a clean break with the past

WintersLove

Senior Member
Chinese
Making a completely clean break with the past, the couple got rid of all their old furniture.

Source: English Translation of “決別” | Collins Japanese-English Dictionary

I'm confused because of the noun 'break'.

Is the bolded part an adjectival postmodifier to 'break' or an adverb modifier to 'break'?

We can sometimes come across some nouns that express actions. So, what are prep phrases called that modify such kinds of nouns?
 
  • boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    It is an absolute modifier - a participial phrase - that modifies the whole main clause and no specific part of it.

    By virtue of modifying entire statements, absolute phrases can be said to modify the main verb and are, arguably, adverbial as well.
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    "With the past" is adjectival, modifying "break", which is a noun. The phrase "Making a completely clean break with the past" is an absolute modifier.

    We can sometimes come across some nouns that express actions. So, what are prep phrases called that modify such kinds of nouns?
    If they are true nouns, then the modifiers are adjectives. Gerunds, however, are modified by adverbs. Some -ing words can be either a true noun or a gerund ("swimming" for example), and it is sometimes difficult to tell which they are.
     

    WintersLove

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    "With the past" is adjectival, modifying "break", which is a noun. The phrase "Making a completely clean break with the past" is an absolute modifier.


    If they are true nouns, then the modifiers are adjectives. Gerunds, however, are modified by adverbs. Some -ing words can be either a true noun or a gerund ("swimming" for example), and it is sometimes difficult to tell which they are.
    Thank you! very clear and detailed!

    It is an absolute modifier - a participial phrase - that modifies the whole main clause and no specific part of it.

    By virtue of modifying entire statements, absolute phrases can be said to modify the main verb and are, arguably, adverbial as well.
    I mean the bolded part, not the whole 'making...past' part.
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    I mean the bolded part, not the whole 'making...past' part.
    Oh, this one...

    'Break' is a noun here, no doubt. However, it is used with the meaning of the verb 'to break with the past'. From that perspective, I see 'with the past' as a prepositional phrase that belongs with the whole predicate phrase - 'break with the past'.

    Inside the phrase, 'with' is a preposition and 'the past' is its object.
     

    WintersLove

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Oh, this one...

    'Break' is a noun here, no doubt. However, it is used with the meaning of the verb 'to break with the past'. From that perspective, I see 'with the past' as a prepositional phrase that belongs with the whole predicate phrase - 'break with the past'.

    Inside the phrase, 'with' is a preposition and 'the past' is its object.
    Thank you! I want to know what grammar role 'with the past' acts for 'break'.
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    Thank you! I want to know what grammar role 'with the past' acts for 'break'.
    The role is subject complementation and the subject is 'the couple'. Now don't ask me where the subject is - it is in the neighbouring clause and the absolute phrase has borrowed it from there. :)
     

    WintersLove

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    The role is subject complementation and the subject is 'the couple'. Now don't ask me where the subject is - it is in the neighbouring clause and the absolute phrase has borrowed it from there. :)
    Is 'with the past' an adjectival postmodifier to 'break' or an adverb modifier to 'break'?
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    UJ sees it as adjectival.

    If I had to analyse it in such terms, I would call it adverbial, because for me 'make a break' is a verb phrase equavalent to 'break', which is a verb.

    But for the above reasons I prefer to not go that far and simply see the whole thing - break with the past - as predicate that contains a subject complement - with the past.
     

    billj

    Senior Member
    British English
    Source: English Translation of “決別” | Collins Japanese-English Dictionary

    I'm confused because of the noun 'break'. Is the bolded part an adjectival postmodifier to 'break' or an adverb modifier to 'break'?

    We can sometimes come across some nouns that express actions. So, what are prep phrases called that modify such kinds of nouns?

    Making a completely clean break with the past, the couple got rid of all their old furniture.

    I'd say that the preposition phrase "with the past" is complement of "break", so the whole underlined expression is a noun phrase functioning as object of "making".
     

