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In English, words in most classes come in flavours that require a complement and those that don't. Transitive verbs, for example, take an object (internal complement), but intransitives don't. Adjectives may license prepositional complements (e.g., He's interested in...), or not (e.g., He's tall). Among all the word classes, prepositions alone have traditionally been bumped into another class simply based on the complements that they allow. That is, prepositions licensing noun phrase complements (e.g., She stood before the door) are held to be the one true race of prepositions, while those licensing clausal complements (e.g., She stood before she walked) sublimate into "conjunctions" and the poor sods with no complement at all (e.g., She had stood before) get assigned to the adverb ghetto.

This is quite unfair and there's no real justification for it; the definition of preposition that has it always followed by a noun is simply begging the question. Far from being the monogamists they've been protrayed as, prepositions are happy to go out with almost every word class from other prepositions (e.g., out from under...) and adjectives (e.g., on high, for free), to adverbs (e.g., until recently) and interogative clauses (e.g., we can't agree on whether to have children or not).

So, in traditional grammar, the friend is correct, but when it is looked at logically, 'before' is always a preposition.


In the example, "He studied before the library opened," "before" is a subordinate conjunction--not an adverb. The WHOLE subordinate clause is adverbial.


In the example, "on whether to have children or not," we have not a clause but a prepositional phrase having as its object two noun infinitives (one expressed, one implied) joined by correlative conjunctions.

Neal Deesit

"In this case, 'before you come to class' is adverbial: It tells us when you should consider reading the notes."

No, it tells us when the listener should read the notes, before coming to class, and not when he should consider doing so.

The speaker probably does not particularly care when the listener considers, but does think that the listener would be better off having read the notes before class, as opposed to after class, or never.

Shortening the sentence to "You should read the notes before you come to class." does not change anything about the adverbial phrase, and makes clear what it modifies in both sentences.

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