The sentence is from a news report.

They searched for the missing throughout the night under generator-powered flood lights as family members waited by the mounds of debris - some in tears.

So What's the grammatical item for "Some in tears" in this sentence? A Complement?

  • No, not a complement, but a supplement. More specifically it's the verbless analogue of the non-finite "some being in tears", an absolute construction. – BillJ Apr 3 at 14:09

The sentence "Family members waited by the mounds of debris - some in tears" exemplifies a phenomenon called gapping.

Definition: "Gapping" can be defined as a sentence with the main verb deleted but its dependents - subject, objects, adjuncts etc. - left in place. The deleted verb can be recovered from the previous sentence. The sentence will typically, but not necessarily, be introduced by a conjunction, like and, or. Linguists most commonly indicate the deleted verb with a strike-through line, so that "Mary likes beer and Sally wine" would be indicated like this:

(1) Mary likes beer, and Sally likes wine.

Gapping generally requires a great deal of parallelism between the previous clause and the gapped clause, in terms of word order, grammatical functions involved, and semantics.

Application to example: The example in the question has a gapped clause "some in tears". It's missing verb can be understood from the previous sentence, i.e. it's waited. "Some" functions as the subject of this deleted verb. "In tears" is an adjunct of the verb (additional, optional information). The structure is shown below:

(2) [subject Family members] waited [adjunct by the mounds of debris].
[subject Some ] waited [adjunct in tears].

The previous clause and the gapped clause are quite parallel, as is typically the case, in that both feature a subject and an adjunct as the only elements of the verbal head and place them in the same position.

  • Sorry, I don't see it as gapping, which occurs in coordination, but this is not a coordinative construction. I'd say it was a verbless clause functioning as a supplement. – BillJ Apr 3 at 14:06
  • It's true that gapped clauses occur with an initial conjunction like and in the majority of cases, but not necessarily so. There is of course also asyndetic coordination (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asyndeton). – Richard Z Apr 3 at 14:24
  • There's no coordination at all in the OP's example. An example of gapped coordination is Sue wants to be a doctor, Max ___ a dentist. – BillJ Apr 3 at 14:30
  • Isn't that similar to, Sue waited with fortitude, Max ___ in tears. (Also "gapped coordination" is a bad label - "a gapped clause with no conjunction" or something like that. The coordination isn't gapped.) – Richard Z Apr 3 at 14:48
  • How would you analyze, Family members waited by the mounds of debris - some for hours. I don't think your analysis, as a verbless clause analogous to "being", would work, whereas my gapping analysis would work? – Richard Z Apr 3 at 15:08

They searched for the missing throughout the night under generator-powered flood lights as family members waited by the mounds of debris - some in tears.

Syntactically it's a supplement, the verbless analogue of the non-finite clause some being in tears (an absolute construction).

  • (1) Can you link to a definition of "supplement"? It's an extremely vague term. You can use it as a non-theoretical notion, but not when it is the core of an answer. Also: a supplement of what? (2) The example has internal structure. Even you say that "they" is a subject, analogous to [they - subject being... - predicate]. So, just saying it functions as a "supplement" without giving the internal structure of the "supplement" misses a lot. (3) Your analysis predicts you can say ?*"The missing were searched by their familiy members, some in tears." - contrary to fact. Parallelism is crucial. – Richard Z Apr 3 at 14:23
  • A supplement is a loosely attached expression set off by intonation (and usually punctuation) presenting supplementary, non-integrated content. Usually an adjunct (Luckily, we don't have to do that), or a supplementary (non-defining) relative clause (I saw her son, who's quite worried). – BillJ Apr 3 at 14:28
  • That's informal and vague. Why is the content non-integrated? What does that even mean? Do you have a reference please? – Richard Z Apr 3 at 14:29
  • No, it's not. Surely you know what integrated means in syntactic terms? See here for very basic info re supplements: link – BillJ Apr 3 at 14:31
  • No, I don't. When I hear the term, I'm thinking of a phrase that cannot be attached to another node of a syntactic tree. But then the phrase would simply be its own syntactic tree, not a "non-integrated" part of some other syntactic tree. So, no, the term does not make sense to me. (Maybe as an informal, loose notion, but not as a well-defined, formal description.) – Richard Z Apr 3 at 14:34

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