This model of reality lived on, overlaid by different conventions, in the more sophisticated Elizabethan works of the following age.

In this sentence, is "overlaid by different conventions" a modifier? I heard that if there is a modifier after a comma, it modifies a word that is right before the comma. So is it modifying "lived on"?

Thanks for your help in advance.

2 Answers 2


I suggest you adjust your rule. A supplement like this doesn't necessarily modify the immediately previous word. Rather, we ordinarily expect it to modify the closest prior term which it is capable of modifying.

But adjectivals, like this clause headed the passive participle overlaid, don't modify prepositions (on) or verbs (lived)—they modify nominals. In this case, overlaid by different conventions modifies the noun phrase this model of reality.

(Actually, if you want to get really technical, it doesn't "modify" this model of reality. Modifiers provide given or presupposed information about the entity they modify, restricting its sense, and they lie within the constituent which that entity heads. Overlaid by different conventions, however, lies outside the noun phrase this model of reality and adds new information to what is already known about it: in fact, it lies entirely outside the main clause, as is signalled by the commas; it is not a modifier but a distinct predicate.)


Yes, I think it's fair to say it modifies (or better it qualifies) "lived on" by saying that while the model continued, various conventions changed how it was practiced.

However, I wouldn't expect this to be a universal rule. For example:

Although any question may be asked, subject to the moderator's discretion, it may be removed.

In this case "subject to the moderator's discretion" doesn't modify "asked" or "it" but actually "removed".

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