    SevenDays

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    Source: English Translation of “決別” | Collins Japanese-English Dictionary

    I'm confused because of the noun 'break'.

    Is the bolded part an adjectival postmodifier to 'break' or an adverb modifier to 'break'?

    We can sometimes come across some nouns that express actions. So, what are prep phrases called that modify such kinds of nouns?
    Since you have a noun phrase beginning with the indefinite article and with the noun "break" as head (a completely clean break with the past), then "with the past" is a prepositional phrase in an adjectival function.

    Is "with the past" a "modifier"? Well, it depends on how you parse the sentence, taking into account whether "with past" is a necessary element or not.

    The noun phrase actually is made up of two idioms: (1) making a clean break; (2) break with the past, both of which mean "a fresh start."

    Since both idioms mean the same, we could just use (1):

    Making a completely clean break, the couple got rid of all their old furniture

    which makes "with the past" a modifier, because modifiers can be deleted without changing the overall meaning.

    But, of course, both idioms are present (fused together), making the sentence all the more expressive:

    Making a completely clean break with the past, the couple got rid of all their old furniture

    There is a closely related idiom (break with tradition). Maybe the idiom with the past is used is specific reference to the couple's past, whereas the idiom break with tradition might refer to societal expectation. And so if "with the past" is considered vital information (and not deletable), then you can call it a "complement."

    But the line separating "modifier" and "complement" is not always clear; it depends on what you see. Ultimately, sentence parsing is in the eye of the beholder.
     

    billj

    Senior Member
    British English
    Making a completely clean break with the past, the couple got rid of all their old furniture.

    In the underlined noun phrase, the preposition "with" is specified by the head "break", and thus the preposition phrase "with the past" is complement, not modifier, of "break".
     

    WintersLove

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Since you have a noun phrase beginning with the indefinite article and with the noun "break" as head (a completely clean break with the past), then "with the past" is a prepositional phrase in an adjectival function.
    So detailed it is! Thank you very much!
     

    WintersLove

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    It is a preposition phrase, but it's not a modifier and thus not 'adjectival'.
    A prep phrase can be a modifier if its head is a noun. The question is whether a prep phrase can be a modifier if its head noun has an action meaning.
     

    raymondaliasapollyon

    Banned
    Chinese
    Source: English Translation of “決別” | Collins Japanese-English Dictionary

    I'm confused because of the noun 'break'.

    Is the bolded part an adjectival postmodifier to 'break' or an adverb modifier to 'break'?

    We can sometimes come across some nouns that express actions. So, what are prep phrases called that modify such kinds of nouns?

    Are you actually asking whether the phrase is an adjectival modifier to "break" or an adverbial modifier to "making a completely clean break'?
     

    WintersLove

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Are you actually asking whether the phrase is an adjectival modifier to "break" or an adverbial modifier to "making a completely clean break'?
    No. I'm asking whether 'with the past' is an adjectival modifier to "break" or an adverbial modifier to 'break'.

    In other words, Is there an adverbial modifier to a noun with an action meaning, such as 'break' in the example sentence?
     

    raymondaliasapollyon

    Banned
    Chinese
    Thank you! I want to know what grammar role 'with the past' acts for 'break'.

    No. I'm asking whether 'with the past' is an adjectival modifier to "break" or an adverbial modifier to 'break'.

    In other words, Is there an adverbial modifier to a noun with an action meaning, such as 'break' in the example sentence?


    Maybe a more meaningful question is whether the phrase "with the past" is an argument or adjunct.
     

    WintersLove

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Maybe a more meaningful question is whether the phrase "with the past" is an argument or adjunct.
    I just want to know what the relationship between 'with the past' and its head 'break' is in terms of grammatical constituencies.

    More precisely, Can a prep phrase modifying a noun with an action meaning be called an adverbial modifier?
     

    billj

    Senior Member
    British English
    A prep phrase can be a modifier if its head is a noun. The question is whether a prep phrase can be a modifier if its head noun has an action meaning.

