1. Closest feeling to death is pain.

The noun phrase is "closest feeling to death". But I don't know how to parse this sentence...there seem to be two ways to parse this sentence.

A. {Closest [feeling to death]} is pain.

This parsing does not make much sense to me. It is saying that feeling toward death that is closest is pain, which is nonsensical. Closest modifies feeling to death.

B. {[Closest feeling] to death} is pain.

This makes much more sense to me, as "to death" modifies "closest feeling", making it mean that the feeling that is closest to death is the pain. However, I am still unsure about it , since it feels like adjective "closest" should be right next to preposition "to" as below.

  1. Feeling closest to death is pain.

So after some logics, it seems that sentence 1 is not grammatically correct. Is sentence 1 grammatically correct or not? And if yes, which parsing of mine is correct? And if not, why is that?

  • You'll have to give us more context. My guess is that the definite article is misplaced, and the sentence is supposed to mean "The feeling closest to death is pain." That is that pain is all you feel just before you die. Pain can't be close to death in the meaning of a similar feeling to death, since death means the cessation of feeling.
    – deadrat
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 0:41
  • I edited it! And yes, the feeling closest to death is pain is what I tried to mean. It is just a sentence I came up on my own. What I was focuing on was the structure, not the meaning.
    – Opaque
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 0:44
  • I just wanted to know if the adjective of a noun phrase can still be connected to the prepositional phrase of a noun phrase even if they are separated as in sentence 1.
    – Opaque
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 0:50
  • @deadrat Forgot to put it.
    – Opaque
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 0:58

2 Answers 2


It would be unfair to search any meaning -literal or metaphorical- in the given sentence. If we reduce the sentence to the bare minimum what remains is, FEELING IS PAIN. We know not how it feels to DIE when death is total extinction. The sentence at best attempts to suggest, "The feeling closest to death is pain".

The subject proper is " FEELING ". 'Closest to death' is an an adjective phrase, elliptical form of the clause, 'which is closest to death' qualifying 'feeling' an abstract noun.

Structurally be what may, the noun phrase taken altogether- the feeling closest to death- the focus of emphasis shifts to " DEATH" even though the nucleus subject is feeling as before. And the sentence goes to mean-- excruciating pain is akin to death. However the paradox remains we cannot know death!

  • Hm. Thank you for the answer. But I have to point out that I was trying to find the structure...Your explanation of the meaning was very helpful, though.
    – Opaque
    Commented Oct 12, 2015 at 21:16
  • Please gather NP,VP,MODIFIER or COMPLIMENTER / PP from my analysis;I don't know much of formal parsing. Commented Oct 13, 2015 at 14:17

You can't parse it with an ordinary tree structure, because the modifier of "feeling" is the discontinuous constituent "closest ... to death". Without reduction of the relative clause modifier of "feeling", it would come out "the feeling which is closest to death", where the two parts of the modifier "closest to death" occur next to each other.

  • It is beyond my grammatical understanding... I'm sorry, but is what you mean that I cannot parse it with branch as it uses discontinous constituent, but this sentence number 1 still makes sense and is grammatically correct?
    – Opaque
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 1:39
  • Yes, it's grammatical. (Except it needs an article at the beginning.) The discontinuity arises because after reducing the relative clause, it's possible to move the adjective "closest" to before the noun "feeling", but leaving behind the second part of the modifier, "to death".
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 1:45
  • Thank you! So does it work like discontinous noun phrase? Or is it some other concept?
    – Opaque
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 1:47
  • I don't understand what you're asking. It works like a discontinuous noun phrase in that it's discontinuous, except that it isn't a noun phrase. I suppose you might call "closest to death" an adjective phrase.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 1:51
  • 1
    "the closest feeling to death" is a noun phrase. It is not discontinuous, but it contains both parts of the discontinuous modifier "closest to death". You can draw trees for such structures, provided you can make tree diagrams with crossing branches. In The Syntactic Phenomena of English, McCawley gives trees with crossing branches to describe discontinuous structures. I'm sorry that I can't draw such a tree for you here.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 2:08

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