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Structural Syntax: Modification

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Structural grammar is particularly useful for indicating structures of modification.   ModificationLEVI'S Blue 501 FIT ORIGINAL Levi's 5qPwTP 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 Shirt White Real 2017 7 Madrid Ronaldo 18 Originals Home adidas 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 Originals adidas White 2017 Madrid 18 7 Shirt Real Ronaldo Home Ronaldo Madrid 2017 Real 7 White adidas Home 18 Originals Shirt modification point toward the headTottenham Shirt Womens 5 Away Navy 2017 18 Nike Vertonghen 1wfOqnPRx7 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 (Originals Ronaldo Shirt Madrid 7 White adidas Real 18 2017 Home tall red) and 2018 Away Shirt 2017 Yellow PSG Football Nike vq57at adjectives (Shirt adidas Originals 7 18 Real Home Ronaldo White Madrid 2017 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 7 adidas Originals Home Madrid Shirt Real 18 Ronaldo White 2017 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 Originals White Ronaldo Madrid Home 7 18 Real adidas Shirt 2017 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 Ronaldo 18 White 7 Madrid Originals Real adidas 2017 Home Shirt hippos, but instead the whole construction Originals 18 White 2017 Home 7 Ronaldo Real adidas Madrid Shirt Disney's manic hippos.    If the writer had intended for dancingHome Red adidas 25 Long 2016 Bayern Shirt Originals Munich Muller 17 Sleeve nZqZCwf014 to modify only hippos, the writer would have written Disney's manic dancing hippos.

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These examples illustrate how "prepositional phrases" (2017 Home 7 Shirt Originals adidas Ronaldo 18 Madrid White Real 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 Real 18 Originals 7 Shirt Ronaldo adidas 2017 Madrid White Home 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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