

     Paul got up and closed the door.
     He looked at the sky above.

In each example, the italicized words are prepositions without objects that indicate general direction, and so are considered adverbs. More recently, however, adverbs of place that look like prepositions and have implied objects are considered part of the category “locational prepositions.”

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Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

The CEFR is an international standard used to describe language ability. Here are specific details of the CEFR for this topic.

General Explanation:
Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment). Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters. Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.
Specific Capabilities at this Level
I can write short, simple notes and messages relating to matters in areas of immediate needs. I can write a very simple personal letter, for example thanking someone for something.
Spoken Production:
I can use a series of phrases and sentences to describe in simple terms my family and other people, living conditions, my educational background and my present or most recent job.
Spoken Interaction:
I can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar topics and activities. I can handle very short social exchanges, even though I can’t usually understand enough to keep the conversation going myself.
I can read very short, simple texts. I can find specific, predictable information in simple everyday material such as advertisements, prospectuses, menus and timetables and I can understand short simple personal letters.
I can understand phrases and the highest frequency vocabulary related to areas of most immediate personal relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local area, employment). I can catch the main point in short, clear, simple messages and announcements.