What are Positional Words?

Instructor: Andrew Diamond

Andrew has worked as an instructional designer and adjunct instructor. He has a doctorate in higher education and a master's degree in educational psychology.

Positional words teach children about language and the relationships of objects in a given space. They are also fundamental for future learning about mathematics and geography.

Propositions about Prepositions

Prepositions are words that control a noun or pronoun, creating a prepositional phrase. Prepositional phrases then modify verbs, nouns, and adjectives. We call these nouns, verbs and adjectives the object of the prepositional phrase. Usually these phrases describe the relationships of things to each other either in time or space. For example:

Preposition Noun or Pronoun Object
At eleven o'clock class begins.
In spite of the weather she made it on time.
Outside the school rain poured down.
Inside the building was warm and dry.

This is just one possible sentence structure. Prepositional phrases can also come here, at the end of a sentence. (See what I did there? At is the preposition, the end is the noun, and the phrase modifies the object - the sentence.)

Positional Words

Positional words are specific prepositions that describe a noun's position relative to another noun. Above, below, beside and under are all positional words, as are:

underneath between in front of
in the middle of over around
behind over inside
left of right of on top of
outside above next to

Obviously, learning these words expands a child's vocabulary, and learning about prepositions and prepositional phrases adds to their understanding of grammar. However, they can be used to teach other subjects, as well. The Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSM) for kindergarteners state that children should be able to describe shapes and their positions relative to each other using positional words. This is a building block for understanding geometry. Learning positional words also helps children learn geography by giving them the words to describe their literal place in the world relative to objects and locations like home, school and a favorite park.

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