a probably disunified picture

Chigch

Senior Member
Mongolian
The following sentence was found in the English corpus COCA.

In the same way, the record came to be seen as a place where incongruous strands would be allowed to weave together and where a probably disunified picture would be allowed to emerge.

What confused me is the underlined noun phrase a probably disunified picture.
The sentence appeared in spoken English, where the underlined noun phrase sounds very odd to me; I have thought that adverbs like probably do not appear before a noun (in a noun phrase). (Actually, my teacher taught me that such phrases are not correct.)

Is it natural to utter such noun phrases, for example,

a probably killed thief
the probably paid tax
some probably fallen leaves
a probably good girl

in formal (written) English?
 
  • Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    Your four 'bad examples' do indeed sound very odd to the point that they are probably incorrect.
    But you need to look beyond the boundaries of noun phrase itself, and see it in context before you judge it.
    In your "disunified" example, "probably" does not modify the noun "picture", or the compound "disunified picture", it only modifies the adjective "disunified".
    The example is not perfect, but it is acceptable, and could be read as "...where a picture would be allowed to emerge that is probably disunified."
     

    Chigch

    Senior Member
    Mongolian
    Thanks.

    could be read as "...where a picture would be allowed to emerge that is probably disunified
    With this reading, another noun phrase a picture probably disunified/a picture disunified probably has come to my mind.

    Is this noun phrase acceptable, too, given a proper context?
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    Given a proper context, "a picture probably disunified" might be possible (but not "a picture disunified probably").
    However, I don't think your original sentence would provide a "proper context".
     

    Chigch

    Senior Member
    Mongolian
    I see.
    But I'm wondering why the latter is impossible.

    Is something like "the cars stolen recently/ the matters mentioned repeatedly", where the adverb follows the participle, also bad?
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    No. The problem is that "probably" is somehow "the wrong kind of adverb" for that construction; it's in a different category from "recently" and "repeatedly".
    We can see that "recently" and "repeatedly" are adverbs of time, and "probably" is not. It may be more complicated than that, but it's a starting point.
     
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