Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
The Syntax of Old Romanian$

Gabriela Pană Dindelegan

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198712350

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198712350.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: null; date: 17 January 2019

Prepositions and prepositional phrases

Prepositions and prepositional phrases

(p.424) 7 Prepositions and prepositional phrases
The Syntax of Old Romanian

Isabela Nedelcu

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter presents the behaviour of prepositions in OR, and the changes in the inventory and properties of prepositions in the passage from old to modern Romanian. It focuses on the usage of all types of prepositions in OR, the polysemic nature of certain prepositions, and the dynamics of the class of prepositions. Special attention is given to the syntactic restrictions imposed by prepositions to their complements (case, determination, and number restrictions) and to the differences from the present-day usage.

Keywords:   lexical preposition, functional preposition, subcategorized preposition, formal restriction, complementation, modifier

7.1 Preliminary remarks

The main differences between OR and MR lexical, functional, and subcategorized prepositions concern: (i) the inventory of prepositions; (ii) the types of complements selected by prepositions; (iii) the case assigned to complements, the number of complements, and the determined/non-determined form of complements; (iv) the competition between prepositions to mark similar syntactic or syntactic-semantic relations; (v) the degree of stability of the rules regarding preposition use (for MR see GR: 451–65).

7.2 Inventory of prepositions

In the first OR period, the inventory contains many inherited prepositions whose form is simple or composed of Latin elements. Most of them are still in use: a ‘to’, asupra ‘over, against’, de ‘of’, d(e)rept ‘for’, cu ‘with’, fără ‘without’, în ‘in’, întru ‘in’, la ‘at, to’, lângă ‘near’, până ‘until’, p(r)e ‘on’, spre ‘towards’, etc. survive in MR, but adin/adins ‘between’ (1a), do not (many of the prepositions attested in OR are polysemantic; see §7.4.1 for some examples).

Besides inherited prepositions, the inventory also contains some borrowed prepositions, for example, na ‘at’, ot ‘from’, za ‘of, about’, from Slavic, with restricted use (1b,c), which either become obsolete in the second half of the seventeenth century or are used only exceptionally.

Some of the prepositions attested in the sixteenth century are formed in Romanian from prepositions inherited from Latin: despre ‘about’ (< de ‘of’ + spre ‘towards’), din ‘from’ (< de ‘of’ + în ‘in’), dintru ‘from’ (< de ‘of’ + întru ‘in’), înde ‘between’ (< în ‘in’ + de ‘of’), printre ‘among’ (< pre ‘on’ + între ‘between’), pentru ‘for’ (< pre ‘on’ + întru ‘in’), printru ‘through’ (< pre ‘on’ + întru ‘in’). Of the above-mentioned compound prepositions, înde ‘between’ (rarely attested as late as the nineteenth century) is no longer in use in MR, and dintru ‘from’, printru ‘through’, like întru ‘in’, have a limited use (for example, in combination with the pronoun însul ‘he’/însa ‘she’ or with the article un/o ‘a’ in MR (§7.4.2)).

In the sixteenth century, as a consequence of special recategorizations, the gerund forms alegând ‘except for’ (< alege ‘choose’) and trecând ‘except for’ (< trece ‘pass’) have a prepositional status in exceptive constructions. In the seventeenth century, (p.425) alegând ‘except for’ is very rare and trecând ‘except for’ is no longer attested (with this function, the two gerunds can be followed by prepositions; see §§3.4.7;

In the sixteenth century, sequences which could be interpreted as prepositional collocations are also attested: asupră de ‘besides’ (1e), de-aleanul/în aleanul ‘against’, de rândul ‘regarding’, later becoming obsolete or occurring sporadically.


Prepositions and prepositional phrases

In OR, some prepositions had two or more forms (some preserved dialectally), for different reasons.

The preposition de ‘of’ also has the variant di, which is frequent after 1600 in Moldovan documents (Gheţie 1975: 109), and , especially in the seventeenth and eighteenth-century Wallachian texts (Gheţie 1975: 132).

The preposition pe ‘on’ has variants that can be explained either through the degree of proximity to their etymon or through territorial variation. The variant pre (pri) is closer to its etymon (< PER); the newer form pe rarely occurs in the sixteenth century; the variant is frequently attested in Wallachian eighteenth-century documents, and pi is frequently attested for the second OR period in documents from Moldova, Bucovina, and northern Transylvania (Frâncu 2009: 142, 328).

