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Preposition? Adverb? Or Part of the Verb?

Elk
     Many words that function as prepositions can also function as simple adverbs, or as a part of the verb itself. In order to tell how a word that looks like a preposition actually functions, you need to look at the meaning of the sentence. As you will see, in many cases, more than one explanation is acceptable.
Deer
Adverbs That Look Like Prepositions

     Consider, for example, the following sentence:

They fly around hitting things, and a whole bunch makes a noise all right.

If you say that "around" is a preposition here and that "around hitting things" is a prepositional phrase, then you are saying that they fly around things that hit. That is probably not what the writer meant. The writer probably meant that they fly around and hit things. The easiest way to explain "around" in this sentence is to consider it to be an adverb to "fly." Note that in context, the "around" might be considered an ellipsed prepositional phrase:

There are a lot of bats around the house They fly around hitting things . . . .

If one really wanted to be technical, one could argue that the "around" in the second sentence is thus a preposition with its object ellipsed. Although in most cases, it is much simpler to consider the preposition-like word to be an adverb, in some cases it may be important to be able to recognize that they are ellipsed prepositional phrases. Consider the following, perfectly correct sentence:

In this world underneath existed an atmosphere of mystery which made me feel as if I was exploring an old dungeon in a decaying castle.
An obvious question is "underneath what?" The answer to that was, in context, provided by the previous sentence:
But the most vivid impression left on me this summer by this theater came not from the stage; instead, it came from the rooms underneath the theatre. 
Thus, in what was, in context, the second sentence, "underneath" can be considered an adverb to "existed," but, meaningfully, it is an ellipsed prepositional phrase.

"Prepositions" That Are Part of the Verb

     Sometimes words that look like prepositions are actually part of the verb:

He had to figure out the answer.

If you rely on your knowledge of what words mean, you will be able to see that "out the answer" is not a prepositional phrase here. The "out" goes with "figure." Together, they mean "discover," or "find," etc. Whenever you can replace a verb plus what looks like a preposition with one verb, you can consider the "preposition" to be part of the verb. This combination is fairly frequent in English. The following are just a few examples.
 

cry out = scream
go on = continue
look like = resemble
look out for = seek, guard, avoid, watch
put up with = endure
think of = remember
think up = invent
went in = entered
went up = approached

Note that your final decision needs to be based on the meaning of the words in the sentence. In

She ran up the hill; he ran up the flag.
{"up the hill"} indicates where she ran, but he probably raised the flag up the flagpole. Note that sometimes you can tell because words that are not prepositions can be moved. We would say "He ran the flag up," but "She ran the hill up" would not make any sense. As another example, consider the difference between the following analyses:
1. Bill turned on the lights.
2. Bill turned {on the lights}.
If you analyze the sentence the first way, you are saying the sentence means Bill turned the lights on. (And you can consider the "on" as part of the verb even if it appears after "lights." But if you analyze it the second way, you are saying that it means either that Bill was on top of the lights and he was turning, or that he was driving, as in a race, and he turned at a signal from the lights.

      Sometimes, as "Come on," words that look like prepositions do not have any meaningful object. The question "On what?" simply does not make any sense here. In such cases, simply consider the word to be an adverb.