Do prepositions alter the meaning of a subject in a way that changes what the verb's compliment is referring to? (Specifically infinitive phrase compliments)


  1. I work at my position in time to have pie. [Does at my position in time make "to have pie" refer to me specifically at my position in time has pie or I at any time have pie]
  2. Larry under the table fears to stand up. [Does under the table change the subject for "to stand up" to mean: if Larry was not under the table he might not fear to stand up]

If prepositions do alter the meaning of a subject, what could I do to make those infinitive phrases refer to the subject without the preposition?

(I know I'm trying too much to have no confusion in the meaning, however the situation requires this level of scrutiny.)

Edit: It has been proven that prepositions after the subject alter the meaning of the subject. However it has not been answered whether prepositions after the verb alter the meaning of the subject.

  • I would say yes, since the subject is the entire phrase. "A man with a vial of nitroglycerin fears to be jostled." or "An animal in a corner is especially dangerous." Sep 26, 2017 at 21:09
  • There is no way to make the infinitival complements not pertain to the subject of the verb apart from changing the subject. Sep 26, 2017 at 21:14
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    The first sentence is hard for me to understand. I'm not sure what you mean, but "I work at my position in time" doesn't really make sense to me. It sounds like my position is somewhere in time, which is a very strange way to speak unless you are a time traveller.
    – stangdon
    Sep 26, 2017 at 21:16
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo But, wouldn't at my position in time be an adverb for work. Or would that still alter the subject I in the sentence?
    – user62701
    Sep 26, 2017 at 21:22
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    @Stangdon, try regarding "at my position" as one phrase and "in time to have pie" as another, each of them modifying the verb "work". Perhaps OP gets to his job early enough to indulge in a lemon meringue breakfast. Sep 26, 2017 at 21:22

2 Answers 2


Hmm, I'm not sure what you're asking. Of course a prepositional phrase alters the meaning of the sentence. If it didn't, why would the writer include it?

"Larry under the table fears to stand up." "Under the table" here is a restrictive clause: It tells us which Larry you are talking about. You wouldn't say this unless there was some other Larry, who presumably is not under the table, that this Larry might be confused with. If you want to inform us that Larry is under the table, you should say, "Larry, who is under the table, fears to stand up." In either case, the GRAMMAR does not tell us whether Larry would be afraid to stand up if he was not under the table. It might be clear from the context, or it might not. The person making the statement might or might not know if Larry would be afraid to stand up under other circumstances.

Consider these similar sentences: "Larry who failed the entrance exam will not go to college." In this case it seems likely that if he had passed the entrance exam, he would be going to college. But, "Larry wearing a red shirt is a good driver." Presumably wearing a red shirt does not make him a good driver. The speaker is likely telling us that he is wearing a red shirt to distinguish him from some other Larry who is wearing a different color shirt.


When the subject of a verb consists of a noun and a prepositional phrase, the phrase is an integral attribute of the noun.

A man in disguise may be difficult to spot.

A child with a pointy stick is an accident waiting to happen.

An ex-con with a record of violent crime may find it difficult to get a job.

People in glass houses should not throw stones.

The girl in the blue shirt is my cousin.

If the verb has an infinitival complement, the subject-with-prepositional-phrase is subject of the entire verb phrase:

{A man with a vial of nitroglycerin} {fears {to be jostled} }.

{The horse with the spot on its forehead} {likes {to have its ears scratched}}

  • I agree with all that you said. However would a prepositional phrase used as an adverb be an integral aspect of the verb instead of the noun. So instead: {A man}{fears{with a vial of nitroglycerin}{to be jostled}}.
    – user62701
    Sep 27, 2017 at 18:02
  • @user58712: That sentence is not idiomatic. You would need to recast the prepositional phrase as a circumstantial when-clause: "A man fears, when he is holding a vial of nitroglycerin, to be jostled". The circumstantial does indeed color the verb phrase: "When he is holding a vial of nitroglycerin, a man fears to be jostled." Sep 27, 2017 at 18:49
  • So would "A man fears, at the time of holding a vial of nitroglycerin, to be jostled" be an integral aspect of the verb instead of the noun.
    – user62701
    Sep 27, 2017 at 21:51
  • @user58712: "at the time of holding" is not idiomatic. It's not outright ungrammatical, but "at the time of" is at best "legalese" or some other -ese for "when". at the time of holding doesn't make aspectual sense. at is point-in-time whereas holding is continuous. Sep 28, 2017 at 1:26
  • Ignoring that specific example, would any preposition after the verb be an integral aspect (or defining aspect) of the noun?
    – user62701
    Oct 4, 2017 at 0:10

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