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Jim spread a piece of toast with butter.

Is with butter an adverbial? And why?

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    What do you think adverbials are? What definition are you working with? Why are you confused about this particular example?
    – DW256
    Oct 1, 2022 at 2:33
  • Related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/581559/…
    – DW256
    Oct 1, 2022 at 2:38
  • No, it's not an adverbial. "With butter" is a complement because it is obligatory for this sense of "spread", which means “coated”. Obligatory items are always complements.
    – BillJ
    Oct 1, 2022 at 10:16
  • The question is "is 'with butter' adverbial?" The answer is "Yes, it is - it modifies a verb." The question of whether it is also a complement was not asked. (I suspect this should have been in ELL.)
    – Greybeard
    Oct 1, 2022 at 19:49
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    @Greybeard No it doesn't modify the verb. It's a complement, not a modifier, i.e not an adjunct (your adverbial). Modifier and complement are distinct syntactic functions. For a constituent to be both simultaneously is a theoretical impossibility.
    – BillJ
    Oct 2, 2022 at 7:53

1 Answer 1

-2

Yes, it's an adverbial, because it modifies "spread". More specifically, it's an adverbial complement because it's needed to make the sentence meaningful.

*Jim spread a piece of toast.

doesn't make sense without the prepositional phrase. (Note that "spread" doesn't always require an adverbial -- "spread the butter" is meaningful by itself.)

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  • It's interesting because the object of "spread" is normally the thing you are spreading, not the thing you spread it on: e.g. you talk about "spreading gossip", "spreading a table cloth", "spreading muck/fertilizer/seeds", "spreading disease", "spreading butter on bread". I wonder if that's why you seem to need "with butter" in this example.
    – Stuart F
    Sep 30, 2022 at 23:27
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    It would be preferable to say that "with butter" is a complement because it is obligatory for this sense of "spread", which means “coated”. Obligatory items are always complements.
    – BillJ
    Oct 1, 2022 at 10:14
  • So, if with butter is a complement to spread, so is with this knife. And that would also make any phrase expressing place or time a complement, since anything that happens has to happen sometime and somewhere. Since spread is a spray/load verb, there are other constructions as well: He spread the bread with lard, He spread chocolate lard all over the bread with a pearl-handled knife, etc. Oct 1, 2022 at 21:19
  • There’s a difference between "with this knife" and "with butter", the former being an instrument adjunct, the latter a complement ( a non-core comp, almost like an indirect object). In your example "chocolate lard" is direct object, the PPs "all over the bread" and "with a pearl-handled knife" both adjuncts, locative and instrument respectively.
    – BillJ
    Oct 2, 2022 at 19:04

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