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Word types like nouns, verbs, and adjectives take complements and examples are easy to come by. But what about adverbs? It seems infrequent in English but here's an example that may be fitting.

She looked away from the light - S|V|A[AVP + avc(pp):away]

The brackets indicate a single compound sentence phrase (verb complement) containing the a primary word phrase plus a complement phrase (this syntax occurs within the complement).


Edit/ Addendum (I would like to hear what people think about this)

Based on the comments and answers so far, it seems that:

Yes, some adverbs do take complements but arguments have been made against parsing 'away' as an adverb in my example.

  1. 'away' ought to be parsed as a preposition with a pp as a landmark
  2. 'away' and 'from' combine to form a single preposition
  3. BillJ, says that, according to CGEL, 'away' is a preposition with a pp as a landmark but also that even in the sentence 'She looked away', 'away' functions as a preposition where the landmark is optional.

I think this issue is open to debate, and that, to my mind, none of these arguments are satisfactory.

My approach is to first recognize that 'away' in the example is telling us where (in what direction) the action 'look' happened. In my system (designed for second langauge learners), any word that says where, why, when or how a verb happens is an adverb. Adverbs can be used in verb phrases, in which case they are part of the verb phrase, and also as verb complements where they are parsed as a sentence element, a verb complement, or more specifically as an adverbial, a vc with an adverbial relation to the verb. Adverbials do not need to use adverbs, for instance, noun phrases like 'last week' can be used adverbially and most prepostional phrases taking a verb as an antecedent are adverbial.

I parse 'away' as an adverb (word function) and as an adverbial (sentnece phrase) because its placement is not flexible, it only makes sense placed after the main verb phrase. At the sentence level 'away' is a verb complement with and adverbial relation, or just an adverbial. Despite CGEL's assertion of optional landmarks, it's hard to argue well that 'away' is not an adverb in the sentence, 'she looked away', where 'away' is a verb complement phrase.

Accordingly, the pp, 'from the light', ought to be parsed as an adverb complement. Another way of looking at it is that the adverb 'away' is the antecedent of the preposition, and this whole relation happens within a single verb complement (adverbial) (see my parse, above).

I find that this aproach works consistently and systematically and is easier to learn than ideas like optional landmarks.


S= subject;

V=finite verb phrase;

A = a verb complement with a adverbial relation;

avp = adverb phrase;

avc = adverb compement;

pp= prepositiona phrase

Is this a good represetation of the grammar? Is this an adverb taking an adverb complement or is there a better way to look at it?

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  • I'd call away from the preposition. Commented May 4, 2023 at 17:02
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    Yes: a few adverbs formed with the ly suffix license complements such as PPs, e.g. [Happily for the boys], the class was cancelled" / "This matter is to be handled [similarly to the previous one]". And some adverbs take clausal complements, e.g. "He came to see me [directly he got the letter]". In your example, the PP "from the light" is complement of "away", but "away" is a preposition, not an adverb.
    – BillJ
    Commented May 4, 2023 at 17:44
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    If @BillJ's example with "directly" confuses you: this is only in British English.
    – alphabet
    Commented May 4, 2023 at 21:04

3 Answers 3

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As Huddleston & Pullum (2002) note, there are adverbs that take complements, e.g. "independently" in "independently of abstract principles."

"Away from the light," however, is not one such example. In their view, "away" here is a preposition, whose complement is the prepositional phrase "from the light." It's not the only preposition that can take a PP complement: "from" itself can do this, as in "The noise came from up the hill."

You might wonder why we would treat "away" as a preposition rather than an adverb: clearly "away" has the same meaning in "they ran away from home" as it does in "they ran away." Huddleston and Pullum say that, in fact, "away" is a preposition in both cases, one whose PP complement happens to be optional.

(Normally, in answering questions, I try to avoid this abuse of the word "preposition," but this sort of question about syntactic analysis is one of the places where it provides more utility than confusion.)

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    I'm afraid I had to downvote you specifically for Normally, in answering questions, I try to avoid this abuse of the word "preposition," Check out this wiki on Etymological Fallacy Commented May 4, 2023 at 22:51
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    @Araucaria One could argue that redefining a term with an accepted meaning in a rival analysis is a greater fault. Commented May 5, 2023 at 18:16
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You could understand look away — as does the OED — to be a phrasal verb:

look, v.
PHRASAL VERBS
PV1. With adverbs in specialized senses.
to look away
1. intransitive. To direct one’s gaze away from someone or something; to avert one’s eyes, esp. so as to overlook or ignore something deliberately (also figurative). Cf. to look the other way at Phrases 1b(j).
[selected usage examples]
1782    F. BURNEY Cecilia IV. vii. iii. 37    ‘Oh go!’ cried Cecilia, looking away from him while she spoke.
1986    W. E. B. GRIFFIN Generals 256    Their eyes met. She fought the temptation to look away.
Source: Oxford English Dictionary (login required)

Alternatively, you could compare She looked away from the light and She looked toward the light to understand away from as a two-word preposition.

Either way, unless you adopt CGEL’s framework, away is an adverb particle here, not a preposition.

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  • It is phrasal of course. She looked away from the guests. She looked toward the guests. When I spoke to her, she looked away. It's a phrasal verb plus a prepositional phrase, isn't it?
    – Lambie
    Commented May 5, 2023 at 15:57
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Do adverbs take complements?

The first thing for you to do is to define your terms. I understand "complement" as an essential addition without which a word or phrase becomes incomplete by incomprehension or taking on another meaning.

You also need to decide if, in phrasal verbs, the particle is adverbial or prepositional: e.g. Does the “up” in “It was hard work pushing the brush up,” mean “up [prep.] the chimney” or does it mean “in an upwards direction [adv.]”?

In your

She looked away from the light

Away, as an adverb, can be omitted, as “from” incorporates the idea of moving from an origin: “He came from Paris.” Or “She looked from the light” although this would usually have the adverbial complement “to the darkness/window/her cat.”

As away can be omitted, it cannot be essential. If it is not essential, can it be a complement?

Can we substitute a known adverb? “ -> She looked slowly from the light.

Can we remove a preposition? -> *She looked away the light.

Do adverbs modify adverbial prepositional phrases? -> She looked away (adv.) from the light (adv.pp).

To me “from the light” is essential to the understanding of “away” and thus is the complement of the adverb “away”.

Do adverbs take complements? Yes: in the form of a pp.

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  • I use 'complement' broadly to mean any word or phrase that adds information to another word or phrase, whether it is essential or not. Essential or required elements are called 'core' and their word phrase identifier is capitalized in the parse. I understand how important defining terms is and I have developed a fairly robust system to do this and to overall simplify grammatical relations to what is needed for language learners, as opposed to the requirements of linguitically oriented systems. It's too complex to explain here, but it works. It might work linguistically though. Commented May 8, 2023 at 8:10
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    The sentence, 'she looked from the light,' in my mind, could indicate the direction from which the subject looks - as in, 'I looked from my veranda'. "I looked away from my veranda,' would indicate a shift in the direction of verb from one focal point to another. I think, 'I looked away' is complete on its own and simply indicates a shift in the direction of look without needing to state where that shift ocurred (from/to) - that meaning is implicit. Commented May 8, 2023 at 8:27

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