Is the word ‘home” never an adverb?

  1. He is home

  2. He is at home

  3. He went home

I know that in the sentence 1 and 3 the word home is considered an adverb and in the sentence 2, home is considered a noun.

According to Rod Mitchell, a famous linguist and English expert who answers questions on LinkedIn, the word “home” is always a noun and may be a verb too but it is not an adverb.

Here are excerpts of Rod Mitchell’s explanation which show that home is a noun and may be a verb but not an adverb.

“Home” is not an adverb, no. It is a noun.

My home is in the city of Milan.
The old folks’ home is putting on a special show tonight for fundraising.
Home is where the heart is.

It can also be a verb:

The smart bomb homed in on the target.
Homing pigeons are so called because they always home in on their home.

“home” as a verb shows movement towards/to the home of the thing moving. “Home” as a noun basically refers to the place where someone or something belongs (which is why we say “Home is where the heart is”).

Old English was a case marking language. All nouns were marked in various ways for four cases, nominative, accusative, dative and genitive. Being an Indo-European Germanic language, in Old English, the accusative had two main uses, one being to show the direct object, and the other to show movement in relationship to the noun. The dative showed indirect object and fixed position.

The case marking showed the role of the NP in the sentence, and adpostions were only used to refine that role.

So, in Old English, “hām”(as it was written and pronounced 1000 years ago) had the accusative form “hām” (Old English nouns made no formal difference between nominative and accusative), and the dative form “hāme” (the modern spelling “home” is from what originally was the dative).

  • ic gā hām = I go (to) home.
  • ic eam hāme = I am (at) home.
  • ic gā ēast = I go (to) east.
  • ic eam ēaste =I am in the east.

As English evolved, overt case marking, except for the genitive ‘s, eroded, and so for some centuries now, not only have prepositions become relatively more important, to the extent of being equal in semantic value and functional load to nouns, adjectives and verbs. However, we have quite a few “relicts” of case marking, such as “home”, “back”, “north”, “south”, “east”, “west” (and their combinations), “this week” and “next year”, where in contexts where the locational reference is clear, prepositions are not used.

So, what we have in the case of “go home”, “stay home”, “go east”, “Milan is north of Florence”, “come back next week”, are prepositional phrases, namely sentence adjuncts, that add “locative” content, namely locational, temporal, etc.

In traditional grammar, one claim was that there were four main word/phrase types, nominals, verbals, adjectivals and adverbials – the last one was said to include (logically) everything that is not nominal, not verbal and not adjectival. However, in more accurate analyses, it can be shown that what is commonly included in “adverbials” are actually at least 3 or even more parts of speech (when talking about words), and different kinds of phrase – each of which acts differently and has different grammar.

Home” in sentences such as “he went home” and “he stayed homeis a noun that is part of a prepositional phrase (prepositional adjunct) that specifies the destination/location. It is a prepositionless prepositional phrase, just as “I was there last week” contains to prepositionless prepositonal phrases, namely “there” (which has overt case marking, the -re) and “next week”, which has an understood preposition.

True adverbs are (1) clause manner modifiers: he ran quickly – “quickly modifies our understanding of his speed, and (2) degree modifiers (it is quite hot, he is so in trouble) – quite and so modify our perception of the degree of heat and “in trouble”.”

My question is:

Is “home” really an adverb when it is used at the end of sentence without the preposition at?


It depends on how you think about grammar. If you like the adverb as a traditional part of speech, then sure, it’s an adverb. If you analyze grammar and syntax based on function, then you might agree with some linguists that home is an adverbial / prepositionless prepositional phrase, or you might agree with other linguists that it is a preposition. I’ll lay out each of the cases in detail.


First, dictionaries will tend to classify this usage of home as an adverb because lexicographers are being asked to put each single word into a part of speech, and they aren’t doing much sentence-level analysis. So they pick one of the parts of speech inherited from 18th and 19th century grammarians, "adverb," which is really a catch-all for words that seem to modify adjectives, verbs, clauses, prepositions, and other adverbs (ThoughtCo, "What Is an Adverb?"). So the Oxford English Dictionary has an entire entry, "home, adv.," including this entry describing the usage in "He is home":

1e. Without verb of motion. Arrived at one’s house, neighbourhood, or country after a period of absence. Also: in one’s home; at home.

And Merriam-Webster has an entire article breaking down adverbs as "a most fascinating POS (part of speech)." In this system, home would be an adverb of place. Adverbs are the catch-all category of traditional grammar.

Adverbial? Prepositionless Prepositional Phrase?

Home as adverb is less satisfying to linguists who want a more nuanced description of how language functions on a syntactic level. Does home really work the exact same as other adverbs of place, which might also be considered prepositions (on, around), adjectives (backwards), or nouns (everywhere) in other contexts? More robust labeling of a word or phrase’s function gets around the difficulties around parts of speech. So Rod Mitchell and other linguists can say home is a noun, and when it appears to be an adverb in the traditional system, it is actually a prepositional phrase (or in Rod Mitchell’s words a "prepositionless prepositional phrase") where the preposition is elided. (The OED poses elision as a possibility in the etymology for "home, adv.") In this reading, the three sample sentences might be rendered like so, with parenthesis representing the elision:

  1. He is (at) home ("home" is noun within a prepositional phrase where the preposition is elided)

  2. He is at home ("at home" is a prepositional phrase denoting location)

  3. He went (to) home ("to home" is a prepositional phrase denoting destination)

In this kind of treatment, the explicit or implied prepositional phrase might also be called an adverbial phrase (ThoughtCo), signalling that it is performing the function of modifying a verb, adjective, or clause. This kind of terminology is still generally familiar to the traditional grammar crowd, but technical enough to acknowledge how phrases and single words can both have adverbial functions.


Then there are readings that insist home should be another part of speech altogether – a preposition. Huddleston and Pullum have argued that home should be considered a preposition. Pullum models a more accessible version of the argument in Lingua Franca: prepositions don’t merely govern/precede nouns and pronouns; they work with clauses and even by themselves. They want the class of prepositions to be expanded to include these spatial words. Maria Brenda explains in greater depth in her exhaustive book on the spatial preposition "over":

Another group of words which do not license noun phrase complements consists of spatial terms which function as a goal complement with the verbs come and go and as a locative complement of the verb be (Huddleston and Pullum 2002:614). The goal complements of the verbs mentioned, such as ashore, upstairs, home, or indoors, are traditionally considred adverbs. Huddleston and Pullum (2002) argue, however, that they should be reassigned to the prepositional category. They claim that adverbs generally cannot function as goal complements to the verbs of motion and as locative complements to the verb be.

The idea is that other spatial adverbs don’t substitute in:

x 1 (modified) He is locally.

And also that the words like home are not modifying the verb, any more than young in

He is young

modifies the verb. Brenda takes issue with this last line of argument, pointing out that words like home don’t modify the subject of the sentence either, and thus it seems premature to suggest they aren’t in some way modifying the verb. Whether you agree with Huddleston and Pullum or not, they show how linguists are attempting to group or classify usages like home according to deep syntactic functions, and how they test each other’s own terminology through comparisons and exceptions.

Source : Link , Question Author : successive suspension , Answer Author : TaliesinMerlin

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