Below is Not an Attributive Adjective

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The word below is used as a preposition and as an adverb, but never as an attributive adjective.

At least, that is what I believed until I received this email from a reader:

Have you written about the current use (or, rather, misuse) of “below”? People are saying, “Please read the below information and send your reservation,” etc.

Sure enough, a quick Web cruise provides numerous (international) examples of the phrases “below information” and “below form” from sites run by universities, health services, local governments, and newspapers:

To facilitate the application process, please read the below information completely. After reading the below information, please apply.—Virginia Tech graduate school.

Please read the below information carefully before using the old Vocals Syllabus in your exam.—Rock School (UK).

For data classifications and handling please read the below information provided by Purdue University.—Purdue University.

If you already participate in CAQH: Please complete the below form and submit it (or any questions) using the contact information below.—Molina Healthcare.

Please read the below information to help with the application process.—City of Buffalo, New York.

Please read the below information to see which option suits you.—The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia).

In each of these examples, the word below should follow the nouns and not stand in front of them.

The OED defines this use of below as follows:

below adverb: Lower on a written sheet or page; hence, later in a book or writing; at the foot of the page.

When an object is present, below is a preposition:

Read the information below the dotted line. (The object is “the dotted line.”)

When no object is present, below is an adverb:

He was asked to sign his name on the line, but he wrote it below.

In a construction like “Read the information below,” the word modified by the adverb is not stated. O’Conner and Kellerman at Grammarphobia offer this suggestion:

It might sometimes help to imagine an unstated word like “located” or “positioned” in there somewhere: “the offices on the floor [located] below.”

Merriam-Webster muddies the waters in the entry for below as an adverb by placing the word adjective in parenthesis beside the word adverb: be·low adverb (or adjective).

Paul Brians (Common Errors in English Usage) regards the below + noun usage as an oddity:

When calling your readers’ attention to an illustration or table further on in a text, the proper word order is not “the below table” but “the table below.”

Although it is common to see above placed before a noun in this way, doing it with below sounds very strange to most speakers of standard English.

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5 thoughts on “Below is Not an Attributive Adjective”

  1. I’m so used to seeing it that way, it doesn’t sound strange. If it’s not incorrect anymore, leave it be. I suspect it is something along the lines of “are you going to come with?” and “thank you much.” People shorten things, and in this case as you noted, the word modified by “below” is often not stated. I have always assumed the word was something like “this,” as in, “Read the information below this [paragraph],” or “Fill in the form below this [information].” I don’t miss it, and it doesn’t bother me if the word “below” appears before or after (although it does change the part of speech it becomes). But even if you say “Fill out the form below,” you are still implying a word that’s missing, so it’s already a shortened sentence similar to the 2 examples I mentioned.

  2. “Merriam-Webster muddies the waters in the entry for below…”

    That’s number 35,001 on my list of 35,000 reasons why MW ain’t too comprised of good efforting on many Englishisms irregardless of popularness.

  3. I think the use of ‘below’ above examples was influenced by Chinese, In Chinese, attributes or adjectives always stand the front of noun, so when Chinese write in English, they used to regard below as an adj and place it before noun.

  4. No, you do not get to change the English language around just because mistakes are so common that they sound “normal”. How something sounds to you is an artifact of the environment in which you hear it. But that has nothing to do with standard English. Formal written English does NOT change at the whims of the poorly educated public, who mostly slept through English 101 and therefore don’t even know what proper word order is. All they know is what they hear on the street, and that changes by the minute. If we allow it to infect standard English, however, pretty soon we will not HAVE anything called standard English. Learn the rules, follow them when writing, and stop trying to pass off ignorance as hip.

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