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"A bush grew out of the gutter and hung down the front of the house."

Could anybody please explain where in the above sentence 'down' belongs? It could belong to 'hang' a bit like a phrasal verb, or it could belong to 'the front'?

That kind of construction is hard for a non-native speaker to get their head around. We understand the meaning of the sentence, of course, but it feels weird, nevertheless. A non-native speak would normally say something like that instead:

"A bush grew out of the gutter and hung (down) over/before/ the front of the house." "A bush grew out of the gutter and hung (down) in front of the house."

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Down the front of the house a prepositional/adverbial phrase modifying hung. The object of the phrase is the front of the house. –  Phoenix Jan 1 '12 at 12:57
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Don't generalize to all non native speakers. –  Theta30 Jan 1 '12 at 13:30
    
Presumably you say a non-native speak would normally [use different words] because the nearest literal translation into your own native language doesn't work. But you shouldn't assume this applies to all or even most other languages. –  FumbleFingers Jan 1 '12 at 13:43

2 Answers 2

The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language argues against the idea of phrasal verbs from a syntactic viewpoint, although they are clearly a useful construct when it comes to vocabulary. I would take the prepositional phrase headed by down to be a complement of hang adjunct to the clause (EDIT: I think Barrie's right. You can say down the front of the house it hung, which suggests the PP is an adjunct in clause structure, not a complement in the VP. I've changed the tree to match this.)

Syntax tree for "it hung down the front of the house"

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+!, but I'd say the PP was an Adverbial. –  Barrie England Jan 1 '12 at 15:44
    
I think you're right that it's not a complement. I find the term "adverbial" misleading because it suggests "adverb", which this isn't. –  Brett Reynolds Jan 1 '12 at 16:22
    
Subject - Verb - Adverbial is one of the seven patterns of English clause. The Adverbial slot may be filled by an adverb, but it may also be filled, as here, by a phrase. –  Barrie England Jan 1 '12 at 16:26
    
I understand the idea behind it, but as I said, I think it just leads to confusion. And I also think the idea of seven clause patterns is pretty sketchy. –  Brett Reynolds Jan 1 '12 at 16:35
    
I'm afraid I don't much like or use most of Geoff's terminology. I have my own use for terms like complement, for instance, which is restricted to noun clauses. McCawley's terminology seems more reasonable to me. Though I do like the idea of intransitive prepositions like It hung down. Hang down isn't a real phrasal verb anyway, though it certainly can form a constituent. –  John Lawler Jan 1 '12 at 16:45

I'm just going to point out that a native speaker could say either "hung down in front of the house" or "hung down the front of the house". The latter suggests hanging that is closer to the house, much like a drink spilled down one's shirt, whereas the former suggest something larger hanging bulkily out from the gutter.

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Thank you, that was useful. –  Neon Jan 2 '12 at 15:04

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