Imagine this: You can’t find your pencil anywhere! You’ve looked high and low, all over your desk and even on the floor, and you finally find it underneath your chair. It fell off the table and rolled to where you couldn’t see it, but is it correct to say “below” for this situation?
It is correct to say below, as we use the preposition to explain when one thing is in or moving to a lower position than another. So, the word “below” usually has two objects: one thing on top and one thing below it. Thus, the correct way to use “below” is to show the relationship between two objects.
Let’s take a look at some of the different ways to use the preposition “below,” along with some common questions that people have about this word. Soon, you’ll be using “below” like a pro!
Is It Grammatically Correct to Say “Below”?
It’s grammatically correct to say “below” as long as you stick to proper usage for its part of speech, whether a preposition or an adverb.
When using “below” as a preposition, make sure that your sentence mentions two nouns. The first noun — often the subject of the sentence — describes who or what is in the lower position. Then, the object of the preposition “below” is the point of reference: it’s the thing that is higher than the other noun.
When you’re using “below” as an adverb, it should come after a noun that is the reference point for how, where, or in which direction the verb is happening. The reader should be able to answer “To or towards what?” when they see the noun followed by the adverb “below.”
What Does “Below” Mean?
“Below” is a preposition that primarily means “in or to a lower place” (source). Of course, this means that when you use “below,” you will reference two different objects.
Because “below” shows the relationship between two things, you need to mention both things in your sentence with “below.”
Here, we’ll explore some explanations and examples about the preposition “below” to help answer all of your questions about this word.
How Do You Use “Below”?
When you want to use the word “below,” you’ll always need a noun after it because “below” is a preposition that needs an object to indicate what is below. In short, you can use “below” just as you would any other preposition, grammatically speaking.
Using “Below” in a Full Sentence
This means that you can use “below” in a prepositional phrase. A prepositional phrase can describe a noun or verb, and where you place it in your sentence will impact which element of your sentence it ultimately describes (source).
Let’s take a look at a few examples:
Please look at the placard below the painting; you’ll see information about the artist.
In this case, the prepositional phrase “below the painting” describes the noun “placard.” The prepositional phrase explains where to find the placard in relation to the painting.
Hank moved his cards below the table so that the other players couldn’t see them.
In this instance, the prepositional phrase “below the table” explains the movement of Hank’s cards. They started in one position and moved into another position relative to the table. The prepositional phrase explains how and where Hank moved his cards.
The farmer rested below the tree during the hottest hours of the day.
Here, the prepositional phrase “below the tree” explains where the farmer completed the action of resting. The whole action happened in that position, below the tree. So, the prepositional phrase in this sentence explains the verb.
However, the sentence still features two nouns: the farmer in the lower position and the tree as the point of reference.
When Can You Use “Below”?
You can use the preposition “below” when you want to describe that something is under or in a lower position than another thing (source). This means that in most cases, you’ll include two nouns with the preposition “below.”
The noun that comes before “below” is the thing that is in (or moving to) a lower position. The object of the preposition “below” — meaning the noun that comes right after the word “below” — describes the thing that is in the higher position.
Check out this example:
- The sun sank below the horizon.
Here, the sun is the first noun in the sentence; it is the subject of the sentence, and it performs the verb, “to sink.” The phrase “below the horizon” is a prepositional phrase that explains where the sun sank. So, “the horizon” is the object of the preposition because it comes right after “below.”
You can also see how the first noun — “the sun,” the subject, the noun before the preposition “below” — describes what is moving into the lower position.
At the same time, the object of the preposition “below” — the noun “horizon” after the preposition — describes a point of reference for the sun; it is ultimately in a higher position than the subject.
Have a look at our previous examples again. You’ll see that there are two nouns in each of those instances, too: the first noun explains what is in the lower position, and the second noun, following the preposition “below,” gives a reference point for what the first noun is lower than.
In What Context Can You Use “Below”?
Most of the time, we use “below” as a preposition to mean “under” or “beneath.” However, there are cases where the context can change the meaning and part of speech of the word “below.”
For example, you can use it as a noun when you’re talking about the lower deck of a ship, as in, “When the sun went down, and the stars came out, we’d all go below to rest in our cots.” In this example, the speaker is referring to the lower, inside part of the ship where they’d sleep.
You can also use “below” as an adverb to explain the position of the noun that comes right before it. With this usage, you only need one noun to describe the position, and that noun is the thing that lies at a lower level.
For example, if you say, “The hero jumped into the raging river below,” you are using “below” to describe the motion and direction of the hero’s jump. The river’s position and the motion of the hero’s fall are apparent with the adverb “below” right after the noun “river.”
So, while “below” is usually a preposition that shows a positional relationship between two things, you can also use it as a noun or an adverb in some specific instances.
