The reception of the preposition in the autochthonous grammar oscillates between extremes. On the one hand, there are authors who argue that the preposition is a grammatical instrument (a grammatical tool), a grammaticalised element, void of meaning/with a reduced, relational sense, with the exclusive function of connecting full lexical terms (Iordan and Robu 1978, Hristea 1981, Irimia 1987, Irimia 1997, Ciompec et alii 1981, Mihuț and Miuța 2007 etc.). On the other hand, this class of words is seen as a major lexical category (together with the noun, the verb and the adjective), capable of fulfilling the role of centre of a syntactic group (Mardale 2007, GALR I, II 2008, GBLR 2010, Dragomirescu et alii 2010, Pană Dindelegan 2013 etc.). Recent theories differentiate, inside this heterogeneous class, between lexical elements (primary prepositions), semi-lexical (subcategorized) and functional (either with a pure syntactic role, or void of meaning). The three subclasses present specific semantic and syntactic features. The lexical prepositions (most of which come from other parts of speech – through re-categorization, and some which are inherited from Latin) have a strong meaning – as proof stands their translatable character and their capacity of establishing antonymy and synonymy relations with other prepositions; the semi-lexical ones are characterized by the loss of meaning, the abstract nature of their initial meaning (they are required by the matrix of the external centre of the group); the functional prepositions are abstract – they become markers of the case relations, grading morphemes of the adjective/adverb or marking morphemes of the non-finite forms of the verb. At a syntactic level, the differences are considerable: the lexical prepositions have the role of centre of the syntactic group, they direct a term on which they impose grammatical restrictions (in terms of word order, case, articulation, thematic role); the sub-categorized prepositions form a group with the previous term, they convey a thematic role and impose certain restrictions (in terms of form, articulation, word order); when it comes to functional prepositions, the opinions are contradictory: some support the idea that they cannot fulfill the role of group centre, therefore they cannot govern prepositional groups since they do not change the nature of the introduced constituent (Mardale 2007), in other papers (GALR 2008, GBLR 2010) it is admitted that they can hold the position of group centre, thus generating prepositional groups.

The preposition analysed in this study can have all three values.




Originating from the Latin word “illac” (DEX 1998) or from the adverb “illac” + the Latin preposition“la” (Densusianu 1961), this preposition can have different meanings. When it refers to space, it can indicate: the direction (Merge la munte. / He is going to the mountains.), the space limit (associated with the preposition “până”/”until” – Apa i-a ajuns până la glezne. / The water reached up to his ankles.), the place and position of an action (S-a aşezat la fereastră. / He sat at the window.), the distance (Locuieşte la trei kilometri de oraş. / He lives three kilometers away from the city.). When it refers to time, it can show: the period (Festivalul se desfășoară la trei ani o dată. / The festival takes place every three years.), the occasion of the action (La deschiderea anului școlar a participat și primarul. / The mayor took part in the opening of the school year.). In clearly defined contexts, the preposition shows the instrument (Cântă la pian. / He plays the piano.), the manner (Caii merg la trap. / The horses trot.), the cause (Tresare la fiecare zgomot. / She gets startled by every noise.).

As a lexical preposition, la/at,to generates a syntactic group – it forms a prepositional group together with the dominated term. As a centre, it imposes grammatical restrictions of case, articulation, word order and thematic role, on the directed nominal.

The preposition la/at,to always has an accusative case government – in order for this to exert itself it is necessary for the mandatory determiner to have the grammatical category of the case.1 The form of the noun is nominative-accusative, but by replacing it with a personal pronoun at the first/second person, the context will disambiguate: Vine la munte (= la mine / la tine) / He is coming at the mountains (= at my place / at your place). In terms of the defined articulation of the noun, it is known that the prepositions used with the accusative impose, in general, forms of the noun which are not exactly marked. The lexical preposition la/at,to has, from this perspective, a prototypical behaviour: it associates itself with an unmarked noun if this is not accompanied by determiners or modifiers: La școală s-a întâmplat o nedreptate. / At school an injustice took place. The presence of a determiner usually demands the articulation of the noun, therefore the preposition is not responsible for this alteration: La școala noastră – At our school/ la școala din cartier – at the school from the neighbourhood / la școala cea nouă s-a întâmplat o nedreptate – at the new school an injustice took place. We can talk about a similar situation when the directed noun is part of the category which defines unique persons for the speaker (these have an articulated form, regardless of the group centre preposition): Hai la mama! Mergem la bunica.2 / Come to mom! We are going to your grandmother’s.2

The word order restrictions are obvious: the prepositional group keeps the prototypical order the preposition + mandatory determiner: *Mergem bunica la. *La mergem bunica.*We are going your grandmother’s to. * To we are going your grandmother’s. – are unnoticed statements in Romanian. At the same time, the preposition and the nominal form a sort of syntactic island, the group being protected from the syntactic operations which involve movement and transformation. The dislocation is possible only if the entire group is moved: La bunica mergem. S-a întâmplat o nedreptate la școală. / To your grandmother’s we are going. An injustice took place at school.

