My attempt to analyse this sentence:

sbj: They
vrb: spent
        obj: the day

What is the function of the participle phrase "playing together"?

  • 3
    I'm assuming that the user who close-voted this doesn't know what a syntactic function / grammatical relations are. If you don't, please stop "close/keep open"voting on grammar questions. Dec 5, 2015 at 0:45
  • I the user doesn't know those things, they should be in ELL... Dec 5, 2015 at 10:08
  • Playing is a present participle modifying the subject they, and together is an adverb modifying the present participle playing.
    – Anonym
    Dec 5, 2015 at 17:14

3 Answers 3


It's a complement of spent.

Spend (time) usually requires a complement as well as its object, which can take several forms:

  • Prepositional phrase: in the city.
  • Adjectival phrase: bored.
  • Participial phrase: playing together.
  • Adverb: together.
  • So its an objective complement of "the day"?
    – William
    Dec 4, 2015 at 23:37
  • I don't think so. It is the verb spend (like waste) that requires an object and a complement, not the NP the day.
    – Colin Fine
    Dec 4, 2015 at 23:44
  • I thought only linking verbs could have complements. If "playing together" is a complement, it can only be an objective complement.
    – William
    Dec 4, 2015 at 23:47
  • @William It is a complement of the verb, but it is a subject complement because it "describes" the subject (actually it takes the subject as its own subject), not the object. Dec 5, 2015 at 1:12
  • @William You could analyse 'spend the day' / 'spend time' / 'occupy themselves' / as (or as behaving like) MW link verbs: [They] [spent two hours / were / continued] [playing together]. Dec 5, 2015 at 13:12

A bit about Complements:

Verbs set up different special slots for different kinds of phrases. All verbs set up a space for a Subject. How many other slots the verb sets up, if any, and what types of job these phrases are doing depends on the verb. In addition to a slot for a putter, he verb PUT also sets up a slot for the thing being moved and another slot for the destination of that thing.

The phrases that fill these different slots set up by other words or phrases are called Complements. Apart from a Subject, the verb PUT takes two Complements. The thing being moved is the Direct Object, the phrase indicating the destination is the Locative Complement.

The Original Poster's example:

We spent the day playing together.

In the sentence above the verb SPEND is taking a Direct Object and a Catenative Complement. The Direct Object is the phrase the day. The phrase playing together is the Catenative Complement. It is also a non-finite clause. This sentence is unusual because our interpretation of the Subject of the verb playing is controlled by the Subject of the main clause. We understand the sentence like this:

  • We(1) spent the day [ ___(1) playing together].

We could also construe it like this:

  • We spent the day [us playing together].

Why is this unusual? Well when a verb takes both a Direct Object and a Catenative Complement, our interpretation of the Subject of the non-finite clause is usually controlled by the Object of the main clause, not the Subject. Consider this example:

  • I persuaded Bob to eat the pasta.

We understand this sentence like this:

  • I persuaded Bob(1) [ ___(1) to eat the pasta].

  • I persuaded Bob [ Bob to eat the pasta].

The sentence doesn't mean:

  • I(1) persuaded Bob [ ___(1) to eat the pasta]. (wrong)

  • I persuaded Bob [me to eat the pasta]. (wrong)

The verb SPEND, therefore is unusual because it has a Direct Object, but it relies on Subject and not Object control. Because of the Subject control involved in the Original Poster's sentence, we probably want to think of the Catenative Complement as being a subject-oriented Complement.

  • Begin with "They spent the day playing together, and we spent the day playing together, too", and note what happens when you pronominalize: "They spent the day playing together, and we spent the day at it, too.". The fact that "playing together" is replaced by "it" with the antecedent "playing together" is evidence that it is a NP (a nominalized sentence), and the "at" that crops up is evidence that we are dealing with a PP complement. (I dislike your term "catenative" -- it doesn't mean anything.)
    – Greg Lee
    Dec 5, 2015 at 19:23
  • @GregLee Not my term! It's from Pullum or Hussdleston. I defer to their greater knowledge. Why at it, btw? I find the evidence rather weak, although I'm not saying it's wrong. Why not doing it? Dec 5, 2015 at 19:25
  • @GregLee Your example doesn't seem to work with They spent the day being sad, and we spent the day at it too. It's interesting though ... Dec 5, 2015 at 19:32
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    In conventional generative grammar, we don't build syntax trees with grammatical relations (that would be Relational Grammar). We use parts of speech. (Chomsky argued this in Aspects. Amusingly, though, he did use Manner in some of his trees, discussing the passive.)
    – Greg Lee
    Dec 5, 2015 at 19:44
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    @GregLee Yes, but "complement" is very vague. Direct Object, Indirect Object, Locative Complement, Predicative Complement, Extraposed Subject, Extraposed Object, Catenative Complement and arguably even "Subject" are all types of complement, so complement doesn't really tell us anything much. Saying that it's a manner adverb might be informative, but not about the function, only about the part of speech. Dec 5, 2015 at 20:36

"playing together" is a how-indication and I would simply call it adverbial sentence part. I think here a prepostion such as "by/with" or something similar was dropped.

  • 1
    You can't say "I spent the day". It isn't complete without some adjective. Therefore the phrase is some kind of complement and not a modifier.
    – William
    Dec 6, 2015 at 16:08

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