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Child development specialists believe that confining babies much of the time to strollers, high chairs, playpens, and walkers can inhibit muscle development.

I came across this sentence and wanted to know what is the role of "much"?

Confining -> is present participle(gerund). So "confining babies" is a noun phrase.

noun phrase + much + preposition => what is the role of "much" here? Can you please give few more examples like this?

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Much isn't attached directly to the verb. It is just part of the adverbial phrase much of the time. You can replace this phrase with an adverb, such as always to get

Child development specialists believe that confining babies always to strollers, high chairs, playpens, and walkers can inhibit muscle development.

When you do this you discover what is causing the confusion: the word order has to be different for an adverb and for an adverbial phrase, so whilst this is the correct order with the phrase, my sentence is incorrect and you have to reorder it to

Child development specialists believe that always confining babies to strollers, high chairs, playpens, and walkers can inhibit muscle development.

As for the adverbial phrase itself, much is being used as a noun. This is quite a common sort of adverbial phrase with words that indicate proportion:

some of the time
all of the time
none of the time
most of the time
etc.

often with words that are usually adjectives such as some, all, most.

  • Thanks! So adverbial phrases can be present anywhere in the sentence? If it's an adverbial phrase what does it modify? I thought adverbs/adverbial phrase aren't supposed to modify nouns. – yenkaykay Mar 22 at 21:40
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    Unfortunately not, @yenkaykay. You can't put it before the confining as you can with always. There's no obvious reason - it's just the rule! The usual place would be after the noun: "confining babies to strollers much of the time". But because of the very long noun phrase, "confining babies to strollers, high chairs, playpens, and walkers much of the time" would be awkward so it has to be re-ordered. So, depending on the sentence, one of the three options is best. – David Robinson Mar 22 at 21:56
  • @yenkaykay Basically it is modifying the verb: you confine babies to strollers much of the time - it is the confining that is "much of the time". However, to add confusion, the verb here has become the verbal noun confining, so it is, technically speaking, qualifying a noun, albeit one with a verbal meaning. – David Robinson Mar 22 at 22:00
  • @DavidRobinson: "Confining" is a gerund-participle in that sentence, not a verbal noun. Verbal nouns are distinguished from gerund-participles in various ways: some are that gerund-participles can take direct objects, but verbal nouns can't, and verbal nouns can be preceded by "the" and/or by an adjective, while gerund-participles can't. – sumelic Mar 22 at 22:03
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    @DavidRobinson: "Gerund-participle" is the term used by the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. -Ing words can belong to at least four categories of speech: adjective ("a very exciting day"), preposition ("...for three years, during which..."), noun ("a bad reading of the text"), and verb. The verb uses are traditionally distinguished as "gerunds" (nouny, but distinct from true nouns) vs. "present participles" (adjectivey, but distinct from true adjectives). – sumelic Mar 22 at 22:25
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"Confining babies" is not a noun phrase. Gerund-participles are verbs, not nouns, and "confining" is a gerund-participle in that sentence. An entire clause headed by a gerund-participle acts "like" a noun phrase (NP) in certain respects (it can be used as the subject of a clause, as in your sentence, or it can be used as the object of a verb or preposition), but it is not considered to be an NP.

"Much of the time" has the same function here as it would in a sentence like "When parents confine babies much of the time to strollers, high chairs, playpens, and walkers, it can inhibit muscle development."

If I remember correctly, this kind of adverbial element is analyzed as modifying the verb phrase/VP (which in your sentence is headed by the verb "confining").

  • sumelic - thank you! Maybe a basic question from your sentence. "When parents confine babies much of the time to strollers, high chairs, playpens, and walkers, it can inhibit muscle development" - is "much of the time" refer to adverbial phrase? If so can you please tell me which verb, adverb or adjective is it modifying in this example? – yenkaykay Mar 23 at 15:32
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    @yenkaykay: As I said in the last sentence, I believe it is modifying the entire verb phrase, not just the single word "confining". – sumelic Mar 23 at 20:48

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