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I have a question about a prepositional phrase.

-Don't throw the cigarette butts away in the trash bin.

-Make sure to throw away all the paper on the floor.

Both of two sentences have the same verb and the same prepositional phrase.

However, the latter prepositional phrase is an adjectival one - paper which is on the floor, while the former one is an adverbial one - put them in the trash bin, not in the other places. Right?

What made this difference? I wonder if there is any possibility that the second sentence could be understood by the meaning of "Be sure to discard all the paper on the floor(not on any other places)"?

Thanks in advance.

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Don't throw the cigarette butts away in the trash bin.

In your first example, "in the trash bin" is a complement to the verb "throw"; it's not adjectival. If "away" were moved to the end, "Don't throw the cigarette butts in the trash bin away", "in the trash bin" would be interpreted as a modifier of "cigarette butts", but that's not possible in the original example. If "away" is moved next to the verb, "Don't throw away the cigarette butts in the trash bin", the PP is now ambiguous between the interpretation as a modifier and a verb complement. Changing "in" to "into" makes the modifier interpretation impossible.

Make sure to throw away all the paper on the floor.

Your second example is the same, taking account of the three possible positions of "away" and the possibility of changing "on" to "onto".

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There is some ambiguity with your last one:

"Make sure to throw away all the paper on the floor"

Are you saying throw all papers on the floor or are you saying to throw away the paper thats's on the floor inside a trash bin?

This can happen some time with prepositional phrases.

Better:

"Make sure to throw away all the paper that's on the floor in the trash." "Make sure to throw away all the paper that's on the floor."

  • Adding "that's" to the original wording may improve clarity a bit, but I think that adding "in the trash" to the end of the revision actually yields a muddier sentence than you'd have if you stopped at "Make sure to throw away all the paper that's on the floor." – Sven Yargs Aug 13 '16 at 21:10

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