In OR, two forms, cătră ‘towards’ (< CONTRA) and către, are attested. Cătră was general in the sixteenth century, while către evolves from cătră and occurs after 1650, first in Muntenia and later in the other regions (Gheţie 1975: 176). Literary MR only preserves către, but cătră is still used in Banat, Transylvania, and Moldova (Gheţie 1975: 176).

Pentru ‘for’ (with the variants prentru and păntru) and printru (with the variant prentru) are special cases. They have a common origin (prentru < pre + întru), but a (p.426) different development. In the sixteenth century, the two prepositions are liable to be confused due to their formal and semantic resemblance (Chivu 1991: 45–7).

7.3 The structure of the prepositional phrase

7.3.1 Complements selected by prepositions and formal restrictions imposed on them

Generally, the same types of complement of prepositions are encountered both in OR and in MR; however, the formal restrictions imposed on them (especially on nominal complements) are somewhat different in OR from MR. Realizations of complements selected by prepositions

As in MR, in OR, the complements of prepositions are: (i) nominal—the most frequent (1a,b,d,e); (ii) relative clauses introduced by relative pronouns (2a) or adverbs (2b); (iii) non-finite forms: infinitives (2c), supines (2d); (iv) complementizer-headed clauses (2e); (v) adverbs (2f); (vi) prepositional phrases (2g).


Prepositions and prepositional phrases

In OR, the prepositions pentru ‘for’, d(e)rept ‘for’, and întru ‘for’ could associate with (3) or căci/căci că ‘because’ in order to introduce different types of clausal adjuncts; such sequences are no longer used in MR, but some of them survive until the nineteenth century. Unlike these, the association of până ‘until’ with , still in use, is attested later, from the end of the eighteenth century, as a consequence of replacing the infinitive (a complement of până) with the subjunctive (Avram 1960: 38); for details about the clausal subordinators formed with a preposition, see §9.3.

(p.427) (3)

Prepositions and prepositional phrases Restrictions imposed on nominal complements

Restrictions of case, determination, and number on the nominal complements are generally the same as in MR, the main difference being that these restrictions were not fixed in OR.

Prepositions such as împotriva/împrotiva ‘against’, înaintea ‘before’ (10a, 11), asupra ‘over, against’ and collocations that end in a sequence identical to the definite article în aleanul/într-aleanul ‘against’ (ever rarer after 1640) (4a), de rândul ‘regarding’ (attested in DÎ with topicalized prepositional phrases) (4b) assign the genitive case. The dative pronominal clitic (5a) can be selected instead of the genitive DP; this construction is still attested with a stylistic effect in MR. The pronominal clitic occurs both in the proximity of the article-like ending of some prepositions (5a) and otherwise (5b), but it is more frequent in its absence.


Prepositions and prepositional phrases


Prepositions and prepositional phrases

The formal restrictions imposed by some prepositions (prepositional collocations) are not fixed in the sixteenth century. Two types of oscillations are attested as far as the realization of their complements is concerned. On the one hand, complements can have two different case forms (in (6a), the nominal headed by the preposition is a genitive, and in (6b), it is an accusative). On the other hand, the nominal headed by some quasi-fixed prepositional sequences can have either inflectional or prepositional case marking (genitive inflectional marker in (7a) vs. analytical prepositional marker in (7b)); see §

(p.428) (6)

Prepositions and prepositional phrases


Prepositions and prepositional phrases

In (7), the choice between the inflectional genitive and the prepositional complement can be related to the determined/non-determined form of the noun occurring in the quasi‑collocational sequences, similarly to the prepositional collocations în locul, în loc de ‘instead of’ in (8), that are more fixed (§ The variants în locul, în loc de ‘instead of’ have survived in MR; în mijlocul (but not also în mijloc de ‘in the middle of’) is still in use in the literary language.


Prepositions and prepositional phrases

Like structures (7), împrejur (împregiur)/prejur (pregiur) ‘around’ may have a genitive (9a) or a prepositional complement with de ‘of’ (9b), triggered by the presence or absence of the ending ‑ul. Moreover, until the eighteenth century, especially prejur/pregiur may select the accusative (9c).


Prepositions and prepositional phrases (p.429)

As for înaintea and mainte ‘before’, beside the restrictions on their complements, they are semantically specialized in the first OR period: înaintea (with an ending identical to the definite article) takes a genitive complement and has a locative meaning (10a), while mainte takes the preposition de and has a temporal meaning (10b).


