Grammatically speaking what is "the door" in the following sentence?

To answer the door, she pulled it open.

Is it a modifier?

  • 4
    You're confusing category (part of speech) and function. "The door" is a noun phrase, whose function here is direct object of "answer". – BillJ Dec 6 at 19:25
  • @BillJ Isn't "the door" a part of speech if it's an object? It functions as the object but it also is the object, no? I'm not understanding. – Zebrafish Dec 6 at 19:37
  • 1
    You're right, but you've got the rule by the wrong end. Direct objects have to be noun phrases, and nouns are almost always noun phrases. But complex constituents like quite a few more than I expected of the bright red antique British cars on parade are also noun phrases -- you wouldn't want to say that was all one noun, right? As @BillJ said, the door is a noun phrase. That means it's a phrase that is used like a noun. There are also verb phrases, adjective phrases, and adverb phrases, same kind of interpretation. – John Lawler Dec 6 at 22:29

The door is the object of the verb answer. The phrase to answer the door is an adverbial phrase of purpose modifying the main verb or the praedicate.

  • So if participle phrases contain participles, and prepositional phrases contain prepositions, then adverbial phrases contain adverbs. Can you identify for us the adverb in the adverbial phrase you mention? – Joseph O. Dec 7 at 21:41
  • @JosephO.: No, that is unfortunately not the case: adverbial phrases usually don't contain adverbs. Participle and praepositional phrases are constructions named after the most typical kind of word that they must contain, but they aren't (necessarily) parts of speech. Adverbial phrases, on the other hand, are named after their function in the sentence and as such are a part of speech—not after a special kind of word they must contain. A rule of thumb is that an adverbial phrase could be replaced by some adverb without changing the construction and meaning of the rest of the sentence. – Cerberus Dec 8 at 16:00
  • So I agree with you that the terminology is not consistent in this regard, alas. – Cerberus Dec 8 at 16:03

"To answer the door" is an infinitive phrase that is functioning as a single part of speech, an adverb modifying the main verb in the sentence "pulled". That is why Cerberus correctly calls it an adverbial phrase. That should take precedence over the idea that "the door" is a direct object of "to answer." The reason being is that "to answer" is a verbal, and does not function as a verb in this sentence or any other; it is a "former" verb doing a different job, in this case, the job of an adverb. There is enough "verbiness" left for it to still take "door" as an object, but the whole phrase is functioning as an adverb. I've seen sentence analysis (in print...check out Michael Clay Thompson's work) that wouldn't label "to answer" as a verb and would skip labelling "the door" as a D.O. for the reason given.

  • 1
    "To answer" is definitely still a verb. Participles begin to blur the lines between nouns and verbs, but infinitives are still ordinary verbs in English. – curiousdannii Dec 7 at 1:37
  • @curiousdannii -- "Answer" is definitely being used as a verb. I'm pretty sure that "to" is a preposition, however. – Hot Licks Dec 7 at 2:24
  • @HotLicks No it's the infinitive to, usually considered a particle rather than a preposition. – curiousdannii Dec 7 at 2:27
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    @curiousdannii -- Infinitives can function as nouns, adjectives, and adverbs but they never function as verbs in a sentence (though their form allows them to take an object). This is why an infinitive can never be the predicate of a sentence. To call an infinitive an "ordinary verb[s] in English" is patently false, my friend. Infinitives can never have subjects (like ordinary verbs can) because they can't inflect to reflect tense or bind to subjects (like ordinary verbs can). After you research, make it right... – Joseph O. Dec 7 at 12:39
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    @JosephO. - Where did I say "to answer" is being used as a verb??? – Hot Licks Dec 7 at 13:29

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