Is "worth" a preposition?

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Frank Antonson

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A friend of mine asked me the following:
I was watching television tonight and picked up a sentence which started to bother me as I thought about it: "Training the dogs is worth the effort." I couldn't decide how the word "worth" was functioning within the sentence. I looked it up online and found several definitions. One dictionary stated that it is a preposition/noun. Another claimed that it is an adjective/noun. Yet another said it is a verb.

Looking at the sentence, I can see the practical aspect of labeling it a preposition, because it is easier to diagram as such. If it is functioning as an adjective, I would like to see the sentence diagrammed so that "worth the effort" is defined--if you don't mind, Frank.

After having found various definitions for the same word, I am curious: is there a good online dictionary?

Any suggestions?
 

corum

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Quirk calls it a marginal preposition in CGEL, 9.8., p669.:

...there are some words which behave in many ways like a preposition, although they also have affinities with other word classes such as verbs or adjectives

Some info about preps:

In the most general terms, a preposition expresses a relation between two entities, one being that represented by the prepositional complement, the other by another part of the sentence. The prepositional complement is characteristically a noun phrase, a nominal wh-clause, or a nominal -ing clause.

Syntactic functions of prepositional phrases:

(1) POSTMODIFIER in a noun phrase:
The people on the bus were singing.

(2) ADVERBIAL
(a) adjunct
The people were singing on the bus.
In the afternoon, we went to Boston.

(b) subjunct
From a personal viewpoint, I find this a good solution to the problem.

(c) disjunct
In all fairness, she did try to phone the police.

(3) COMPLEMENTATION
(a) of a verb:
We were looking at his awful paintings.

(b) of an adjective:
I am sorry for his parents.

Like adverbs, prepositional phrases may occasionally take a nominal function, for example as subject of a clause:

A: When are we going to have a meeting?
B: On Tuesday will be fine.

Such nominal use can be viewed as related to sentences that have been restructured so as to leave only the prepositional phrase:

B: (The proposal that we meet) on Tuesday...
The preposition can be omitted under the same conditions:

Tuesday will be fine. = Meeting on Tuesday... or The weather on Tuesday will be fine.

In addition to the functions of prepositional phrases mentioned in this chapter, we have a quasi-adjectival function as complement:
This machine is (very) out of date.
This dress seems out of fashion.

The adjectival nature of these prepositional phrases is evident from:
(i) their semantic similarity to adjectives, eg:
out of date = obsolete
(ii) their possibility of being coordinated with, or appositional to, adjectives, eg: They are happy and in good health. an old and out-of-order machine
(iii)
their use as complementation also for copular verbs other than be, eg:
They seem in good health.

(c) Exceptionally (mainly in fixed phrases), an adverb or adjective may function as prepositional complement:

until now, in brief, by far, at last, at worst, etc.

(d) Prepositional phrases can themselves act as prepositional complements:

He picked up the gun from behind the counter.
The weather has been fine except in the north.

(e) some prepositions form a correlative construction with a conjuncion or another preposition, eg:

from six to seven
between NY and TX

A definition of preposition

There are several points of similarity between prepositions and other word classes and constructions in English grammar, in particular conjunctions and adverbs, but also participles and adjectives.
Before discussing the marginal cases, it will be useful to try to define central prepositions.

CENTRAL prepositions in English can be defined negatively with three criteria.

They cannot have as complement

(i) a that-clause
(ii) an infinitive clause
(iii) a subject case form of a personal pronoun:

Training the dogs is worth that we make an effort. :cross:
Training the dogs is worth to make an effort. :cross:
Training the dogs is worth the money and energy you spend on it. :tick:
Training the dogs is worth they. :cross:
Training the dogs is worth them. :tick:

It looks like we have a prep in the form of 'worth, but then:

It is difficult (adj) but well worth the effort.
-- adjectives can be modified by adverbs, preps can't. Note the coordinated elements, which are: 'difficult' plus 'worth', an adjective and an unknown quantity.

That is why the "marginal", I guess.
 
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orangutan

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Just a few further thoughts:


It looks like we have a prep in the form of 'worth, but then:

-- adjectives can be modified by adverbs, preps can't. Note the coordinated elements, which are: 'difficult' plus 'worth', an adjective and an unknown quantity.

That is why the "marginal", I guess.

Actually I think they can:

- Our house is just over the bridge.
- My team is nearly in the Premiership.
- We are seriously out of our depth here.

Also the co-ordination problem is not insuperable, as predicative prepositions can co-ordinate with adjectives (and other things):

- This is beautiful but well outside my price range.

The big problem with treating it as an adjective would be that adjectives never, as far as I know, take NP complements in English; "worth", on the other hand, takes them all the time.
 

corum

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http://img717.imageshack.us/img717/7149/worth.gif

That was wonderful, Corum. It made may day.

It's nice to know that there is somebody else out there as brilliant at this as Kondorosi.

4.gif
 

corum

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Just a few further thoughts:




Actually I think they can:

- Our house is just over the bridge.
- My team is nearly in the Premiership.
- We are seriously out of our depth here.



I meant prepositions and not PPs.
 
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corum

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The big problem with treating it as an adjective would be that adjectives never, as far as I know, take NP complements in English; "worth", on the other hand, takes them all the time.