    Yes, PPs can be modifiers, but they can also be complements, which is what "with the past" is.

    As I said in #13, the preposition "with" is specified by the head "break", so the PP "with the past" is not a modifier but a complement of "break". That is the relationship you asked about. And it has nothing to with an action meaning.

    Note that dependents with the form of PPs qualify as complements when they are licensed by the particular head noun. They may have one of several properties, for example when the choice of preposition is specified by the head noun.
     

    WintersLove

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Yes, PPs can be modifiers, but they can also be complements, which is what "with the past" is.

    As I said in #13, the preposition "with" is specified by the head "break", so the PP "with the past" is not a modifier but a complement of "break". That is the relationship you asked about. And it has nothing to with an action meaning.

    Note that dependents with the form of PPs qualify as complements when they are licensed by the particular head noun. They may have one of several properties, for example when the choice of preposition is specified by the head noun.
    Thank you very much!

    Is it called a complement or an adverbial modifier in this sentence:
    The couple broke with the past completely, getting rid of all their old furniture.
     

    raymondaliasapollyon

    Banned
    Chinese
    I just want to know what the relationship between 'with the past' and its head 'break' is in terms of grammatical constituencies.

    More precisely, Can a prep phrase modifying a noun with an action meaning be called an adverbial modifier?

    The catch is that the term "adverbial" is unfortunately confusing. In its basic sense, it refers to an expression that serves the function of an adverb. Many adverbs are optional, i.e., adjuncts, so adverbials are often considered optional too. It's certainly possible for an adverbial to modify a noun, as in "The book on the desk is boring." (cf. "The book there is boring.") However, some complements can also be optional, and it's not uncommon for a complement to take the form of a prepositional phrase, which is what an adverbial could look like.

    If you don't lay out a clear definition of what an adverbial is, you might get answers that treat the term differently.
     

    WintersLove

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    The catch is that the term "adverbial" is unfortunately confusing. In its basic sense, it refers to an expression that serves the function of an adverb. Many adverbs are optional, i.e., adjuncts, so adverbials are often considered optional too. It's certainly possible for an adverbial to modify a noun, as in "The book on the desk is boring." However, some complements can also be optional, and it's not uncommon for a complement to take the form of a prepositional phrase, which is what an adverbial could look like.

    If you don't lay out a clear definition of what an adverbial is, you might get answers that treat the term differently.
    Thank you very much for your patience. I very agree with most of what you said. But, I don't think 'on the desk' is an adverbial to 'desk'. I think it's an adjectival postmodifier to 'desk'.
     

    billj

    Senior Member
    British English
    Thank you very much!

    Is it called a complement or an adverbial modifier in this sentence:

    The couple broke with the past completely, getting rid of all their old furniture.

    "With the past" is also a complement of the verb "broke". There a good number of other examples of the construction 'verb - [prep +O]'. for example "abide by the rules", "ask for help", "dispose of the loot" and so on. In each case the PP is complement of the verb.

    In this case, it's the verb "broke" that specifies the preposition "with", meaning that "with the past" is a complement of "broke", the item that licenses it.

    Incidentally, I agree with you that "on the desk" is not an adjunct (your adverbial). It's a preposition phrase functioning as modifier of "book". It's the semantic equivalent of "which is on the desk".

    So, WintersLove, your example "with the past" is a complement, not a modifier.
     
    Last edited:

    WintersLove

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Yes, PPs can be modifiers, but they can also be complements, which is what "with the past" is.

    As I said in #13, the preposition "with" is specified by the head "break", so the PP "with the past" is not a modifier but a complement of "break". That is the relationship you asked about. And it has nothing to with an action meaning.

    Note that dependents with the form of PPs qualify as complements when they are licensed by the particular head noun. They may have one of several properties, for example when the choice of preposition is specified by the head noun.
    How to tell if a prep phrase is an adjectival modifier or a compliment to its head noun?

    You said 'with the past' is a complement because it is licensed by 'break'. So, is 'on the desk' in 'the book on the desk' also called a complement?
     

