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What would be the best position of Monday in the following sentence — before or after the verb?

  • The paper on Monday published what the artist called a blunt attack on people’s right to privacy.
  • The paper published on Monday what the artist called a blunt attack on people’s right to privacy.
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up vote 7 down vote accepted

Both sentences are completely grammatical.
The differences are in structure and clarity.

The first sentence is normal and unambiguous.

The second sentence has a small Garden Path, since

  • The paper published on Monday

would normally be interpreted as a constituent, an NP modified by a relative clause reduced by Whiz-deletion from:

  • The paper which was published on Monday

But then one hits the Garden Wall at what and has to backtrack and restart the parse.

What is a wh-word that functions as a marker, introducing and identifying the type of the tensed embedded question direct object complement clause (to give it its fully redundant technical name)

  • what the artist called a blunt attack on people’s right to privacy.
    since the details don't matter, let's just reduce this to
  • what X called Y.

But now published is revealed to be a past tense verb with a direct object, and not a reduced participial, so we have to unwind the expected passive clause

  • the newspaper was published on Monday
    and instead read it as an active transitive clause
  • on Monday the newspaper published what X called Y.
    (the fact that newspaper can function grammatically as either subject
    or object with publish is perhaps unfortunate for our parsing routines)

This is only a minor inconvenience, but why create any? There is no obvious reason to move on Monday from a natural unambiguous position to one where it creates a potential problem, so this appears to be a counterindicated strategy.

I.e, it's not incorrect; but it's more difficult than it needs to be.

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Re the first sentence is unambiguous ... I'm now trying to decide whether "The paper on Monday published Part 1, then on Tuesday Part 2" is inherently "ungrammatical", or just plain "awkward". If it's ungrammatical, how is it structurally different to "The paper usually fact-checks its stories, but sometimes makes mistakes"? – FumbleFingers Jun 1 '13 at 22:23
I'd say "awkard". Temporals like on Tuesday can go in a lot of places, depending on rhythm and intonation, and that makes it a speaker's choice. One of the reasons adverbs are so fluid is that they're sort of like gravy and condiments on top of the main food; you never know how much of what kind of information people need to make the connections you want them to. Some people need a lot of salt before they notice a flavor, and others require hot sauce. So it's best left to the individual context. This makes saucing a written sentence a real challenge. Especially out of context. – John Lawler Jun 1 '13 at 22:32
That was my inclination. Nevertheless, even though the first sentence is semantically unambiguous, it still seems to me that structurally you could choose to either interpret the paper on Monday collectively as a single four-word "subject", or as a two-word subject (the paper) followed by on Monday "adverbially" modifying published. Which doesn't really make any difference when all you want to do is understand what the sentence means, but I'd have thought it would affect how you'd break it down in a syntax diagram (not something I'm much good at yet! :). – FumbleFingers Jun 1 '13 at 22:48
Ooops! Yet again I've been suckered into focussing on the written form (since that what we inevitably use here on ELU). In "real" language (i.e. - speech) there is no ambiguity, since the speaker's intonation/rhythm will reflect how he sees it. I'm a slow learner, but I am gradually getting the message One of the basic tenets of linguistics is that language is primarily an oral/aural system – FumbleFingers Jun 1 '13 at 23:06
Basic, indeed. Easy to forget, as you say, in this medium. But if you think of how you say it first, it becomes much easier to perceive the constituents, and constituents are just about everything in syntax. – John Lawler Jun 1 '13 at 23:15

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