Diagramming: The bird in the tree sang happily


I diagrammed the sentence correctly; but according to the author there is a potential trip to watch out for in the sentence she gave.

She says:

You found the prepositional phrase. You asked, “What question does it answer?” and you said “Where,” didn’t you? What the prepositional phrase “in the tree” really tells is “which one.” It does this by telling “where.” Now think about that. We often tell “which one” about a noun in this way. “Which dress will you wear?” “The one on the bed.” NOT the one in the closet, or over the chair, or under the dresser.

This is an example of how you must always think about what words and word groups are really doing. In most cases, word order will be a clue as to what a prepositional phrase modifies.

End quote.

I have NO idea what she means. Can someone water down for me what she is trying to say?

  • It's the difference between Which bird? - the one in the tree, not a different one (of which there may be many), and Where did the bird sing? (where there may not even be any concept of "other birds"). – FumbleFingers Jul 20 '15 at 19:54
  • Where is an adverbial question applied to the analysis of an adverbial prepositional phrase. Since the prepositional phrase modifies the noun bird, and more precisely the noun phrase the bird, the adjectival question which is preferable for analysis, but it makes a negligible difference for practical interpretation. – ScotM Jul 21 '15 at 0:10
  • Does this time-consuming graphic really help you to understand the structure of the sentence? This method seems old-fashioned to me. – rogermue Jul 21 '15 at 4:20

The prepositional phrase here is describing the type of bird by giving its location. If the sentence were to be phrased "The bird sang happily in the tree", it would be answering the question where as you said. It would then be supporting the verb sang. However, currently, the prepositional phrase is describing the bird, and the question "Where?" is an adverbial answer, and therefore cannot describe the noun bird.

  • 2
    Not really "the type of bird"; rather "identifying information for the bird". – Colin Fine Jul 20 '15 at 19:52
  • Ok. The way I looked at the sentence when I first looked at it was there was a divider in the sentence (see the pipe symbol). So for example "The bird in the tree | sang happily.” So “the bird in the tree” is a declarative/descriptive statement, and “sang happily” is the adverb “happily” modifying the main verb “sang”. Am I on the right track…? – user1593993 Jul 20 '15 at 19:57

The bird in the tree | sang | happily.

The bird in the tree: subject

sang: verb

happily: adverb

The noun group "the bird in the tree" has the main element bird and as subelements "the" and "in the tree". "in the tree" is a shortened relative clause: the bird (that is ) sitting in the tree.

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