    WintersLove

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    The couple broke with the past completely, getting rid of all their old furniture.

    "With the past" is also a complement of the verb "broke".

    In this case, it's the verb "broke" that specifies the preposition "with", meaning that "with the past" is a complement of "broke", the item that licenses it.

    Incidentally, I agree with you that "on the desk" is not an adjunct (your adverbial). It's a preposition phrase functioning as modifier of "book". It's the semantic equivalent of "which is on the desk".

    So, WintersLove, your example "with the past" is a complement, not a modifier.
    Thank you! I've heard some terms about constituencies regarding verbs, such as 'adverbial complement', 'obligatory adverbial', etc.

    So, Is the term 'complement' you said here the same thing as 'adverbial complement' or 'obligatory adverbial'?
     

    billj

    Senior Member
    British English
    How to tell if a prep phrase is an adjectival modifier or a compliment to its head noun?

    You said 'with the past' is a complement because it is licensed by 'break'. So, is 'on the desk' in 'the book on the desk' also called a complement?
    No, because "on the desk" is not licensed (specified) by the head noun, "book". Other preps are possible, e.g. "the book in the cupboard", "the book above the shelf", "the book below the encyclopedias". "the book underneath/behind the magazines", and so on.
     

    raymondaliasapollyon

    Banned
    Chinese
    Incidentally, I agree with you that "on the desk" is not an adjunct (your adverbial). It's a preposition phrase functioning as modifier of "book". It's the semantic equivalent of "which is on the desk".

    Excuse me, but the Penguin Dictionary of Language by distinguished British linguist David Crystal says the following:

    Adjectives and adverbs are also typically used as adjuncts .

    A Dictionary of Language

    I could also cite references from the generative tradition.
     

    SevenDays

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    A prep phrase can be a modifier if its head is a noun. The question is whether a prep phrase can be a modifier if its head noun has an action meaning.
    The idiom break with the past is a noun phrase. Yes, "break" has an "action meaning," but the word is still a noun. How do we know that it's a noun? Well, we can turn it plural, adding the plural morpheme -s: breaks with the past.

    The idiom can also be represented by a verb phrase, in a different sentence: They are breaking with the past. How do we know that "breaking" is a verb? Well, it has the verb morpheme -ing and it's part of the progressive construction be + ing. In this case, "with the past" is adverbial, referring to the verb.

    A separate issue is whether "with the past" (either "adjectival" referring to a noun, or "adverbial" referring to a verb) is a modifier or a complement. That depends on who you ask; not everyone uses the same terms in the same manner. As I said earlier, a simple test used by some is to delete the phrase "with the past." Does:

    (a) Making a completely clean break, the couple got rid of all their old furniture

    mean the same as

    (b) Making a completely clean break with the past, the couple got rid of all their furniture
    ?

    If so, then "with the past" is a modifier. But if you feel that (a) doesn't quite mean the same as (b), that something is missing, then "with the past" is a complement. As a complement, we say that "with the past" is licensed/specified by the noun "break." Since there is no Higher Authority ruling over terminology, people are free to analyze things as they wish. Now, there is a good case for keeping "with the past" in the sentence as a complement. Again, the idiom is "break with the past," and idioms are usually kept intact.
     

    WintersLove

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    The idiom break with the past is a noun phrase. Yes, "break" has an "action meaning," but the word is still a noun. How do we know that it's a noun? Well, we can turn it plural, adding the plural morpheme -s: breaks with the past.

    The idiom can also be represented by a verb phrase, in a different sentence: They are breaking with the past. How do we know that "breaking" is a verb? Well, it has the verb morpheme -ing and it's part of the progressive construction be + ing. In this case, "with the past" is adverbial, referring to the verb.

    A separate issue is whether "with the past" (either "adjectival" referring to a noun, or "adverbial" referring to a verb) is a modifier or a complement. That depends on who you ask; not everyone uses the same terms in the same manner. As I said earlier, a simple test used by some is to delete the phrase "with the past." Does:

    (a) Making a completely clean break, the couple got rid of all their old furniture

    mean the same as

    (b) Making a completely clean break with the past, the couple got rid of all their furniture
    ?