For more on prepositions, adjectives, and adverbs, have a look at our article “To Bad or Too Bad: Meaning, Grammar, and Proper Usage.”
When Not to Use “Below”
You shouldn’t use the preposition “below” when you don’t have a noun that serves as a reference point. Because “below” is a preposition that expresses a relative position, you need an object to serve as the reference.
Imagine you’ve just started a new job, and you want to throw something away, so you ask your new coworker where the trash can is. It would be confusing if they merely replied, “Below,” wouldn’t it?
But, if they told you that the trash can is below the desk, you’d have a clear idea of exactly where to put the garbage. The prepositional phrase needs that reference point — in this case, the desk — to make its meaning clear.
Is There a Difference Between “Under” and “Below”?
In terms of meaning and usage, there is no real difference between the prepositions “under” and “below.” Both of them require two nouns to really make sense, and both of them can describe being in or moving to a lower position relative to another object.
For example, “I felt comfortable below the warm summer sky” and “I felt comfortable under the warm summer sky” have the same meaning. In both cases, the prepositions “below” and “under” refer to the speaker’s position beneath the sky.
The greatest difference between “under” and “below” is when you’re trying to use the preposition as an adverb. While you can definitely use “below” as an adverb directly after a noun to signal where or how the subject performs an action, you can’t use “under” the same way.
For example, you can say, “Captain Hook fell into the open jaws of the crocodile below,” but you cannot say, “Captain Hook fell into the open jaws of the crocodile under.” Therefore, only “below” is acceptable as an adverb in that context.
If you want to read more about picking the perfect preposition for every sentence, check out our article “In the Website or on the Website: Using the Right Preposition.”
Common Phrases With “Below”
There are a lot of different phrases in English that include “below,” either as a preposition or adverb. Here, we’ll take a look at a few of the most popular ones, along with their definitions. With these phrases, you’ll be sounding like a native speaker in no time!
“Below One’s Breath”
When you say something “below your breath,” it means that you’re saying it in a whisper. Usually, it means that even the people standing close to you wouldn’t be able to hear what you’re saying.
You might have a coworker who complains under their breath: what a nuisance! Or, when you see this phrase in a story, it shows that the character has a thought that they aren’t expressing to any of the other characters.
This phrase refers to the weather and, specifically, to the temperature. For example, when temperatures are “below freezing,” they are below 32 degrees Fahrenheit or 0 degrees Celsius. If you hear this word on the news, you should prepare for cold weather and dangerous driving conditions.
“Below the Belt”
If something is “below the belt,” then it is unfair. Usually, we use this phrase to describe an attack or logical fallacy that targets the person making an argument rather than the argument itself.
Instead of discussing fairly and calmly, an argument made below the belt will target the negative aspects of a person’s characteristics or experiences.
This example of a hyphenated adjective includes the preposition “below.” This adjective has the same meaning and usage as “underground,” and you can use it to describe anything from a swimming pool to a vault to a storm shelter.
Is It Correct to Say “See Below”?
Yes, it’s correct to say “see below.” Usually, you’ll use this phrase when you’re directing your reader to an attachment or appendix in a piece of writing. Often, we use “see below” in an email or written correspondence to refer to an extra bit of information that we mention later on in the message.
What Can You Use Instead of “Below”?
If you want to use a preposition other than “below” to express that something is in a lower position than something else, then try one of these:
- Lower than
All of these prepositions can directly replace the preposition “below.” However, make sure that the context requires a preposition before you make the switch; don’t use these words in place of an adverb!
Distinguishing Parts of Speech: Adverbs vs. Prepositions
When it comes to using the word “below” correctly in a sentence, it’s essential to know the word’s part of speech. For instance, we can use “below” as either an adverb or a preposition. So, how can we determine if “below” is an adverb or a preposition?
When we use “below” as an adverb, it most often describes an action. In this case, the word “below” can answer the question, “How or where or in what manner did the subject do the action?” This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
When we use “below” as a preposition, it comes with an object after it. So, when “below” is a preposition, a noun directly follows it. This object of the preposition is the reference point, and you can’t use “below” as an adjective without a noun right after it.
The word “below” explains something in a lower position than something else. Usually, we use it as a preposition, where the object of the preposition is the point of reference and the noun before the prepositional phrase is the thing in a lower position.
We can use “below” as a noun in some specific instances. However, these cases are limited to referring to the lower deck of a boat or ship.
We can also use “below” as an adverb to describe the direction of a motion or action. In these cases, the adverb “below” comes after a noun, and that noun is the reference point explaining “how” or “to where” the action occurs.
Several different phrases use “below” in English, and we explored a few of them here. So keep practicing with “below” and other prepositions to boost your language skills and sound more like a native speaker!