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I noticed someone asking about using three prepositions in a row. I have a question related to this, but I can't post it as a comment to the same post (not enough reputations :-(). In examples like: "He jumped out from behind a dustbin" or "come on out from behind there to over here in front of me", what is the object of each preposition? Can we say that for each preposition it is the following one (which can be a noun in other context)? Or do they share the same object?

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First, despite what a previous member said, "out" is seen as a prep in the latest grammars.

The 1st prep is "out". Its complement is the PP "from behind a dustbin". The 2nd prep is "from". Its complement is the PP "behind a dustbin". The 3rd prep is "behind". Its complement is the NP "a dustbin".

So we have a large PP "out from behind a dustbin" which contains the smaller PP "from behind a dustbin" which in turn contains the even smaller PP "behind a dustbin".

Complements of preps may be realised by several different types of dependent:

  1. Object NP: "I was talking [to a friend]".
  2. Predicative: "I regard her [as a friend]".
  3. PP: "I stayed [until after lunch"].
  4. AdvP: "It won't last [for long]".
  5. Clause: "I left [because I was tired]".

Does that answer your question?

BillJ

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  • Because a preposition? – Edwin Ashworth Nov 8 '15 at 13:16
  • @EdwinAshworth For you maybe a conjunctive preposition?! – Araucaria - Not here any more. Nov 8 '15 at 13:57
  • Yes, I follow the latest thinking on the reclassification of words like "because" (and "provided", "though" "unless" etc.) that are traditionally seen as subordinators, as preps. It's too long a discussion for here right now, perhaps, but suffice to say that the reclassification makes for a far more cohesive syntax, as well as making the teaching of subordinators vs adverbs vs preps so much easier. – BillJ Nov 8 '15 at 13:58
  • +1 Good answer. I'm not sure whether out is part of the same phrase as from behind a dustbin though. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Nov 8 '15 at 13:59
  • I don't know if you're one of the people that I've pointed to counter-arguments to broadening the preposition class. eg with 'intransitive prepositions': 'We arrived at the lake earlier than we had expected, so we spent half an hour walking around' is markedly changed by adding a final 'it'. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 8 '15 at 15:05
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I will only look at the first example, because although prepositions are small words, they can be quite complicated! The second example: "come on out from behind there to over here in front of me" is every bit as complicated as a sentence with twelve clauses!

He jumped out from behind a dustbin.

In many traditional grammars out would usually have been considered an adverb. Strange because most students would recognise it as a preposition until taught otherwise. In many, if not most, modern grammars it is indeed considered a preposition. So for the sake of keeping in with the Original Poster's question (and for the purposes of simplicity and sanity), I'll treat it as a preposition here.

So the preposition out here is a Complement of the verb jumped.

We might analyse from behind a dustbin as a separate Complement of the verb or as an Adjunct (or even possibly as a Complement of out, although I think this is unlikely).

Within the preposition phrase from behind the dustbin, the preposition from takes behind the dustbin as a Complement. Within behind the dustbin the preposition behind takes the noun phrase a dustbin as a Complement. We could construe the structure like this:

  • He jumped [PP out] [PP from [PP behind [NP a dustbin]]]

... where PP stands for preposition phrase and NP stands for noun phrase.

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