I'm having an argument with a friend about the role of predicative adjuncts in front position and whether they modify the reason behind the action in the main clause.

Examples: "Tired and sleepy, she ate a banana" and "Upset, the children had daubed paint on the walls."

From what I was able to gather from The Cambridge Grammar and various other sources, the adjunct in the first example makes the sentence entail that she had been tired and sleepy, and the second that the children had been upset. Predicatives supplement subjects and objects. I think that's pretty much all there is to it. My friend argues that these adjuncts actually give the explicit reason for the actions the subjects perform, as in she ate a banana because she was tired and sleepy, not that she was tired and sleepy and/when she ate a banana.

Who is right in this case? Are we both wrong? Thanks!

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    A good question. I think the answer depends very much on context. The grammar does not explicitly state that the adjuncts are the reason for the action, but that's usually the inference. In your example about the children, the logical inference is that the children did it because they were upset, but it's completely possible to make up a sentence where the adjunct isn't the reason, like "Wounded and dizzy, the guard remained at his post until he was relieved" - clearly, the guard didn't remain because he was wounded and dizzy. – stangdon Mar 29 '17 at 15:49
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    A leading subordinate phrase or clause may indicate cause or purpose, but it may merely indicate a prior or simultaneous eventuality; there's no hard and fast rule. – StoneyB on hiatus Mar 29 '17 at 15:49
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    Strictly speaking you are right and your friend is wrong. However, as the point is generally to add extra descriptive context, it can often infer causation or reasoning. After all, it would be pretty weird if it didn't relate to what came after at all. – SteveES Mar 29 '17 at 16:17
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    No: predicative adjuncts like the ones in your examples are not modifiers - they are supplements, separate detached units of information. They relate to a predicand (usually a subject, as in your examples). Because they are predicative, they don't belong to a semantic category such as reason, result, purpose etc. – BillJ Mar 29 '17 at 17:19
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    There's nothing wrong with both of you being right: "(Because she was) tired and sleepy, she ate a banana." "(While she was) tired and sleepy, she ate a banana." As stangdon had said, both of you could be correct, depending on the context. – Teacher KSHuang Mar 30 '17 at 9:42

That sort of adjunct is just setting the scene, giving an indication of the state of the subject at the time the sentence refers to. They do not necessarily indicate cause - but they can. I wouldn't say they usually do, and you need to use context, or occasionally just the meaning of the sentence, to work out whether they do.

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