Prepositions and prepositional phrases

Around the middle of the seventeenth century, înaintea ‘before’ only rarely has temporal meaning.


Prepositions and prepositional phrases

The sequence mainte de, specific to northern texts, becomes extremely rare in the eighteenth century (Gheţie 1997: 345).

Some prepositions, like de-a ‘of’ (in (semi-)fixed structures), cu ‘with’, and comparatives ca and de ‘than’, require a determined nominal complement, as in MR (except for comparative de ‘than’, no longer in use); in OR, cu (and very rarely ca) may occur with a non-determined nominal complement.


Prepositions and prepositional phrases


Prepositions and prepositional phrases


Prepositions and prepositional phrases

As in MR, the choice between a determined (13) or a non-determined (15) nominal complement of cu ‘with’ depends on the semantic-referential characteristics of the noun, on the degree of specificity of its referent, on its generic or non-generic use (as in the other Romance languages; see Iliescu [1999] 2007: 129–37).

(p.430) (15)

Prepositions and prepositional phrases

As in MR, other prepositions (a ‘like’, ca, de ‘as’) take a NP that has a property reading.


Prepositions and prepositional phrases

The non-fixed character of the restrictions on whether the noun bears the determiner is specific to OR. Two situations are different from MR: (a) in both original and translated texts, the complement may be determined despite not being followed (as would be necessary in MR) by a modifier/possessor/complement (17a,b); (b) the complement lacks a determiner although the noun is modified by a subordinate constituent (18), whereas in MR the determiner would be necessary in this context.


Prepositions and prepositional phrases


Prepositions and prepositional phrases

Definite determination may be related to the features [+personal], [+unique] (19a,b) of the noun (Pană Dindelegan 2010a: 187–9). In some texts, such as MC.1620, the nominal complement of the preposition designating a unique person generally bears the determiner.


Prepositions and prepositional phrases (p.431)

On the other hand, non-determination of the nominal complement may be correlated with a [–personal] feature.


Prepositions and prepositional phrases

Under identical conditions, different prepositions (la ‘at, to’, spre ‘towards’, d(e)rept, pentru ‘for’, p(r)e ‘on, DOM’, in ‘in’, etc.) select either a determined or an non-determined noun.


Prepositions and prepositional phrases

One of the prepositions that frequently oscillates between a determined and a non-determined nominal complement is pentru ‘for’ (17a, 19a, 20). In the case of the nominal complement of pentru ‘for’ that does not have an own subordinate constituent, quantitative results show that its determination is not (always) triggered by the semantic feature [+personal] and that the rules of determination were not fixed in the first OR period. Towards the end of the seventeenth and throughout the eighteenth century, in the same syntactic and semantic conditions as in the previous period, the complement of pentru ‘for’ is more often non-determined. Note that the quantitative results in Table 7.1 are approximate, due to the unsystematic rendering in writing of the final sequence of the noun.

Some prepositions have a different behaviour with regard to number restrictions in OR from their behaviour in MR. For instance, the preposition între ‘between’ can select a singular noun, in coordinated structures, when it is repeated; this behaviour is attested up to the nineteenth century.


Prepositions and prepositional phrases

Între ‘in front, before’ (< ANTE), not preserved in MR, homonymous to între ‘in the place between’ (< INTER), also selects a singular noun.


Prepositions and prepositional phrases

Partitive prepositions, such as dintre ‘of’, select frequently the plural, but can also select a singular collective noun (see §4.4.3). (p.432)

Table 7.1 Pentru ‘for’ + determined/non-determined nouns in relation to the [±personal] feature


pentru ‘for’ + determined noun

pentru ‘for’ + non-determined noun























































7.3.2 Modifiers of the prepositional phrase

Modifiers such as pe ‘on’, and ca ‘around’ (the latter only in quantitative structures) can occur at the left of the prepositional phrase from the sixteenth century, to indicate approximation or imprecision.


Prepositions and prepositional phrases

7.4 Specific features of lexical prepositions

OR lexical prepositions have a number of semantic and distributional features that differ from MR.

7.4.1 Semantic relations expressed by lexical prepositions

Characteristic of OR polysemantic lexical prepositions is that they have some meanings that are lost in MR. The following prepositions are illustrative for polysemy, special meanings, and particular semantic developments from the sixteenth century.

  1. (i) Spre (< SUPER) indicates direction (25a)—a meaning developed exclusively in Romanian (Niculescu 1965: 116)—the goal (25b), or purpose (25c); it also means (p.433) ‘against’ (25d). In OR, the preposition spre also had a locative meaning, ‘on’, inherited from Latin (25e), a meaning also present in despre/de spre ‘from’ (25f).


