Below is not an adjective, folks

(See below update/footnote. It made me gag to write that.)

I know I might be sent below — to one of those circles of linguistic hell (see McSweeney’s post a few days ago) — for pointing this out, but I feel it’s time that this lovely word, below, needs to be explained and understood. In a nutshell, it’s not an adjective, even though it seems to be increasingly misused as such, especially in formal/corporate/written communications (but strangely not in speech). “See below information” is simply incorrect. I apologize to readers of Glossophilia who know me to be generally non-prescriptive; I don’t usually brand any particular usage as wrong, especially if it’s pervasive and evolving. But in this case I’m willing to state my case and stand my ground, because I think it sounds so ugly.

Here below is a fairly simple explanation of the word below, with definitions and examples courtesy of the Oxford English Dictionary. May you never below go to the below information, but always remember to go below to the information below.

When an object is present, and the reader or listener is being directed below that object, below is a preposition:

“At a lower level or layer than.”
‘just below the pocket was a stain’
‘the blistered skin below his collar’

“Lower in grade or rank than.”
‘the aristocracy rank below the monarchy’

“Extending underneath.”
‘the tunnel below the crags’

When there’s no object present, below is an adverb.

“At a lower level or layer.”
‘he jumped from the window into the moat below’

(in printed text) “mentioned further down on the same page, or further on in the text.”
‘our nutritionist is pictured below right’

(Nautical) “Below deck.”
‘I’ll go below and fix us a drink’

I think I need one now, as the objections start coming in. See you below.


Update, as of 11/22/2017: As Barrie England pointed out to me on Facebook: “The online OED entry for ‘below’ gives this definition for ‘below’ as an adjective: ‘Mentioned, described, listed, etc., further down on the present page, or subsequently in the text.‘

The earliest citation is from 1822: ‘According to the below observations, . . .’ The most recent is from 2016:’ In the below analysis, . . .’”

And he went on to add: “There’s really no reason why it shouldn’t be used at least as an attributive adjective, although none of the OED citations show it used as a predicative adjective.”

I stand corrected. But I still think below as an adjective sounds wrong!


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