In the sentence, "my dog ran up to me, wagging its tail," does "wagging its tail" modify "dog" or "ran"? Does rewriting the sentence as "wagging its tail, my dog ran up to me" change anything?

  • What research have you done yourself? (Clue: adverbs don't modify nouns.) – TimLymington Apr 22 '16 at 22:08
  • That is an adverbial phrase using a present participle. The phrase answers the question about how the dog ran up to the me. I can be positioned at the front or back (pre-positioned or post-positioned). – Lambie Apr 22 '16 at 22:15
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    @TimLymington Come on Tim!. This is a good question. The what research have you done thing is meant to be there for single-word-requests and the kind of people that like to answer those types of questions. On syntax, any decent question that's obviously problematic, doesn't need more research. For example if it's self-eveident what the problem is, as it is here. – Araucaria Apr 22 '16 at 22:21
  • @TimLymington (btw, too scared to ask almost - what's your answer?) – Araucaria Apr 22 '16 at 22:23
  • A canonical adverb is an adjective +'ly'. Adverbials (adverbial phrases) do not have to contain adverbs. They are merely relations whose topic (subject) is the verb (rather than the subject noun). They apply to the subject 'when it was doing the verb'. Adverbials can appear anywhere (except inside a [prepositional] noun phrase). – AmI Apr 22 '16 at 22:30

This is called a praedicative adjectival phrase; that means that it has an adjectival form and syntactically it mostly modifies the noun (my dog), but semantically it tells you something about both the noun (my dog) and the verb (ran). This is often the case when an adjectival phrase comes after the noun it modifies. Other examples:

She arrived first.

She became mad.

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    Surely not, Cerberus. It has the form of a clause (not an AdjP) whose head word is the verb "wagging". It even has a direct object "its tail". VPs/clauses don't usually modify nouns like this. It has to be a non-finite gerund-particial clause functioning as supplementary adjunct - the kind of adjunct that doesn't modify anything, but simply provides additional (though syntactically optional), information. Like most non-finites it's subjectless, but the subject (my "dog") is easily recoverable from the main clause. – BillJ Apr 23 '16 at 8:52
  • @BillJ: Why do you say it doesn't modify the dog? As to the rest of our disagreement, I think that rests mostly on mere terminology. – Cerberus Apr 23 '16 at 12:57
  • Non-finite clauses as supplements are not noun post-head modifiers. It would modify "dog" in something like . A dog wagging its tail ran up to me. But this is an entirely different construction. Supplements like this are not modifiers at all, but just appendages. – BillJ Apr 23 '16 at 13:33
  • @BillJ: Why is it a different construction? It looks the same to me, except that now the participial phrase is appositional. The forms are the same, and so are the semantic roles. I think together those should be the most important criteria. – Cerberus Apr 23 '16 at 13:39
  • Syntactically it's quite different ( a different construction), and we are talking syntax here, not semantics. Why do you say the forms are the same? – BillJ Apr 23 '16 at 13:41

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