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One of the main purposes of a preposition is to express a relation between two constituents of a sentence. For instance, in the sentence

Surprisingly, she only has a single photograph of her husband.

the preposition 'of' is used to indicate a relation between the noun 'photograph' and the noun phrase 'her husband'. Semantically, the relation may be understood in this way: her husband is depicted in the photograph.

Similarly, in the sentence

His holiday home in New York was very expensive.

the preposition 'in' is used to indicate a relation between the noun phrase 'his house' and the proper noun 'New York'. The relation here is spatial: we understand that his house is contained within New York.

It is also possible for a preposition to express a relation between an NP and a verb:

He came by bus

between an adjective and an NP:

She is fond of dogs.

and between many other types of constituents.


Now, consider the below sentence. For context, assume that 'the two hedges' have not been described before: they are not identifiable by the addressee, who in this case is a tourist.

The path leads between the two hedges from the town centre to the suburbs.

According to the OED, the verb 'lead' in this sense licenses 'an adverbial of direction', which is here realised by what The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language calls a 'layered PP' consisting of two smaller PPs. Here, the layered PP is 'from the town centre to the suburbs', with the smaller PPs being 'from the town centre' and 'to the suburbs'; the former licenses the latter. This may well lead one to believe that the PP here functions as complement of the verb 'lead'.

However, the NP in 'the two hedges' is definite, and yet (as I said earlier) it is not identifiable by the addressee (a tourist). For this reason, for it to be definite (as it is), it must be modified by the following PP ('from the town centre to the suburbs').

In this way, then, the PP 'from the town centre to the suburbs' functions both as complement of the verb 'lead' and as a modifier of the NP 'the two hedges'. My question is this: is my analysis correct (as the context would suggest), and if so, are there any other examples of PPs which have a dual function? That is, can a PP function as both a complement and a dependent in the same sentence?

I hope my question is clear to understand.

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    I'm still working on whether '[leads] between [...]' constitutes a licensed directional or locational. / ... 'from the town centre to the suburbs' gives the direction. Aug 16, 2022 at 16:25
  • No: for a constituent to have two fuctions simultaneously is a theoretical impossibility.
    – BillJ
    Aug 17, 2022 at 6:09

1 Answer 1

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No, your analysis is not correct, and in general a sentence constituent (such as a PP) should not perform multiple functions.1

If the hedges are really entirely unknown to the addressee, then they should be specified by the following modifier (as you say). In that case, "from the town centre to the suburbs" could modify "the two hedges" or "from the town centre" could modify "the two hedges" while "to the suburbs" modified "leads".2

If "from the town centre to the suburbs" modified "leads", then the speaker would not be very clear. He or she might instead say:

The path leads between two hedges from the town centre to the suburbs.

1There are exceptions, but they wouldn't apply here.
2For the sake of simplicity, and because you didn't ask about it, I'm ignoring the possibility that one or both of the later PPs would modify the PP "between the two hedges".

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  • To my knowledge, and as far as I can see from the context, the PP 'between the two hedges' is not modified by any of the other PPs. But if it were, would the sentence's overall meaning be affected, and how so?
    – Eric
    Aug 16, 2022 at 17:06
  • @Eric I agree; I don't think that anything modifies the first PP as a whole. I suppose that one could argue that "from the town centre" modified "the two hedges" and that "to the suburbs" modified not "leads" but instead the entire PP "between the two hedges from the town centre". Aug 16, 2022 at 17:47

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