Sorry if this is a basic question, but is there a grammatical term for the 'extra information' in the sentences below?

  • He was giving a presentation to the finance department
  • She was having lunch at the restaurant
  • They were going to a meeting with Mr. Barber

I can identify the subject, verb, object etc., but I don't know how to describe these extra details.

Many thanks in advance!


When we think of "additional" or "extra" parts of the sentence like this we are thinking about functions not parts of speech or types of phrase.

The proper terms for this type of function is ADJUNCT. An adjunct is part of a sentence that is not necessary for the grammar. This means it is not necessary for the sentence to be grammatical or make sense.

The subject and object are COMPLEMENTS of the verb. Certain verbs set up slots for both subjects and objects; some for just subjects; some for subjects, objects and other complements. If part of a sentence is filling one of these slots, it is a complement of some description.

However, the sections in bold in the Original Poster's question:

  • to the finance department
  • at the restaurant
  • with Mr. Barber

... do not fill any of these slots. They are entirely extraneous in terms of the structure of the sentence. The sentences are perfectly grammatical without them:

  • He was giving a presentation.
  • She was having lunch.
  • They were going to a meeting.

It is this property of not filling a particular slot in a sentence or phrase which makes an adjunct an adjunct.

One last thing to mention is this. Often, when we talk about adjuncts, we are talking about the structure of the sentence in terms of immediate constituents of the verb phrase. However, strictly speaking, adjuncts can occur in any phrase. A good illustration is the Original Poster's third example:

  • They were going to a meeting with Mr. Barber.

Now if Mr Barber was going to the meeting with them, we would regard this as an adjunct in the verb phrase - in other words as a general adjunct of the sentence.

However, if they are travelling to the meeting without Mr Barber, but Mr Barber was at the meeting, then with Mr Barber is an adjunct in the noun phrase 'a meeting with Mr Barber'. Here the preposition phrase with Mr Barber is modifying the noun meeting, not the verb phrase were going to a meeting. We therefore say that with Mr Barber is an adjunct in the noun phrase. It is not filling any special slot in the phrase. Notice that this noun phrase, a meeting, is well-formed without the preposition phrase.

One last addendum: some people refer to adjuncts as ADVERBIALS. However, this is a bad term as it has associations with the word adverb. Now adverb is a part of speech, not a function in a sentence. Generally speaking, writers who use the term 'adverbial' are generally unable to distinguish whether they are talking about parts of speech, types of phrase or functions. The terms is confusing and those who use it are - more often than not - unwittingly confused! It is a term that should be banished from any serious discussion of English grammar.

  • 3
    I know we shouldn't really use comments to say thanks, but this is such a fantastic and detailed answer. I understand this much better now. I'm very grateful!
    – user66608
    Nov 27 '14 at 13:04
  • Why does grammar permit ambiguity? The new interns were going with Mr Baker to a meeting versus The new interns were going to a meeting with Mr Baker. Most people would say the second version allows two interpretations. Grammar gives us a way to avoid ambiguity but it does not require that sentences be unambiguous. Why not?
    – TRomano
    Nov 27 '14 at 17:21
  • 1
    @TRomano: Ambiguity is a feature, not a bug. If you want to be unambiguous using language, you may do so; but you also have the option not to. Virtually every sentence, looked at closely, is multiply ambiguous; this is especially true for written sentences, which omit necessary disambiguators like gaze, intonation, and gesture. Therefore the question isn't why language (not "grammar"; this is a question about meaning, not syntax) permits ambiguity, it's "Why do humans not feel obliged to be unambiguous?" Nov 27 '14 at 17:46
  • One post-last addendum. What this answer labels as complements, others label as arguments. This allows us to reserve the word complements for the kind of arguments that complement a subject or object, and lets us talk about subjects, objects and complements as three different kinds of arguments, while still letting us distinguish between arguments and adjuncts. Nov 28 '14 at 2:33
  • 1
    @GaryBotnovcan Well, a complement is any word or phrase that is specially licensed by another word or phrase. Arguments are just complements of the verb. Because of this, is doesn't really make sense to talk of subjects, objects and complements being different types of 'argument' - especially if you try to exclude complements from being arguments! Nov 28 '14 at 10:57

phrases is what such combinations of words are called,

Ref: http://www.studyandexam.com/clause-phrase.html


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy