The lighted dial of Dudley's watch, which was dangling over the edge of the sofa on his fat wrist, told Harry he'd be eleven in ten minutes' time.

(Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

Are the highlighted two prepositional phrases one element, or is ‘over the edge of the sofa’ a parenthetical phrase?

  • 1
    I must not understand what you are asking, because the answers are super-obvious.
    – tchrist
    Mar 20, 2013 at 14:59
  • @tchrist, yes, however super-obvious answer does not necessarily imply super-obvious question, no?
    – user19148
    Mar 20, 2013 at 21:19

3 Answers 3


Over the edge of the sofa on his fat wrist is not two but three preposition phrases, to wit

  1. over the edge
  2. of the sofa
  3. on his fat wrist

3 (boldfaced) prepositions, each with its own object NP, equals 3 preposition phrases.
It is certainly the case that there are frequent compound preposition constructions with words like edge; but they're no different in principle from compound noun constructions like horse doctor, pony ride, and snake bite.

  • [[on/under/over/from/at] [the edge/side/back/arm]] [of the chair/sofa/table/desk]

It is also true that, while the first two PPs do go together as a single constituent in this way, the third one is independently attached to dangling, as a further locative, pinning down Dudley's watch, the antecedent of the relative clause that contains all these PPs.


Yes, those are two prepositional phrases: one whose head noun is edge and governed by the preposition over, and the other one whose head noun is wrist and governed by preposition on.

There are no parentheses here.


This should help:

(S (NP (NP The dial)
       (PP of
           (NP (NP (NP Dudley 's)
               (SBAR (WHNP which)
               (PP of
                   (NP (NP (NP Dudley 's)
                       (SBAR (WHNP which)
                             (S (VP was
                                    (VP dangling
                                        (PP over
                                            (NP (NP the edge)
                                                (PP of
                                                    (NP the sofa))))
                                        (PP on
                                            (NP his fat wrist))))))))

   (VP told
       (NP Harry)
       (SBAR [that]
                  (S (NP he)
                     (VP 'd
                         (VP be
                             (NP eleven)
                             (PP in
                                 (NP (NP ten minutes ')


If you have not yet turned to tools that crank out constituency parses — and probably dependency parses, too — then you probably should.

  • Is ‘over the edge of the sofa’ an adjunct for ‘wrist’? That I’m going to say is, is ‘on his fat wrist’ is directly connected with ‘dangling’? : DANGLING ON
    – Listenever
    Mar 20, 2013 at 15:10
  • What’s an “adjunct”?
    – tchrist
    Mar 20, 2013 at 15:11
  • The grammar of the sentence is as follows: the "watch" is "dangling". It is "dangling" in two different ways: "over the edge of the sofa" and "on his fat wrist". From the grammar of the sentence, you cannot conclude that the "wrist" is "dangling over the edge of the sofa", if that's what you're asking. (Although it clearly is if you visualize it). Mar 20, 2013 at 15:19
  • @Listenever Have you tried NLP tools?
    – tchrist
    Mar 21, 2013 at 1:08

I was about to ask whether that was a Pullum-and-Huddleston style adjunct. Neither they nor Quirk et al are grammar czars.

Dangling is a verb that seems to need some sort of completer (I'm avoiding the word 'complement' too!), and dangling over the edge of the sofa hasn't quite the same meaning as the original. So one of the PPs is syntactically to be preferred, and the other semantically so. Dangling on his fat wrist also sounds wrong as it stands. And dangling from his fat wrist again conveys a different meaning. No doubt some would argue over the names to be given to the complex relationships involved. Overall, the style is superb.

If pushed, I'd have to concede that it was Dudley's arm rather than his watch that was actually dangling over the edge of the sofa. So there is a transference of meaning here (most often seen with metonyms and transferred epithets).

  • 1
    You've left me dangling. No completer.
    – Robusto
    Mar 20, 2013 at 15:31
  • "Completer" is the very one I've been thanking for "complement." Is it your own creation, or a shared word with some people?
    – Listenever
    Mar 20, 2013 at 23:20
  • It's just an attempt to avoid already-defined (and conflictingly-defined at that) terms like 'complement', but I've seen it in print. Don't use it outside scare-quotes or italics. Sep 25, 2013 at 19:32

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