The semantics of the lexical preposition la/at,to is a vast one – on the one hand, a principal meaning can be indentified (the locative one); on the other hand, the meaning depends on the context, on the terms that are associated with it. The main thematic roles imposed on the directed item are: Locative (La munte nu va ploua. / At the mountain it will not rain.), Instrument (Cântă la vioară. / He plays the violin.), Temporal (La ora cinci, va începe spectacolul. / At five o’clock, the show starts.), Causative (La fiecare necaz, sănătatea îi era pusă în pericol. / At every problem, her health was in danger.).



As a subcategorized preposition, la/at,to can be found in the presence of the verb (Se gândește la vacanță. Am apelat la ajutorul lor. / He is thinking about his holiday. I asked them for help), next to adjectives (Suntem atenți la tot. Părea receptiv la critici. / We pay attention to everything. He seemed open-minded to critics.), or next to adverbs (relativ la, referitor la – relative to, with respect to). The preposition is required by the syntactic-semantic matrix of the previous term, and as such, this cannot function without the prepositional group: *Am apelat. *Părea receptiv.(?) *Nu am constatat nimic referitor. / * I asked. *He seemed open-minded.(?) *We have not found anything with respect. Also, the preposition cannot be replaced by another one: *Se gândește spre vacanță. *Suntem atenți spre tot. *Referitor spre problema enunțată, nu avem nimic de spus. / * He is thinking towards his holiday. * We pay attention towards everything. *with respect towards the stated problem, we have nothing to say. Essentially, the grammatical restrictions imposed on the dominated term are the same as in the case of the lexical preposition: fixed word order: (E predispus la alergii. *E predispus alergii la. / He is prone to allergies. *He is prone allergies to.), the accusative form of the nominal (A renunțat la aceasta. Nu se raportează la tine. / He gave it up. He does not relate to you.), the association with a noun which is not definitely marked (A participat la ședință. Se rezumă la proteste. / He participated in the meeting. He sticks to protests.).

The specific feature of these structures is that they require a double rection relation – on the one hand, the external group centre imposes the coerciveness of the preposition, on the other hand, the preposition demands the coerciveness of a term which is dominated by it and on which it imposes grammatical constraints.

The semi-lexical preposition imposes a thematic role together with the external centre of the prepositional group: Aim (Apelează la tine pentru ajutor. / He asks for your help).



To show the specific nature of the functional preposition “la” (“at/to”), we start our analysis from the following examples: Să nu-i spui la mama! Le-a dat la doi dintre ei. Le-a comunicat la amândoi copiii. / Don’t tell mum! He gave it to two of them. He told both children.

Those constructions in which the functional preposition “la” (“at/to”) is present have some particular features: we can notice that there is a difference between the required form (the accusative form of the nominal) and the meaning of the structures (the equivalent of a indirect object in the dative: to mum, to the two, to children). Also, the indirect objects are/can be doubled by the clitic of dative: Să nu-i spui la mama! Le-a dat la doi dintre ei. Le-a comunicat la doi copii. / Don’t tell mum! He gave it to two of them. He told two of the children. The nominal form is either the only one possible (if the term dominated by preposition has a unique form or is preceded by an invariable determiner – Îi spune la al doilea. Le-a dat premii la foarte mulți copii.3 / He tells the second. He gave prizes to very many children.3), or it alternates with a synthetic form of dative (Le spune tuturor / la toți; nimănui / la nimeni. / He tells everyone / to everyone; no one / to no one.). There is, in these situations, a functional resemblance between the case/definite articles desinence / ending for the genitive / dative and the functional prepositions.

The reading of this construction has been different throughout the years: on the one hand, there are grammarians who claim that the structure is used in the dative, despite its form which is particular to the accusative (Irimia 1987); on the other hand, some authors talk about the pro-dative accusative or about the accusative which is an equivalent of the dative, giving priority to the form (Hristea 1981, Avram 1986, Constantinescu-Dobridor 1998). There are also papers in which the value of “la” (“at/to”) as preposition is questioned: case marker (Iordan and Robu 1978), case morpheme (Constantinescu-Dobridor 1974).

We are interested in the functionality of the structure as prepositional group. From this point of view, the construction has caused controversy. In the tradition of the generative grammar (broadly adopted by GALR and GBLR), only the lexical elements (the lexical heads/centres) which are capable of changing the nature of the dominated constituent can generate syntactic groups:

The syntactic group, a fundamental concept of the modern syntax, represents a projection of a lexical head / group centre, achieved by updating the combinatorial availability of the centre. The group is characterised by syntactic and syntactic – semantic cohesion, provided through grammatical form restrictions required by the centre (case government, prepositional government, accord and word order restrictions), and rarely, through restrictions imposed on one another by the components (in GV, for example, the subject imposes accord restrictions on the verbal centre), and also through semantic constraints imposed by the group centre on its subordinates (like the assignment of thematic roles). (GBLR 2010: 16-17)

Therefore, it is basically recognised that only the lexical terms, and implicitly the lexical prepositions, can generate syntactic groups. The functional prepositions are discussed in connection with the process of grammaticalization which implies the abstract nature of the terms. Throughout the entire paper, when dealing with the prepositional group, the projections of the functional prepositions are also considered syntactic groups, and implicitly the situations of analytical attainment of the indirect object in the dative: Le-a spus adevărul [GPrep la [GNtrei]] dintre ei. / He told the truth [GPrep to [GNthree]] of them. Alexandru Mardale (2007) claims that the functional prepositions cannot generate a syntactic group due to the fact that they are not authentic or proper prepositions. Thus, they cannot change the nature of the preceded constituent – if this one materializes through the nominal, the group will be nominal and not prepositional: Le-a spus adevărul [GN la trei] dintre ei. / He told the truth [GN to three] of them.

