Consider these sentences, please:

1) Imagine Robert Redford when he was a child - that's what John looks like.

2) Imagine Robert Redford as a child - that's what John looks like.

Question 1: Can I say that the bold clauses in 1 and 2 are modifying the noun "Robert Redford" adjectivally?

Question 2: Comparing 1 with 2, can we say that "as" in sentence 2 is not a preposition, but rather an adverbial conjunction of time? For example:

Imagine Robert Redford as he was a child - that's what John looks like.

  • 1
    In theory, the second sentence is ambiguous. It could also mean imagine Robert Redford as [if you were] a child or imagine Robert Redford as a child [would]. Most people would not make that interpretation, but it's possible. In that sense, it would be modifying imagine. Note that the construction would be similar to I want you to draw as a child. Jun 18, 2020 at 9:29
  • 1
    No. The expressions in bold are, respectively, an adjunct in clause structure and complement of "imagine". As" is a preposition.
    – BillJ
    Jun 18, 2020 at 10:19
  • 1
    You've asked the same question on at least one other website. Did you not get a satisfactory answer?
    – BillJ
    Jun 18, 2020 at 11:01
  • Yes I didn't get a satisfactory answer there
    – Mr. X
    Jun 18, 2020 at 12:00
  • 1
    No, an adjunct in clause structure.
    – BillJ
    Jun 18, 2020 at 14:30

1 Answer 1


No, and no.

Just because something is a modifier in noun phrase structure does not make it into an adjective. It's just a modifier.

From the Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar p254:

Modification is a general term. Nouns are typically modified by adjectives (strictly speaking, adjective phrases, e.g. lovely weather), prepositional phrases (e.g. the food in the fridge), or relative clauses (e.g. the house that was demolished); adjectives and adverbs are modified by adverbs (strictly speaking, adverb phrases, e.g. much warmer, very warmly); and so on.

And futher, on the subject of 'adjectival', p8:

adjectival (n. & adj.) Loosely, (a word, phrase, or clause) behaving like an adjective (including single-word adjectives); e.g. in a damp cloth, the word damp is an adjectival element.

The term is also used for examples like the following:

guide price

the greenhouse effect

the man in the white suit

an I’m-all-right-Jack attitude

Some writers informally use the word adjectival to describe all of the italicized strings (or even say that they are adjectives), but this is infelicitous, since form and function are being confused: the first two examples involve nouns as modifiers; the third example involves a prepositional phrase; and the final example has a clause as modifier.

As far as the 'adverbial conjunction' goes - just because two constituents have a similar semantic effect doesn't mean they fall into the same word-class.

It's quite well established that as is a preposition in this case and it heads a prepositional phrase that is complement to the verb imagine (CaGEL p279).

  • "Just because something is a modifier in noun phrase structure does not make it into an adjective."---Do you mean the adverbial clause "when he was a child" modifies the noun "Robert Redford", but we do not call it an adjective?
    – Mr. X
    Jun 18, 2020 at 14:36
  • 1
    Yes, you read correctly. Prepositional phrase when he was a child does modify Robert Redford, and is a modifier in the noun phrase Robert Redford when he was a child. Modifiers in NP structure come from various categories and should not be called adjectives or 'adjectival' simply because they modify a noun.
    – DW256
    Jun 19, 2020 at 1:11
  • Prepositional phrase when he was a child does modify Robert Redford----Do you call it a prepositional phrase? To me, it looks more like an adverbial clause of time.
    – Mr. X
    Jun 19, 2020 at 7:42

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