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Prepositional PhrasesasAdjectivals
Ed McCorduckEnglish 402--GrammarSUNY Cortlandhttp://mccorduck.cortland.edu
As noted in the “Determiners andAdjectivals” lecture, prepositional phrases can function asadjectivalswithinnoun phrases. However, in English—unlike in some languages—adjectival PPs can occur onlyafterthe headword of the NP.
slide 2: PPs asadjectivalswithin NPs
English 402: Grammar
As also noted in the “Determiners andAdjectivals” lecture, other types of phrases besides PPs canpostmodifyheadwords in NPs, namelyparticipial phrasesandrelative clauses. If two or more ofthesphrase types are present andpostmodifyingthe same NP headword, they must occur in a specific order:PPparticipial phraserelative clause
slide 3: relative order ofpostmodifyingelements
English 402: Grammar
exNP:a greasy hecklerin the audiencespewing venomwhom the candidate readily upbraidedhead PP participial phrase relative clause
slide 4: example showing the fixed relative order ofpostmodifiyingelements within a PP
English 402: Grammar
exxNP:various depredationswithout mercyDetheadword PP (headed by the Pwithout)NP:some little pipsqueakon the fieldDetadjheadword PP (headed by the Pon)NP:aRoomba®for this pigstyDetheadword PP (headed by the Pfor)NP:plague and pestilencein the landof the pharaohheadwordheadwordPP (headed by the Pin) PP (headed by the Pof)(i.e., a compound NP)(i.e., the PPof the pharaohis part of the NPthe land,which is in turn part of the PP thatpostmodifiesthe compound headwordsplagueandpestilence)
slide 5: examples of PPs functioning asadjectivalswithin NPs
English 402: Grammar
slide 6: embedded PPs
English 402: Grammar
As illustrated by the last example on the previous slide, PPs can beembeddedwithin other PPs. As another example, take the sentenceThey gave him a special kiss-off gift for his forced resignation from the companyin which the PPfrom the companyis embedded within the entire NPa special kiss-off gift for his forced resignation from the company, i.e. this PP is part of the NPhis forced resignation from the companyin which itpostmodifiesthe headwordresignation. To illustrate this structure, following is the Reed-Kellogg diagram of the whole sentence (the embedded PP structure is circled inred):
slide 7: example of a Reed-Kellogg diagram of a sentence with an embedded PP
English 402: Grammar
slide8:potential ambiguity of embeddedPPs
English 402: Grammar
When PPs are embedded, however, there is often structural ambiguity (see the chapter 5 “Prepositional Phrases” lecture). Take for example sentence 2. of Exercise 21 on p. 146 of ourUnderstanding English Grammartextbook:I will meet you in the lobby of the museumnear the visitors’ information booth.The crux of the ambiguity here lies with the long post-verbal phrasein the lobby of the museum near the visitors’ informationbooth;thiscan be interpreted either as a single PP with two embedded PPs that functions as one adverbial or a sequence of two adverbial PPs only the first of which contains an embedded PP. To illustrate, here is the Reed-Kellogg diagram of the sentence in the first interpretation:
slide9: Reed-Kelloggdiagramof one interpretationof the sentence in slide 8
English 402: Grammar
Hence inthisinterpretation, the entire phrasein the lobby of the museum near the visitors’ informationboothis a single adverbial PP consisting of the headwordinwhich “governs” the NPthe lobbywhich is itselfpostmodifiedby the adjectival PPof the museum near the visitors’ informationbooth.This adjectival PP in turn has a headwordofthat governs the NPthe museumwhich itself ispostmodifiedby a PP, namelynear the visitors’ information booth. Contrast this structural interpretation with the one illustrated by the following Reed-Kellogg diagram of the same sentence:
slide10: explanation of one interpretation of the sentence in slide 8
English 402: Grammar
slide11: Reed-Kelloggdiagramof another interpretationof the sentence in slide 8
English 402: Grammar
Inthislatter interpretation, we actually have two adverbial PPs, namelyinthe lobby of the museumandnearthe visitors’ informationbooth. Note the crucial difference in meaning between this interpretation and the one previously described; in the former interpretation, i.e.,the one in which the PPnear the visitors’ informationboothpostmodifesmuseum, the meaning is clearly that the visitors’ information booth is not part of the museum but, apparently, a nearby structure, whereas in this latter interpretation the speaker definitely implies that the visitors’ information booth is actually in the lobby of the museum (hence the second adverbial PPnear the visitors’ information boothservers to give a more precise location for the meeting than just “in the lobby”).
slide12 the difference between the two interpretations of the sentence in slide 8
English 402: Grammar

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ppsadj