    If so, then "with the past" is a modifier. But if you feel that (a) doesn't quite mean the same as (b), that something is missing, then "with the past" is a complement. As a complement, we say that "with the past" is licensed/specified by the noun "break." Since there is no Higher Authority ruling over terminology, people are free to analyze things as they wish. Now, there is a good case for keeping "with the past" in the sentence as a complement. Again, the idiom is "break with the past," and idioms are usually kept intact.
    Thank you! I fully agree with what you said.

    'with the past' can't be taken away from 'break', so 'with the past' is an argument, not an adjunct. I just don't know what the term 'with the past' is called in the noun phrase 'break with the past' in terms of grammatical elements.

    I've heard object/subject/verb complements. But, object/subject complements actually complement the verb, not the object itself. In other words, the head of an object complement is not the object but the verb, which is the head of the object. For example,
    Just leave us alone, please.
    'alone' is an object complement and complements the verb 'leave', not the pronoun 'us', because omitting 'alone' made the verb 'leave' seem to be no meaning.

    So, I haven't yet heard complements that complement nouns directly.

    What is the exact term for complements that actually complement nouns?
     
    Last edited:

    SevenDays

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    Thank you! I fully agree with what you said.

    'with the past' can't be taken away from 'break', so 'with the past' is an argument, not an adjunct. I just don't know what the term 'with the past' is called in the noun phrase 'break with the past' in terms of grammatical elements.

    I've heard object/subject/verb complements. But, object/subject complements actually complement the verb, not the object itself. In other words, the head of an object complement is not the object but the verb, which is the head of the object. For example,

    'alone' is an object complement and complements the verb 'leave', not the pronoun 'us', because omitting 'alone' made the verb 'leave' seem to be no meaning.

    So, I haven't yet heard complements that complement nouns directly.

    What is the exact term for complements that actually complement nouns?
    The complement that complements nouns is called just that, "complement clause." Some use the term "complement adjective clause" because the clause says something about the noun.

    Now, this type of "complement clause" occurs with a small set of nouns, including idea, fact, proof, evidence, etc:

    the fact that football requires technical ability is evident
    the evidence that atoms exists is irrefutable


    These complement clauses look like relative clauses, but are not relative clauses. In a complement clause, the word "that" doesn't mean anything; it simply introduces the complement clause. In a relative clause, the word "that" functions like a relative pronoun, and it plays a grammatical function inside the relative clause. In addition, complement clauses are "complements" of a noun, while relative clauses are "modifiers" of a noun.
     

    WintersLove

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    The complement that complements nouns is called just that, "complement clause." Some use the term "complement adjective clause" because the clause says something about the noun.

    Now, this type of "complement clause" occurs with a small set of nouns, including idea, fact, proof, evidence, etc:

    the fact that football requires technical ability is evident
    the evidence that atoms exists is irrefutable


    These complement clauses look like relative clauses, but are not relative clauses. In a complement clause, the word "that" doesn't mean anything; it simply introduces the complement clause. In a relative clause, the word "that" functions like a relative pronoun, and it plays a grammatical function inside the relative clause. In addition, complement clauses are "complements" of a noun, while relative clauses are "modifiers" of a noun.
    Is the 'complement clause' you mentioned the same thing as an appositive clause?

    And I think there is something slightly different between a complement phrase of a noun and a complement clause of a noun in addition to the structural difference.

    compare:
    Making a completely clean break with the past, the couple got rid of all their old furniture.
    and
    I admire the fact that you are honest.

    If omitting 'with the past' in the first one, the sentence structure is not completed and its meaning is not clear.
    If omitting 'that you are honest' in the second one, the sentence structure remains completed, only its meaning is not clear.

    So, It seems not perfect to call both 'with the past' and 'that you are honest' complements. Just my own opinion.
     
    Last edited:
    Top