I am struggling figuring out how to consider "function" words (like particles or prepositions) in a conlang. Verbs, nouns, and adjectives have been relatively straightforward but not these function words. Here are 70 prepositions from English:

aboard, about, above, across, after, against, along, amid, among, anti, around, as, at, before, behind, below, beneath, beside, besides, between, beyond, but, by, concerning, considering, despite, down, during, except, excepting, excluding, following, for, from, in, inside, into, like, minus, near, of, off, on, onto, opposite, outside, over, past, per, plus, regarding, round, save, since, than, through, to, toward, towards, under, underneath, unlike, until, up, upon, versus, via, with, within, without

Some are movement/location/position based, some are containment, etc..

Are there any languages which lack treating these kinds of words like this, and instead treat them as nouns, verbs, or adjectives/adverbs ("features"/modifiers)? If not, why not? If so, what are some examples?

2 Answers 2


Swahili has very few actual prepositions; in most cases where English would use a preposition, Swahili uses a noun.

Paka iko ndani ya sanduku.
cat located inside of box
The cat is in the box.

Paka iko juu ya meza.
cat located top of table
The cat is on the table.

Nitakwenda nyumbani baada ya kesho.
I-FUT-go home-LOC after of tomorrow
I'll go home after tomorrow.

These "prepositions", ndani, juu, baada, are syntactically just class-9 nouns meaning "the inside", "the top", and "the time after"; as nouns, they can be joined to other nouns with -a "of". Swahili really likes its nouns and uses them in many cases where English would want a preposition, an adverb, an adjective, etc.

Notably, the main reason English has so many prepositions is because they used to be an open class. All the ones starting with "be-", for example, are derived from nouns.

  • Cool! Where can I find a list of those things in Swahili. Hoping that even words like "with" and "as" and "to" are treated as nouns as well :)
    – Lance
    Oct 22, 2022 at 1:28
  • 1
    @Lance Any good dictionary should include them. Swahili still has some true prepositions, but far fewer than English; most spatial and temporal relationships are indicated with nouns. Others function as conjunctions: "with" for example is often conveyed by "and".
    – Draconis
    Oct 22, 2022 at 1:48
  • I have the Swahili Learners' Reference Grammar, but it doesn't explicitly say the reasoning behind what is a preposition and what is like you are saying, which is kind of unhelpful. Also it appears that some things I asked for are still prepositions in Swahili (like "by").
    – Lance
    Oct 22, 2022 at 2:47
  • @Lance There's not really a "reasoning" behind it; some things are prepositions and some are relational nouns and that's just how it works.
    – Draconis
    Oct 22, 2022 at 2:49
  • Okay, well the idea of relational nouns is new to me, so that is helpful as well.
    – Lance
    Oct 22, 2022 at 2:51

I faced English prepositions with the same bewilderment.

Anybody should... I drew out a list of adposition "functions" using Spanish's smaller set. I am usually looking at my own table, not the English/Spanish, but I do not recall needing to add any adpositions to that list in many dozen (maybe 100+ by now) pages of different translations.

For my own conlang, I worked up a set of "position" verbs which filled the functions through their several verb forms,


  • "Fred ins" being "Fred enters"

or transitive with objects in different cases

  • "Fred ins ACC-yard" being "Fred is inside the yard"

  • "Fred ins DAT-yard" being "Fred goes into the yard"

  • "Fred ins GEN-house" being "Fred goes in from the yard"

  • "Fred ins INS-house" being "Fred goes through the yard"

I had extra spaces left on my VerbxCase multiplication table. I assigned those to other common verbs: "Fred fars" -> "Fred is unfamiliar."

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