in the closet= adverbial or adjectival prepositional phrase?


Senior Member
English, United States

My mother and I are in disagreement about whether the prepositional phrase "in the closet" in the following sentence is adjectival (modifying "noise") or adverbial (modifying "was").

Suddenly, there was a noise in the closet.

I say that the phrase is describing where "there was," making it adverbial, but my mom says it's describing the noise, making it adjectival. I guess I can kind of see it both ways. :/

Any thoughts?

Thanks! :)
  • Cypherpunk

    Senior Member
    US, English
    Noise is the subject. In the closet tells where the action was. It's a prepositional phrase, of course, and it describes the location of the noise, not how the noise occurred, so it's an (EDIT) adverbial.
    Last edited:


    Senior Member
    I really don't know so my answer is only a guess. I tend to agree with your mom. The reason I think that is because you can rearrange the sentence to say, "The noise in the closet was sudden" (or "was suddenly apparent"). That is what the sentence means to me. Also, if you were to say, "Suddenly there was a noise." Then the question/answer would be, "What noise?" The one in the closet. Like I said, it is only my guess and I am anxious to hear what other people say.


    Senior Member
    polszczyzna warszawska
    To me it is an adverbial of place.
    Adverbials answer also a quesition where?
    Where was the noise? In the closet.
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    Senior Member
    Suddenly, there was a noise in the closet.

    Let's get rid of the distractions, including the purple.

    There was a noise.

    An adjective would tell us something about the qualities or characteristics of the noise.

    There was a deafening noise, with crunching gears, twisted drive shafts, and other distressing effects, as the recently-resigned governor attempted sapient communication.

    There was a closeted noise. (Whatever that might mean.)

    An adverb will tell us where the noise was.

    There was a noise (where?) _________. In the closet.

    Turn it around: Where was there a noise?



    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    It could be either. It could be a modifier in the noun phrase (what you're calling 'adjectival') or an adjunct in the verb phrase (what you're calling 'adverbial'), illustrated respectively in:

    (1) A noise in the closet attracted my attention.
    (2) In the closet there was a noise of books falling.

    In your sentence the structure is ambiguous. It could be either of:

    (3a) There was [a noise in the closet].
    (3b) There was [a noise] [in the closet].

    Normally I think the 'adverbial' (3b) is more likely, but it's possibly to make it explicitly (3a) by adding another modifier to the noun after this one:

    (3a') There was [a noise in the closet that I couldn't identify].

    On the other hand you can make it explicitly (3b) too, by interposing another 'adverbial':

    (3b') There was [a noise] [just now] [in the closet].
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