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Regarding the sentence,

I spoke (on the phone ) [with John],

should the phrase in parenthesis precede the phrase in brackets, or vice versa?

  1. Do you know of a principle of construction that pertains to ordering phrases such as the two above? If so, how would you apply it to the sentence in question?
  2. Do you notice any connotational difference between the alternatives? If so, why do you suppose changing the phrase order effected that difference?

Thank you.

  • Not "to"? I'd have expected that several people would have jumped on this question really fast saying it should be "to". – Mr Lister Jan 6 '14 at 19:11
  • Really? I always regarded 'talking to' as connoting something closer to 'talking at' than to 'talking with'. But regard 'talking to' as more appropriate? Why? – Hal Jan 6 '14 at 21:19
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The usual way would be to order these prepositional phrases

I spoke with John on the phone.

This emphasises the more important detail, that you spoke with John, the medium being more peripheral.

If someone asked you whether your phone line had been repaired after the storm damage, the importance would be reversed:

Oh yes - I spoke on the phone with John, not two hours ago.

Ease of interpretation might trump this nice distinction:

??I spoke with John, Ali, Sally, the Smythes, Colonel and Mrs Blimp, and Batman on the phone.

I spoke on the phone with John, Ali, Sally, the Smythes, Colonel and Mrs Blimp, and Batman.

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