Prepositions and prepositional phrases

The preposition despre, a compound of spre, also has other meanings: ‘about’ (26a) (like de), ‘from’ (26b).


Prepositions and prepositional phrases

  1. (ii) De has a locative source meaning, ‘from’. In OR, locative de may combine either directly with the noun (27a) or it may be accompanied by a second preposition: p(r)e ‘on’ (2g), la ‘at’ (27b), către ‘towards’ (27c), în ‘in’ (27d). The locative prepositional sequences de către ‘from’ (in use until the nineteenth century and, nowadays, in the dialect of Banat; see TDR: 267) and de în ‘from’ were not preserved in literary MR.



Prepositions and prepositional phrases

The prepositional sequence de către, initially only with locative meaning, ‘from’ (27c), comes to introduce Agent-phrases, like de (47), from the seventeenth century (Diaconescu 1959: 11; §


Prepositions and prepositional phrases

In OR, de may also indicate: temporal source (29a), causal meaning (29b), restrictive meaning (29c).


Prepositions and prepositional phrases

  1. (iii) P(r)e has a locative (30a), temporal (30b), purpose (30c), and manner meaning (30d).



Prepositions and prepositional phrases

In OR, with personal nouns, p(r)e can encode the Goal (31a) or the Instrument (31b).


Prepositions and prepositional phrases

  1. (iv) D(e)rept has a purpose (32a) and causal (32b) meaning; it may be synonymous with ‘instead of’ (32c), ‘in front of’ (32d) (Densusianu 1961 II: 179); the locative meaning ‘in front of’ is in use until the nineteenth century, and, in non-literary MR, it is still attested in Banat (TDR: 267).


Prepositions and prepositional phrases (p.436)

  1. (v) Întru has locative—‘in’ (33a), as well as purpose (33b) meaning—‘for’, the latter still present in MR (rarely, in special contexts).


Prepositions and prepositional phrases

In the sixteenth century, but also later on, întru is used instead of între ‘among’ (34), because of the confusion between the two prepositions and under the influence of Slavonic (Densusianu 1961 II: 180).


Prepositions and prepositional phrases

  1. (vi) In OR, a as a lexical preposition may have a locative meaning (35), now lost, and it may also express resemblance (16a), a use which it preserved in MR, in rare partly fixed constructions.


Prepositions and prepositional phrases

MR relics of the use of lexical a are locative and manner compounds such as acasă ‘at home’, alături ‘next to’, anevoie ‘slowly’, alene ‘slowly’ (§6.4).

7.4.2 Competition between lexical prepositions

As in MR, competition between OR prepositions occurs because of similarities in meaning or form. In some cases it no longer occurs in MR.

There is competition between prepositions with complements that are names of towns or countries. In OR, locative prepositions în and la are in competition when selecting the name of a town (36a,b) or of a country (36c,d) as their complements. Such names may also be selected by the preposition întru ‘in’ (33a).

(p.437) (36)

Prepositions and prepositional phrases

Din/dintru/de la ‘from’ and the Slavic preposition ot ‘from’ are used to encode the Origin/Source expressed by the name of a town/country.


Prepositions and prepositional phrases

Some of these prepositions (such as întru ‘in’, dintru ‘from’, ot ‘from’) are no longer in use in MR before the name of a town or country, and competition between locative prepositions that select such names is not possible in all contexts (for example, names of countries are not selected by la ‘at’; see GALR I: 625).

The similar form of certain prepositions can explain two types of competition.

  1. (i) The compound preposition fără de ‘without’, in competition with fără, was frequent in OR (Table 7.2). Competition between fără and fără de also manifests in structures that show signs of cohesion (they are analysed as compounds), such as in (39).


Prepositions and prepositional phrases (p.438)


Prepositions and prepositional phrases

In OR, weak adverbs such as nici ‘nor’ (40) or numai ‘only’ (41a) may intervene between the components of the compound preposition fără de ‘without’ (the sequence fără numai de ‘only without’ is in competition with fără (numai) (41b) and fără de in the exceptive constructions; see §


Prepositions and prepositional phrases


Prepositions and prepositional phrases

Attested until the nineteenth century, the compound preposition fără de ‘without’ is no longer in use in literary MR except for the compound fărădelege ‘crime’.

