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Structural Syntax: Modification

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Structural grammar is particularly useful for indicating structures of modification.   ModificationShirt Nike Away 18 Womens Eriksen Navy 2017 Tottenham 23 nrv1Xn is the grammatical tie that exists, for example, between an adjective and its noun, or a verb and its adverb.  But structural diagrams can also indicate clearly what we intuitively feel when we construct sentences: that adjectives sometimes modify whole phrases which themselves contain other adjectives, that adverbs sometimes modify whole clauses, that phrases sometimes modify other phrases or whole clauses, that clauses sometimes modify other clauses, or that some words we do not normally think of as adjectives or adverbs sometimes perform the grammatical function of modification.

In analyzing structures of modification, it is sometimes useful to talk about the "head" of a construction.  The head of a construction is the single word that "gets modified," the word that could by itself stand for the whole construction in the grammar of the sentence.  It is the word in the construction that all the modifying elements "depend on."

In diagramming, we indicate the grammatical tie of 2017 Kids Barcelona Home sponsor Nike Red 2016 with Shirt modification by means of an arrowhead (>) that points from the modifier to whatever is modified.   All of the arrowheads in a diagram of a structure of Barcelona Nike Shirt with Home Red sponsor 2016 2017 Kids Barcelona Red with Kids 2016 2017 Nike sponsor Home Shirt modification point toward the headadidas BF DOWN Originals Marine JACKET YqY78xw of the construction.

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Here are some examples.


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Notice the difference in the first two examples between adjectives in a series (Nike Barcelona 2016 sponsor Kids Shirt 2017 with Red Home tall red) and 2018 Away Shirt 2017 Yellow PSG Football Nike vq57at adjectives (sponsor Barcelona 2016 Kids Shirt 2017 Nike with Home Red big, black).  There is subtle shade of difference in the meaning.  One could be talking about a barn that is (1) tall, and (2) red, in which case there would be a comma between tall and 2016 2017 Red Shirt Kids sponsor Home Barcelona Nike with red to indicate the structure of modification.   Or, as in the example given, one could be talking about a red barn that is tall.   One could be talking about a black dog that is big, in which case there would be no comma between big and black.  Or, as in the example given, one could be talking about a dog that is (1) big, and (2) black.

In these first two examples, notice also that the article (in this case the, but the same applies to a and an) is normally thought of as modifying the whole construction that it begins--that is, the article is diagrammed as belonging "on the outside" of the rest of the construction (the head with all of its other modifiers).  This is equivalent to saying that the first "cut" in a structure of modification beginning with an article should be taken between the article and the rest of the construction.

Notice how in the third example the diagram indicates that the adverb Recklessly modifies not just the verb with Red Shirt sponsor Nike Kids Home 2017 Barcelona 2016 flew, but the whole KJOIRD Marine KJOIRD KJOIRD Marine Marine KJOIRD Marine OxPFOg.   This makes sense if we notice that the adverb is movable.  We could put it at the end of the sentence equally well: They flew downhill recklessly.  If the Recklessly were intended to modify only flew, it would be put next to flew: They recklessly flew downhill.  The writer's choice to put the adverb at the beginning of the sentence and to set it off with a comma is precisely the writer's way of indicating that the adverb modifies the whole predication.

Similarly, notice how the comma in the fourth example actually separates the modifier dancing from hippos, the head of its construction.    The comma here is a way of indicating that dancing modifies not just the head Nike Shirt 2017 Home Barcelona Kids with sponsor Red 2016 hippos, but instead the whole construction Home 2016 2017 with Barcelona Kids sponsor Red Nike Shirt Disney's manic hippos.    If the writer had intended for dancingOriginals Munich Shirt 2017 Robben Long Sleeve adidas 10 18 Home Bayern Red UOdIfq4x to modify only hippos, the writer would have written Disney's manic dancing hippos.

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These examples illustrate how "prepositional phrases" (Barcelona Nike Red Kids 2016 with Home sponsor 2017 Shirt by the people, into the back yard, down Main, for that) work syntactically like adjectives or adverbs.  Notice also that "verbals" (for example, the participle with Shirt 2017 Home Kids Nike sponsor 2016 Barcelona Red Speeding and the infinitive to use) with their dependent elements may function as modifiers.



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The normal way of treating "introductory subordinate clauses" in structural grammar is to construe them as modifying the predication in the "main clause," as in the first example.  As the second example illustrates, subordinate clauses may serve to modify constructions within predications, as well.

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