In the sentence They are more familiar with this, the predicative complement more familiar with this is an AdjP, with the adjective head familiar. But what about a sentence such as They are more at home with this? Could at home be seen as a complex adjective here, despite its actual PP form? If not, how would we parse the predicative complement here (all levels)?

  • Related, maybe: When can “very” modify a prepositional phrase?
    – herisson
    Commented Jan 17, 2019 at 12:20
  • 1
    No, not a complex adjective; rather, an idiomatic was of saying "at ease with". I'd say that "more" is a dependent of "at home", where "at" is the head and "home" is its complement.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jan 18, 2019 at 14:58
  • @BillJ Thanks!! But what would the form of the predicative complement as a whole be then?
    – Hannah
    Commented Jan 18, 2019 at 15:33

1 Answer 1


We cannot analyze one syntactic form as another one. Each grammatical form is defined by a set of criteria that makes it distinguishable from another one. So, a preposition cannot be an adjective, a noun cannot be a verb etc. Grammatical forms can be distributionally/functionally comparable or similar in certain syntactic contexts, but one cannot be the other. So, my general answer to the title question is no and never.

They are more at home with this.

The whole thing is an ascriptive predicative complement with the form of a prepositional phrase. There is a lot to say about this one. First, there is a number of prepositional phrases which are gradable (completely in control, very much out of sorts, wholly out of order etc. CGEL p643), typically functioning as the predicative complement. In the sentence at hand the adverb "more" modifies the following head PP "at home".

Which brings us to the interesting part. The head of a phrase doesn't have to be a word - it can be another phrase. This is the case here. The head of the PP "more at home with this" is another PP - "at home". The PP "with this" is a complement of the head PP "at home".

The authors of CGEL say "..one PP can function within a larger one, as head, complement, or modifier" (p646), which is followed by sentences illustrating each use.

  • Yes; I'm not anti-CGEL per se, far from it. Though I prefer the splitting off of the set of prepositional-phrase-modifiers (I'll add the examples just behind the door, rather under the weather, right into the middle of the hole) from the adverb ragbag. Commented Feb 6, 2020 at 11:51
  • @Edwin Directional prepositional modifiers are even more common than adverbial ones: look UP into the sky, put it BACK on the shelf etc.
    – user97589
    Commented Feb 6, 2020 at 11:58
  • I'd not class those as PP modification; the adverbs here don't modify the PP but rather the verb. 'Look [up] [into the sky]' but 'She putted it [right into the middle of the hole]'. Commented Feb 6, 2020 at 12:23
  • @Edwin Good point! I've checked CGEL, p645 for examples and the authors would clearly parse the latter sentence as I put it [back on the shelf] (as opposed to "I put it [back] [on the shelf] . The same would go for your example of course: She putted it [back into the hole] . The adverb "right" and the directional preposition "back" would be analyzed the same then. I'd also be tempted to parse the "look up into the sky" as you did, and I wouldn't mind analyzing the other one the same, as : I looked [up] [into the sky].
    – user97589
    Commented Feb 6, 2020 at 12:46
  • Off the top of my head, I could come up with a lot of (with a non-literal interpretation of the preposition) examples where the test they offer fails to prove anything (including the previous sentence: I came with a lot of .. won't do) . But then, there are no intransitive examples among those on p645, so let's take a similar one(also non-literal meaning) : I put it down to his stressful job. (Clearly, the interpretation in this one doesn't depend on the PP "to his stressful job" ) What should this implicate is a question that will take me more thinking :)
    – user97589
    Commented Feb 6, 2020 at 12:57

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