It seems sad that adjectives are unable to take NP complements.
 

orangutan

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The art of being able to set up a coherent syntactic argument often requires more skills than I have.

On the contrary, your post was a fine example of syntactic argument.


Our house is just over the bridge. --In this sentence, just relates to the string of words that follows.

...which is a PP. Since prepositions only normally appear as part of a PP, it is sometimes hard to tell the difference. But there are cases where it seems to only modify the preposition:

- it is right beside, and just over, the bridge.

(co-ordinated prepositions, "beside" and "over")

Training the dogs is well worth the effort. -- Here, well and worth are the words that are closely related.
 

corum

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This is beautiful but well outside my price range.

outside my price range = expensive (adj)

We tend to use the language of spatial dimensions figuratively when we refer to the price of something to describe it in terms of whether it is within our means or outside it.

Adjectives can be realized by PPs:

The man in black.,

just to mention one of the immense amount of instances.

This is beautiful but well outside my price range = nice + pricy; adj. + adj.
 
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corum

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- it is right beside _, and just over _, the bridge.

The _ denotes the places in the clause from where the pp complements have been moved to clause end position. I forgot the name of this movement. Of course I did. :-( My point I am trying to drive at is that right does not only modify the preposition, but the understood PP.
 

orangutan

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The _ denotes the places in the clause from where the pp complements have been moved to clause end position. I forgot the name of this movement. Of course I did. :-( My point I am trying to drive at is that right does not only modify the preposition, but the understood PP.

I think the transformation you are thinking of is Right Node Raising.

Remember, though, that this is only one possible analysis, not a "given". There are other treatments of this construction in which nothing moves anywhere.
 

orangutan

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outside my price range = expensive (adj)

We tend to use the language of spatial dimensions figuratively when we refer to the price of something to describe it in terms of whether it is within our means or outside it.

Adjectives can be realized by PPs:

I am not sure I would put it quite like that. Predicated properties which are normally expressed by adjectives can also be expressed by PPs. But adjectives and PPs remain different things. Maybe it looks as if I am splitting hairs here, but I think it is important not to confuse different levels of analysis (predication and part of speech).

The thing is that this phenomenon (as you yourself hint) is very common, and I don't know if you could find an adjective equivalent to every PP to which it applies. (Actually it even applies to some NPs: I am cold and a long way from home). It seems that predicative phrases can often be co-ordinated without too much regard for their exact part of speech. Therefore in the case of co-ordinated predicates, co-ordination is not a safe test for part of speech. This was really the point I was making. The co-ordination test may suggest that "worth" is an adjective rather than a preposition, but it is not safe to say that it proves it.
 

corum

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I think the transformation you are thinking of is Right Node Raising.

Remember, though, that this is only one possible analysis, not a "given".

RNR, yes! Thanks!

There are other treatments of this construction in which nothing moves anywhere.

What is one of them?
 

Frank Antonson

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Frank Antonson

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compound prepositions sharing an object, the phrase acting adverbially because it answers the question "where"
 

corum

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I am not sure I would put it quite like that. Predicated properties which are normally expressed by adjectives can also be expressed by PPs. But adjectives and PPs remain different things. Maybe it looks as if I am splitting hairs here, but I think it is important not to confuse different levels of analysis (predication and part of speech).

I was thinking the same thing. But then it entered my mind why we call certain relative clauses adjectival clauses when the class of adjectives is clearly a formal category, one of the eight word classes. Adjective is a word class and (noun) modifier is a functional label I can attach to it. Ist es richtig?

The thing is that this phenomenon (as you yourself hint) is very common, and I don't know if you could find an adjective equivalent to every PP to which it applies. (Actually it even applies to some NPs: I am cold and a long way from home). It seems that predicative phrases can often be co-ordinated without too much regard for their exact part of speech. Therefore in the case of co-ordinated predicates, co-ordination is not a safe test for part of speech.

Many tests are not foolproof. That is why we need to resort to as many as possible. Even though the coordination test is not completely reliable, the results we get by its application can influence the outcome of our process of argumentation.
This was really the point I was making. The co-ordination test may suggest that "worth" is an adjective rather than a preposition, but it is not safe to say that it proves it.

Agreed. If 'worth' is an adjective, why is this sentence ungrammatical?

Training dogs is worth. :cross:

I can't think of another(?) adjective that requires a complement for the sentence it sits in to be grammatical. At the moment I am more inclined to treat 'worth' as a preposition.

It is worth they. :cross: -- nominative pronoun
It is worth them. :tick: -- accusative
 

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Frank Antonson

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In American grammar terms, an adjective is a "part of speech" (of which there are eight -- if you include interjections). A modifier is a "part of a sentence" (of which there are about 25).

Various"parts of sentences" can act as modifiers -- acting adjectivally if they are modifying nouns or pronouns and answer one of the five questions what kind of, how many, how much, whose or which one -- and acting adverbially if they modify verbs, adjectives, or adverbs and answer one of the four questions how, when, where, or why.

I've said it before that American morphology and syntax are a little like a log cabin -- keeps the wind and rain out, but nothing fancy.
 

Frank Antonson

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With all due respect, I don't get your R-K diagram at all!

I'm glad you like mine better.
 
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