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I carefully pried open her mouth. (The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag)

When intransitive verbs are followed by adjectives, they seem to call these adjectives as subjective complements or adjuncts. But the example has transitive verb [pried] before an adjective [open]. In this case, does this adjective be called an adjunct?

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First, forget everything you've learned about "adjectives"; it is, regrettably, apparently, completely wrong. Next, look up the term phrasal verb; look up and pry open are phrasal verbs. Any English word can be many different things; open is a verb and an adjective and a phrasal verb particle, and it can appear in many constructions. Don't use the term adjunct at all. –  John Lawler Feb 6 '13 at 15:55
    
Conventional grammar calls it an object complement here ("a complement (belonging) to the object"). I pried it open. I pried it half-open. I pried it loose — The adjective can be replaced with other adjectives, and it describes a property of the object. Since it cannot be left out without messing up the core of the sentence, I would call it a complement to the verb, not an adjunct. It is of the same pattern as I cut her loose, I called her brave, I painted her blue, I found her charming, etc. etc. Needless to say, I and many others with me disagree with Lawler's approach. –  Cerberus Feb 11 '13 at 0:57
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2 Answers

up vote 1 down vote accepted

There is often debate about the 'unitariness' or otherwise of some of these structures. In

The aeroplane took off.

and

He took off (= impersonated) Groucho Marx. ,

there is little argument over the fact that 'take off' is behaving as a single verb. Though some people prefer not to use the term 'multi-word verb' here.

However, with

He took off his coat / He took his coat off, there seems more of an argument for verb and adverb (or intransitive preposition) - two components rather than one.

Again, contrast

He looked up the answer.

with

He looked up the hill.

Now, I'd say that with:

I carefully pried open her mouth. / I carefully pried her mouth open. ,

we're somewhere in the grey area

pry open = MWV?

pry = verb; open = adverb?

Certainly, the pretty comprehensive 'Oxford Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs' doesn't include pry open.

In the structure shown by

He went unarmed. ,

unarmed is a predicative adjective, coming after the linking verb.

in the similar structure shown by

He hammered the metal flat. ,

hammer is a transitive verb still able to fulfil a linking role. This type of structure is often described as secondary predication though Cobuild just labels the adjective (flat here) an object complement.

In she left the door open, open is indisputably an adjective.

In she forced the door open, I think most people would again accept open as an adjective.

In she pried open the door, I think it's sensible to accept the same analysis.

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Particle Shift operates with real phrasal verbs, as distinguishable from transitivizing prepositions, like look at, listen to, think about. –  John Lawler Feb 6 '13 at 19:38
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Conventional grammar calls it an object complement here ("a complement (belonging) to the object").

I pried it open.

I pried it half-open.

I pried it loose.

The adjective open can be replaced with other adjectives, and it describes a (resultative) property of the object; it is therefore an object complement. It is of the same pattern as I cut her loose, I called her brave, I painted her blue, I found her charming, etc. etc. Object complements are often, but not always, resultative, in that they describe a property of the object after the action has taken place. It becomes open after the action of prying. The same applies to several kinds of subject complements, as in I became angry, I turned red, I waxed poetic.

Since it cannot be left out without messing up the core of the sentence, I would call it a complement to the verb, not an adjunct. I (and many others with me) clearly disagree with Lawler's approach.

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