We will consider the functional prepositions as weak group centres and, therefore, they project weak prepositional groups. To be exact, the distinctive feature of the prepositional group projected by the functional preposition “la” (“at/to”) is the following: the preposition does not keep the initial meaning, it is void of meaning, and, as a result, does not establish antonymy and synonymy relationships with other prepositions: *Le-a spus către trei dintre ei adevărul. / *He told towards three of them the truth. The structure has an invariable character – from this point of view, the preposition is approaching the subcategorized one. But it keeps, at least formally, the grammatical restrictions generally imposed by the preposition “la” (“at/to”): of the accusative (Le-a spus la foarte mulți oameni. Le-a dat la doi. / He told many people. He gave it to two of them.), of articulation (if the nominal is a noun, it behaves exactly like in the case of the lexical preposition “la” (“at/to”) Le dă la oameni. Le dă la oamenii din sat. I-a spus la mama. He gives them to people. He gives them to the people from the village. He told mum.). As respects the thematic roles, it is certain that the preposition does not impose a thematic role any more, but the meaning of the phrase, in general, is that of the synthetic structure – the indirect object points to the recipient/beneficiary of the process expressed with the help of the verb – group centre.

A particular situation of the functional preposition is found in the usual language – the association between the prepositions with a genitive/dative government and the functional preposition: Sunt contra la doi dintre ei. Au învins grație la trei dintre ei. / They are against two of them. They won due to the three of them.



We will fit the terms that lost their initial meaning and the specific function of connecting other terms, into the category of false preposition. Two constructions have caught our attention: Au venit la musafiri de nu mai încăpeau în casă! / So many guests have come, that they didn’t have enough room in the house! and Am cules la mere de nu mai era loc în coș! / We have picked so many apples that there wasn’t any more space in the basket! The marked nominal, accompanied by “la” (“at/to”) fulfils either the syntactic function of subject, or the one of direct object, both of which are incompatible with this type of prepositional expression. It is known that the subject is built non-prepositional and is found as nominal in the nominative case, and the direct object can be built with or without the functional preposition “pe” (“on”). Consequently, the presence of “la” (“at/to”) in this context is either an exception (it has the value of a preposition and in this case the structure is in the accusative, representing a deviation from the construction with the subject in the nominative, and from the manner of construction of the direct object), or its grammatical value is different from the prepositional one. We will check the value of preposition with the help of typical tests: the possibility of substitution (*Au venit spre musafiri. *Am cules spre mere. / *They have come towards guests. *We have picked towards apples.), the function of syntactic island – it is noticed that the preposition can be eliminated without changing the meaning of the statement and the nominal holds the same syntactic position: Au venit musafiri de nu mai încăpeau în casă! Am cules mere de nu mai era loc în coș. / So many guests have come, that they didn’t have enough room in the house! We have picked so many apples that there wasn’t any more space in the basket! It is worth mentioning that the item “la” (“at/to”) can be replaced by an indefinite pronominal adjective: Au venit mulți musafiri. Am cules multe mere. / Many guests have come. We have picked many apples. The following conclusion emerges: “la” (“at/to”) has changed its morphological value and it does not function as a preposition any more.




Having the modern classification of the preposition as a starting point, the analysis conducted in this study has revealed that the preposition “la” (“at/to”) can have multiple values in Romanian. As a lexical preposition, it can direct only a nominal on which it imposes case, articulation, word order and thematic role restrictions. When it is part of the syntactic – semantic matrix of the external group centre, the preposition “la” (“at/to”) is semi-lexical. It can be found in the situations of analytical expression of the dative and genitive with a functional role. In this case it is built as the weak centre of the syntactic group. Its quality of pseudo-preposition can be found in the contexts of association with the subject/direct object in order to express the idea of quantity and to convey the idea of approximation.




1 The preposition does not impose a case when it is associated with a non-finite form of the verb: supine (Merge la pescuit. / He goes fishing.), infinitive (Se gândeşte la a renunţa. / He is thinking to give up.). In this situation, the case government is blocked.

2 If these nouns have a plural form, they are not articulated: Mergem la bunici. / We are going to our grandparents’ house.

3 For the analytical expression of the idea of dative when the nominal materializes through the numeral, it is possible to use the form with demonstrative pronoun/article: I-a dat celui de-al doilea. He gave it to the second one.




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