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I cannot see a certain syntactic structure of the sentence:

"The parents come out barefoot and screaming, ready to buy ice-cream."

How does the word "screaming" modify the verb phrase "come out"(right?)? In other words,whether some words(such as "who" and "is" etc.) is omitted,then what is a complete expression of the sentence?

The question nagged me for days, could you people please help me with it?

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    "barefoot" and "screaming" are predicate adjectives modifying "the parents", not "come out" – Mark Beadles Dec 6 '17 at 16:52
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    "Barefoot" and "screaming" are optional predicative adjuncts. Predicative because they relate to a predicand ("the parents") and adjuncts because they are modifiers in clause structure. – BillJ Dec 6 '17 at 16:59
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    Note that "barefoot" and "screaming" are not modifying the nominal "parents", but simply relate to it. – BillJ Dec 6 '17 at 18:47
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Here is a simplified tree diagram for your sentence:

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As you will see, there are two major dependents in the verb phrase: the coordination "barefoot and screaming" and the adjective phrase "ready to buy ice-cream". These elements do not modify the subject "the parents", but are optional modifiers in clause structure, i.e. they modify the verb phrase, not the subject noun phrase.

They are, though, predicative in that they refer to a predicand ("the parents"), but they do not actually modify it. And as modifiers in clause structure they are adjuncts, not complements. For this reason they are called 'predicative (depictive) adjuncts' since they give descriptive information about the subject "the parents" (called the predicand), but are modifiers in the verb phrase.

  • What an amazing answer. It's good to know. Did you mean that If it is a 'complement', we can say it modifies a subject. On the other hand, If it is a 'modifier'(adjunct), we can say it relates to a subject. e.g. "I am sad" ('sad' modifys the subject 'I' because it's a complement). "He died a millionaire" ('a millionaire' modifys the verb 'died' because it's a predicative adjunct, not a complement). – JYJ Feb 24 at 1:15
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The simple answer is that it doesn't modify the expression "come out".

But you added:

In other words,whether some words(such as "who" and "is" etc.) is omitted,then what is a complete expression of the sentence?

I get from this that the reason you believe something in the sentence might be modifying the verb 'come' is because you are expecting to see some other word there.

If I try to think as a non-native English speaker I can understand why you might think it isn't a complete sentence - if the words "come out" were not part of the sentence then it would need a verb like "are" in there:

eg "The parents are barefoot and screaming, ready to buy ice cream".

In your original sentence there is no need for the verb 'are' because 'come' is the verb and also determines the present tense.

Had it been in the past tense it could have said:

The parents were coming out....

OR

The parents came out...

But as it is written in the present tense the sentence is complete.

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    That's not how the syntax works. The adjunct "screaming" is a modifier in clause structure - what else could it be? It is of course depictive in that it gives descriptive information about the predicand "the parents", hence it is called a 'predicative adjunct'. – BillJ Dec 8 '17 at 18:02
  • It's not related to the tense. The sentence was written originally in the simple present tense, and the entire article which the sentence come from was fully written in the simple present tense. I thought what BillJ said is reasonable. – Fukuan Dec 9 '17 at 11:11
  • @Fukuan I believe the OP's question arises from confusion about the absence of the verb "are" (although in their question they suggest "who" and "is" are the missing words). Remember that this Q&A site is for English learners - not every language works the same way as English. The OP assumes that the word 'screaming' is in some way modifying the verb come so as to not need another word. I only mention tense because the verb already in the sentence establishes the it. There is nothing missing. – Astralbee Dec 9 '17 at 18:36
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As already mentioned, "screaming" modifies "parents." The sentence is odd because, without context, it describes an odd situation: the parents seem unusually infantile. Furthermore, the sentence without context seems incomplete: the parents came out of what. Finally, the syntax is infrequent. It is not usual in English for adjectives or adjectival phrases modifying the subject to be separated from the subject by a verb (unless the verb is a descriptive verb like some form of "be," "become," or "feel"). Indeed the most frequent position for an adjective is preceding the noun it modifies (again ignoring descriptive verbs).

"The barefoot, screaming parents came out" and "The parents, barefoot and screaming, came out" and "The parents came out barefoot and screaming" all mean the same thing.

Adjectival phrases, however, almost always follow the noun modified. "The ready to eat ice cream parents came out" is simply not idiomatic. "The parents, ready to eat ice cream, came out" is idiomatic (ignoring the absence of any mention of whence they emerged). The post-positioning of the adjectival phrase tends to drag adjectives modifying the same noun into a a similar position so that all the modifiers are in the same place.

To sum up.

Adjectives or adjectival phrases modifying the subject may follow the verb, e.g., "The parents were happy and ready to eat ice cream."

Long adjectival phrases almost always follow the noun being modified, e.g., "The parents, eager to eat butter pecan ice cream with hot fudge sauce, drove to the confectionary shop."

Although not required, it is frequent to place an adjective modifying a noun in the same position as an adjectival phrase modifying the same noun. This is even more frequent if there are more than one adjective modifying a noun also modified by an adjectival phrase.

  • -1 "Screaming does not modify "parents". It's a modifier in clause structure (i.e. in the VP) not in the subject noun phrase. It's actually a predicative adjunct: predicative because it relates to a predicand (i.e. the subject "the parents") and adjunct because it's an optional element in clause structure. The same applies to "barefoot. In your example the adjective phrase "happy and ready to eat ice cream" does not modify "parents", but is a subjective predicative complement of "were", – BillJ Dec 9 '17 at 21:21
  • BillJ. Nonsense. "Ready" is an adjective. "Screaming" is a participle used as an adjective. "Barefoot" is an adjective. Or are you trying to argue that they are nouns or adverbs. You say those adjectives "relate" to the subject; I say they "modify" the subject. There are only two nouns in the entire sentence, and "barefoot ice cream" is nonsense. I doubt that you really believe that "parents" are not being modified. I suspect that you want to describe the technical device used to do that modification. My answer carefully avoided such distinctions. – Jeff Morrow Dec 9 '17 at 21:47

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