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The Martins sold their house for about 1.4 million pounds.

I have two explanations of the this sentence:

(1) The Martins sold their house in order to get about 1.4 million pounds.

(2) The Martins sold their house which cost about 1.4 million pounds.

So I wonder which explanation is correct? How to understand "for" here?

Likewise, there is another sentence alike:

The doctor was prepared to do the operation for a large sum.

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I prefer (1) meaning clearly the people who bought the Martins'house paid about 1.4 million pounds. Number (2) is ambiguous, it means the house cost about 1.4 million pounds but we're not sure that's what the buyers paid for it. Last sentence clearly means the doctor wanted to get a large sum for performing the operation. –  Laure May 5 at 7:59
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3 Answers 3

I wouldn't say that it's modifying anything, it's an oblique argument or object.

An oblique argument is an argument of a relation that is marked with a preposition. (Syntactically, oblique arguments aren't direct arguments; that is, they aren't subjects or direct objects or second objects).

And, from SIL:

An oblique object is a grammatical relation proposed for a noun phrase clause constituent with the following characteristics:

  • Its nature and behavior are more readily describable in semantic terms than syntactic.
  • It is likely to be the most constrained in the semantic roles it may individually express.
  • It is likely to be marked by an adposition or case affix.

To answer your other question: the most felicitous expansion, I would say, is

The Martins sold their house in order to get about 1.4 million pounds.

However, and I admit my limitation here: it doesn't quite sound right that way. Can't put my finger on it.

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+1 That's a very useful term I had not encountered before. –  StoneyB May 5 at 10:33
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Grammatically, it modifies the verb. "For about 1.4 million pounds" is a prepositional phrase modifying how they sold the house. The phrase is used as an adverb here.

It can fit both your explanations, depending on context. On its own, it doesn't imply either one more so than the other.

See here for details on prepositions like "for" and how they're used: http://www.chompchomp.com/terms/prepositionalphrase.htm

I don't have enough rep to comment but I believe jimsug's answer is a bit off. Technically, I think "about 1.4 million pounds" is the oblique object which is part of the prepositional phrase. Your question was specifically targeting the preposition's usage so that's why I went with the adverb answer.

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I'm sure it's not adverbial - do you really think that a well-formed answer to the question "how did they sell the house"? would be for about 1.4 million pounds? I would take issue with that. A good answer would be through a realtor or privately. –  jimsug May 6 at 11:40
    
Also, to say that any prepositional phrase will act as an adverb (as your source does) is mistaken. Take, for instance, the sentence I gave a book to him. Applying tests for adverbs: How did you give a book? Where did you give a book?, When did you give a book?, all but the last have questionable grammaticality. And the answer to all is not an adverbial prepositional phrase - it's a demoted Object fulfilling the Oblique role. –  jimsug May 6 at 11:49
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It's definitely the first. Grammatical concerns aside, this would seem to be a usage rule:

"For [money]" always means "done in order to receive [money]".

And while any rule can have exceptions, I've been thinking, and I honestly can't come up with any for this one.

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You have money in square brackets - do you mean to say that any word can be substituted there, and that for X always means done in order to receive X? (Otherwise, why the brackets?) –  jimsug May 6 at 11:38
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Almost. I meant to indicate that any phrase that means "money" or "some amount of money" (or perhaps even "something of value") will work that way. Many things that aren't money will work likewise (e.g. "for fun"), but as the question was about money ("about 1.4 million pounds"), the rule as stated is enough for the question, and the more I generalise it the more exceptions it'll admit! –  Tim Pederick May 7 at 9:02
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