  1. (ii) In OR, prepositions în and întru ‘in’ (42), din/den and dintru/dentru ‘from’, prin/pren and printru/prentru ‘through’ can be used in identical conditions. Differently from MR, întru ‘in’, dentru ‘from’, and printru ‘through’ were much more frequent in OR (for their limited use in MR, see §7.2).


Prepositions and prepositional phrases


Table 7.2 The competition between fără – fără de ‘without’


fără ‘without’

fără de ‘without’
























7.4.3 The repetition of prepositions in coordinated and explicative structures

In OR the preposition is optionally repeated in coordinated structures, as in MR (like the situation in French until the end of the seventeenth century; see Lardon and Thomine 2009: 396; Buridant 2000: 404).


Prepositions and prepositional phrases

Unlike literary MR, the preposition între ‘between/among’ is repeated before each conjunct, a phenomenon attested until the end of the nineteenth century (22) (Pană Dindelegan 2010a: 191–3; SILR: 252–3).

In OR, the preposition may also be repeated before the second constituent of a nominal phrase containing a pronominal adjective (44a) and in the appositive construction (44b) (Densusianu 1961 II: 258–9; see §4.8.3).

(p.440) (44)

Prepositions and prepositional phrases

7.5 Specific features of functional prepositions

In OR, functional prepositions are the same as in MR (de, a, la, pe), but their use is partially different. The frequent use of de, a, and la in OR as case markers brings Romanian closer to the other Romance languages, which, in their development from Latin, extended the analytic marking of the genitive and dative cases (Salvi 2011: 338–9).

  1. (i) De is more widely used in the determiner phrase in OR than in MR. In OR, it is used for the analytic realization of the genitive (45a) (§, but also for marking the partitive relation (45b) (§4.4.3).


Prepositions and prepositional phrases

De also occurs in the structure of cardinal numerals above nineteen, as in MR (46a) (§ and in inverse predication structures (46b).


Prepositions and prepositional phrases

In verb phrases, de introduces the Agent-phrase, as in MR.


Prepositions and prepositional phrases

  1. (ii) A is used for analytic genitive marking, in quantifier structures (as in MR), but also in other configurations (§


Prepositions and prepositional phrases (p.441)

A is used as a dative marker both in constructions with (49a) or without quantifier (49b), but more frequently when the quantifier is present (§


Prepositions and prepositional phrases

  1. (iii) La is widely used as a dative marker, irrespective of the lexical and syntactic features of the DP (§


Prepositions and prepositional phrases

Cătră/către are alo used to express the dative relation (51) (§; it still occurs dialectally in MR (in Maramureș, Crișana, Banat, partly in Transylvania and Oltenia; TDR: 302, 332, 340, 373).


Prepositions and prepositional phrases

La starts to be used as a genitive marker later than as a dative marker, in seventeenth and eighteenth-century texts (see Pană Dindelegan 2013a: 168).


Prepositions and prepositional phrases

  1. (iv) P(r)e is a direct object marker; its realization is not strictly conditioned by the features [+specific] or [+animate] of the noun it selects, contrary to MR (§


Prepositions and prepositional phrases

7.6 Specific features of subcategorized prepositions

Many lexical heads (verbs, interjections, adjectives, adverbs) selected one preposition, fixed by use, as early as the sixteenth century (see §§2.3.4; for a list of verbs constructed with a subcategorized preposition).

(p.442) (54)

Prepositions and prepositional phrases

In OR the status of the subcategorized preposition was not always clear (§, because of oscillations in the selection of prepositions by the lexical head. One example is the verb a se încrede ‘to trust’, which may select either în ‘in’ or spre ‘towards’ (in MR, it selects only în ‘in’) or the dative.


Prepositions and prepositional phrases

7.7 Final remarks

In the first OR period, the inventory of prepositions contained elements (both inherited and borrowed) that later became obsolete or restricted in their use.

The restrictions on the nominal complements of prepositions were not fully fixed; there were oscillations in case assignment and in the definiteness constraints of the nominal complement. Formal restrictions start becoming fixed especially from the second half of the seventeenth century.

In the first OR period, most polysemantic lexical prepositions had meanings that were later lost.

(p.443) Functional prepositions had a broader use in OR than in MR, and had fewer syntactic-semantic restrictions.

In many cases, the status of the subcategorized preposition was not fixed, especially in the first OR period: one lexical head could select different prepositions, where later it would select only one.

In OR, many prepositions were in competition with each other, either because their use was not fixed yet, or because of similarities of form.