He wants to kidnap the kids on the streets.

I am writing to ask whether the sentence above is ambiguous?

I've learned that prepositional phrases can function as adverb or adjective,

which means "on the streets" can function as adverb modifying the verb "kidnap"

or it can function as adjective modifying the noun "kids".

Am I right or am I mistaken?

  • Your example is strictly speaking ambiguous. The PP may be an locative adjunct in clause structure, i.e. modifying "kidnap", or it could be a modifier of "kids". I would advise against using the term 'adjective'. Just because the PP can modify a noun doesn't mean it's as adjective - it's not, it's a PP functioning as a modifier in NP structure.
    – BillJ
    Dec 22, 2018 at 9:54

1 Answer 1


Yes, the sentence can be interpreted in two different ways.

Although I'm going to use the singular street, since it's more idiomatic, especially when contrasting the two interpretations.

  1. He wants to kidnap the kids (who are) on the street.
  2. He wants to kidnap the kids (in question when they are) on the street (rather than when they are inside).

Something like this would generally be interpreted based on context. Such a sentence would normally not exist on its own but would be part of a larger narrative that makes the meaning clear.

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