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A prepositional phrase comprising a preposition and a noun phrase can generally function either as an adjectival phrase or as an adverbial phrase.

The book on the table is mine. (The prepositional phrase on the table is an adjectival phrase modifying the noun phrase the book.)

Put the book on the table. (The prepositional phrase on the book is an adverbial phrase modifying the verb put.)

I used to think that this dual property of the prepositional phrase is applicable to all prepositions without exception. But then, here comes this example.

Do you have any plans during the vacation?

Which sounds awkward at best.

I thought about the reason why this sounded awkward. The reason I came up with is that the prepositional phrase during the vacation cannot modify any plans. It can only modify the verb have, thereby rendering the sentence awkward.

Can "during" ever lead a prepositional phrase that acts as an adjectival phrase?

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  • 4
    Work during the day progressed faster and with less accidents.
    – Jim
    Sep 2 '14 at 3:53
  • Thanks, Jim. So how come 'during the vacation' cannot modify 'any plans' in my example?
    – JK2
    Sep 2 '14 at 3:59
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    Because plans are intrinsically for something not during something. "Do you have any plans for while you're on vacation?"
    – Jim
    Sep 2 '14 at 4:09
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As noted in comments, a prepositional phrase using during can be used to modify a noun. The example used during the day to modify work used as the subject.

The problem with your sentence lies elsewhere: it’s that during doesn’t work very well for plans. One has plans for one’s vacation, not “during” it.

Plus during the vacation sounds funny for other reasons. It is hard to construct a context where the vacation works at all; it doesn’t work like the holidays might. I suppose you could say during the summer vacation to mean over the summer vacation, but I would leave out that the myself and just say over summer vacation.

For example, these all work:

  • I have plans for doing something special during my vacation this summer.

  • I have plans to do something special during my vacation this summer.

  • I plan to do something special during my vacation this summer.

  • I plan to do something special over summer vacation.

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  • A lot of this is localized to British English, I think. Jul 14 '19 at 2:34
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"A prepositional phrase comprising a preposition and a noun phrase can generally function either as an adjectival phrase or as an adverbial phrase."

My use of the term, a complement only describes the relation one phrase has to another. It has nothing to do with whether that phrase is required syntactically.

Generally, prepositional phrases function as noun complements or verb complements. In either case their relation to the noun or verb is descriptive. Your terms, adverbial phrase and adjectival phrase make the same descriptive distinction but confuse semantic relations (e.g. adverbial/ adjectival = descriptive relation) with syntactic ones (e.g. noun complement or verb complement), of which both have descriptive relations to their antecedents.

The term adverbial (at least in the way I use it and understand it) indicates a type of relation that a syntactical element takes to a verb. Adverbials generally describe where, when why or how an action or state (verbs) happens. Syntactically, adverbials are just verb complements. Objects are verb complements too, but they have an object relation to the verb, saying what thing is effected by the action or state. Subject complements are also verb complements but only syntactically; semantically they have a descriptive relation to the subject. Adverbials and object are linked semantically and syntactically to the verb. All verb complements in English can be described with one of these three relations but they are still just verb complements.

So,

The book on the table is mine. S[NP+nc(pp):book] | V | SC(np:pn)

I put the book on the table. S|V|O(np)+A(pp)

Do you have any plans for your vacation? S|V|O(NP)+a(pp) // S|V|O[NP+nc(pp):plans]

The last sentence seems to have two possible parses, which equate to the same interpretation. In fact the pp is doing both of these things - it is a verb complement, while at the same time it is a noun complement. This is pretty common and a source of some argument. Most paring systems only allow for a phrase to function in one way, even when the phrase is playing more than one role in a sentence.

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