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A stunted tree, or pool of stagnant water, roused into a sluggish action by the heavy rain of the preceding night, skirted the path occasionally; and, now and then, a miserable patch of garden-ground, with a few old boards knocked together for a summer-house, and old palings imperfectly mended with stakes pilfered from the neighbouring hedges, bore testimony, at once to the poverty of the inhabitants, and the little scruple they entertained in appropriating the property of other people to their own use.

Does "by the heavy rain of the preceding night" modify a tree or a pool or both?

source THE BLACK VEIL

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  • It seems to make more sense to me to say the water of the pool was roused by the heavy rain, because what would it mean for the tree to be roused? Although it's hard to understand how a pool of stagnant water could be roused and still be stagnant...personally, this kind of writing is why I can't stand Dickens; he was paid by the word, and it shows.
    – stangdon
    Apr 19, 2017 at 15:51

1 Answer 1

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Neither, it modifies roused! The pool was roused by the rain. The long phrase is functioning as an adverb.

In his comment, @BillJ adds some vital information: the propositional phrase “by the rain” functions as an adjunct adverbial, which is

a word, phrase, or clause that modifies an entire clause by providing additional information about time, place, manner, condition, purpose, reason, result, and concession.

In this case, the phrase supplied information on cause, which was for some reason omitted from the list.

Is the thing modified “roused” — or is it “the pool was roused”? You make the call!

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  • It would be better to say that the 'long phrase' is a preposition phrase functioning as an adjunct.
    – BillJ
    Apr 19, 2017 at 14:14

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