'Adjective Phrases' can function as subject

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stenka25

Senior Member
South Korea, Han-gul
The following is a question given to students.
Please try the question.
Can you get the correct answer?


• Printed on the box at the center of a coffeehouse [was/ were] the
words "To Insure Promptness."


It is said that the answer is 'were' because the subject of the questioned sentence is 'the words.'


But a syntax I read has another theory.
It says 'Adjective Phrases' can function as subject like the following sentence.

• Emotionless and expressionless is what I would call him here.


And I have also 'googled' with "printed on" and I have found the following sentence supporting my argument.


• Printed on each card was the student's name, the date, and three boxes to check.


As I have shown, I think the answer of the question should be both.
What do you think?


Thanks for reading my argument in advance.
 
  • Forero

    Senior Member
    • Printed on the box at the center of a coffeehouse were the words "To Insure Promptness."

    • "Emotionless and expressionless" is what I would call him here.

    • Printed on each card were the student's name, the date, and three boxes to check.
    In other words, the words were printed on the box, what I would call him is "emotionless and expressionless", and the name, date, and boxes were printed on each card.

    In these examples, a complement comes first and the subject follows the verb.
     

    stenka25

    Senior Member
    South Korea, Han-gul
    My intention is not to change any set English grammer.
    I'm an English teacher in Korea.
    In my country too many teacher teach students too much grammer instead of teaching them just good English sentence and telling them to try to use it as many times as they want.
    In my country students don't try to use English sentence because they are afraid of the possibility of using incorrect sentence.

    I'm not any radical advocate of the uselessness of grammer teaching.
    I'm opposed to putting too much emphasis on English grammer in English teaching.
    And I'm also against teachers' giving too tricky questions about English grammer.

    I know the rule of inversion, and I am not saying you are wrong.
    However, in the book "English Syntax and Argumentation - written by Bas Aarts"

    They say "Prepositional Phrases" & "Adjective Phrases" can be a subject.
    But they are used as subjects in a limited boundary like the following examples.

    ▣ Prepositional Phrases functioning as Subject 전치사구
    [location]
    • Outside the fridge is not a good place to keep milk.
    [time interval]
    Between eleven and midnight suits me all right.

    ▣ Adjective Phrases functioning as Subject
    • Very dedicated is what I would call him.

    Language has its quirky side and is on the constant changing.
    And in language world something wrong in the past become someting OK right now.
    Just a few days ago I came across the following sentence.


    • On the paper was all the remarks Joe’s classmates had made about him.

    If we do not admit 'on the paper' is subject how can we possibly explain this sentence?
    And if we say the above sentence is just another wrong sentence how come there are so many wrong sentences?

    I know understanding standard English grammer is very important.
    But I also think we don't need to give novice learners too difficult a question.

    When I read in "A S Hornby's" grammer book the following statement, that is, "It is a sound principle not to present the learner with specimens of incorrect English and then require him to point out and correct the errors. (A S Hornby)" I couldn't agree more.

    I'm going to teach the rule of inversion.
    But I want to teach them the exceptions, too.
    What do you think?
     

    johnp

    Senior Member
    In this sentence, On the paper was all the remarks Joe’s classmates had made about him, I would consider "all the remarks" the subject of the sentence and the verb needs to be "were." On the paper is a prepositional phrase acting as an adverb telling where the remarks were. I am a language teacher and in my experience teaching grammar is more essential then just an audio-lingual approach where students just practice good sentences. Learning grammar can speed up the language learning process. Even native speakers do well to know well the grammar of their language. If for nothing else, the study of grammar and math are good for developing thinking ability. What is the rule of inversion? And, yes, we need to teach exceptions to the rules.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    • Printed on the box at the center of a coffeehouse were the words "To Insure Promptness."

    • Emotionless and expressionless is what I would call him here.

    • Printed on each card were the student's name, the date, and three boxes to check.
    Like Forero, I'm clear that in each of your examples the subject follows the verb. I disagree with your alternative explanation, I'm afraid.

    • On the paper was all the remarks Joe’s classmates had made about him.

    If we do not admit 'on the paper' is subject how can we possibly explain this sentence?
    And if we say the above sentence is just another wrong sentence how come there are so many wrong sentences?
    As johnp says, the subject of this sentence is "all the remarks Joe’s classmates had made about him" and the verb should be plural.

    We explain the singular verb either as a mistake (people do make mistakes) or as non-standard (many non-standard varieties of English use "was" with a plural subject).
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    • Outside the fridge is not a good place to keep milk. :tick: [location]

    Between eleven and midnight suits me all right. :tick: [time interval]

    • Very dedicated is what I would call him. :tick:? [epithet]

    I am using "epithet" for a description in the form of an adjective phrase. I think this is possible, but in the case of "what I would call him", the adjective phrase could also be placed in quotation marks because it is the words I use to describe him:

    • "Very dedicated" is what I would call him. :tick: [descriptive phrase, per se]
    (What I would call him is "very dedicated".)

    • On the paper were all the remarks Joe’s classmates had made about him. [subject is "all the remarks"]

    This last sentence is wrong with "was" because "remarks" is not a location and "on the paper" tells where the remarks were.
     
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