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Can a participial phrase be used as an objective complement? If so, is there a way to tell when the participial phrase is or is not used as an objective complement?

How would this sentence be diagrammed?

Leonardo drew many pictures showing birds in flight.

Subject = Leonardo, Verb = drew, Direct Object = pictures, Participial Phrase = showing birds in flight, Participle = showing, Direct Object of Participle = birds

Would "showing" be diagrammed below the direct object "pictures" like most participles or would it be diagrammed right next to "pictures" as an objective complement, therefore having two direct objects on the same diagram base?

  • The object in full is "many pictures showing birds in flight". So the participial clause is part of the noun phrase object. It modifies the head "pictures". Such clauses are semantically like relative clauses, cf. "Leonardo drew many pictures which showed birds in flight". – BillJ Mar 30 '17 at 6:44
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Leonardo drew many pictures showing birds in flight.

I would definitely consider the participial phrase starting with "showing..." in this sentence to be an adjunct of the object rather than a complement to it.

If "many pictures showing birds in flight" is a constitutent, than "showing birds in flight" cannot be an objective complement because it is already part of the object. It certainly is possible for it to form a constituent with the direct object; this can be demonstrated I think using several of the "constituency tests" mentioned by Wikipedia:

  • Passivization:

    Many pictures showing birds in flight were drawn by Leonardo.

    This is acceptable, showing that "many pictures showing birds in flight" is valid as a constituent.

  • Pseudoclefting:

    Many pictures showing birds in flight were what Leonardo drew.

    (It sounds awkward, I think because of the "many," but this sentence is I believe grammatical.)

  • Pronoun substitution:

    Leonardo drew them.

So the remaining quesition is whether we must interpret "many pictures showing birds in flight" as a constituent, or whether the grammar of the sentence is formally ambiguous. Let's try to see if "many pictures" and "showing birds in flight" can be treated as unconnected phrases, again using constituency tests:

  • Pronoun substitution:

    *?Leonardo drew them showing birds in flight.

    This seems very questionable to me. If it seems fine to you, that is evidence that "showing birds in flight" can be used as an object complement, since normally "them" cannot be modified by a relative clause or participial phrase.

  • Pseudoclefting:

    *?Many pictures were what Leonardo drew showing birds in flight.

    This sentence also sounds pretty bad to me.

  • Passivization:

    Many pictures were drawn by Leonardo showing birds in flight.

    This one actually sounds OK to me, but I think something else is going on here that allows "showing..." to be postponed to the end of the sentence; it seems to be a form of extraposition.

So overall, I think this evidence shows that "showing birds in flight" in "Leonardo drew many pictures showing birds in flight" is an adjunct to the object rather than a complement to it.

  • I'd say that the object in full is the noun phrase many pictures showing birds in flight where the gerund-participial clause is modifying the head "pictures". Such clauses are semantically like relative clauses, cf. "Leonardo drew many pictures which showed birds in flight" – BillJ Mar 30 '17 at 6:47
  • "Leonardo drew them showing birds in flight" doesn't seem questionable to me. – Andrew Leach Mar 30 '17 at 8:12
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Simplified Tree Diagram (NP Object with Clausal Modifier)

The object in full is "many pictures showing birds in flight". The gerund-participial clause is a modifier in the NP Object. Such clauses are semantically like relative clauses, cf. "Leonardo drew many pictures that showed birds in flight".

  • +1 for the last sentence. I'd call it a reduced relative clause, but only because I don't like "gerund-participial clause" as a syntactic term. – John Lawler Mar 30 '17 at 18:55

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