I am analyzing this sentence:

"Carlos wrote a letter to his uncle."

So far I have:

  • "Carlos" = Subject
  • "wrote" = Predicator
  • "a letter" = Direct Object

But I wasn't sure about "to his uncle"

Is it an adverbial adjunct or object of preposition?

  • The PP "to his uncle" is complement of the verb "wrote".
    – BillJ
    Mar 22, 2018 at 15:11
  • 1
    Not an answer, but I think that in your example Carlos wrote a letter to his uncle., wrote is ditransitive, so, to his uncle is the second object, that is, the indirect object. It can also be: Carlos wrote his uncle a letter. if it were: Carlos wrote a letter to his uncle, on Sunday. then we could talk of a different story. Mar 22, 2018 at 16:59
  • 1
    I must disagree, @LucianSava. "Carlos wrote his uncle a letter" is ditransitive. "Carlos wrote a letter to his uncle" might have the same semantics, but not the same grammar. In the former, "his uncle" is the indirect object of "wrote". In the latter, "his uncle" is the only object of the preposition "to". It makes sense to say "his uncle" represents a semantic target, destination, objective or beneficiary in both cases, but it doesn't make sense to claim that it's the argument of more than one constituent at the same time. When it is the object of "to", it is not the object of "wrote" Mar 22, 2018 at 17:26
  • 1
    @GaryBotnovcan, no offence, but I must disagree too. Here, it says: Sometimes, the indirect object will occur in a prepositional phrase beginning with to or for. Read these two sentences: Tomas paid the mechanic 200 dollars to fix the squeaky brakes. Tomas paid 200 dollars to the mechanic to fix the squeaky brakes. In both versions, the mechanic [the indirect object] gets the 200 dollars [the direct object]. Mar 22, 2018 at 17:46
  • @LucianSava Thank you I looked at that page you mentioned but my professor when she taught us the indirect object she said that the indirect object is always between the verb and the direct object. And I'm not sure if this page is really reliable. I'm so confused now because I didn't actually count indirect object as an option, now I'm more confused than ever.
    – J.Doe
    Mar 22, 2018 at 19:17

3 Answers 3


Carlos wrote a letter to his uncle.

Your analysis so far is correct.

But the preposition phrase to his uncle is neither an adjunct nor an object, but a complement of the verb "wrote". The preposition "to" makes a contribution to identifying the semantic role of the noun phrase "his uncle" (called the oblique) who is clearly the recipient. But the PP is not itself an object.

Adjuncts on the other hand are modifiers that are associated with a wide range of semantic roles including location, manner, duration, condition and so on. But they do not occur as PPs with an oblique that marks the recipient of a direct object.

Here's a simplified tree diagram of your sentence:

enter image description here

  • Is it the same case also in this sentence: We have added an extra unit to our department recently. the phrase to our department
    – J.Doe
    Mar 23, 2018 at 22:07
  • 1
    Yes, the preposition phrase "to our department" is complement of the verb "added" (and "an extra unit" is direct object).
    – BillJ
    Mar 24, 2018 at 7:07

"To his uncle" is a modifier that contains a preposition and its object.  The preposition is "to" and the object of the preposition is "his uncle". 

This modifier might be an adjunct of the predicator, or it might be a modifier of the direct object.  That's a negligible difference in this clause, but it becomes noticeable if we cast the clause in the passive voice: 

A letter was written to his uncle
A letter to his uncle was written. 

In the former clause, "written to his uncle" is a participial phrase containing the so-called past participle "written" and an adverbial adjunct.  In the latter, "a letter to his uncle" is a noun phrase containing the noun "letter" and its two adjectival modifiers. 


To answer your questions:

Is it an adverbial adjunct?  Maybe.  Yes, it can be analyzed that way.  No, it doesn't have to be analyzed that way. 

Is it an object of a preposition?  No.  It's a prepositional phrase that contains an object.  The object of the preposition is "his uncle", without the "to".  The entire prepositional phrase acts as a modifier, not an object, even though what it modifies is ambiguous. 

  • So the pattern of this sentence is S+P+DO, right? The direct object is the whole phrase a letter to his uncle, right? I'm sorry I'm still kind of confused since when I have to analyze this sentence I need to go with the pattern and name every constituent of this sentence primary and secondary and I still can't understand to which group does that phrase belong to.
    – J.Doe
    Mar 22, 2018 at 19:06
  • Yes, the pattern is Subject / Transitive Verb / Direct Object. There are, however, two good ways to analyze "to his uncle". You can treat it as you would an adjective, making it part of the direct object. You can also treat it as you would an adverb, making it part of the predicator. In the passive voice versions, I assume we both can easily tell the difference. That's why I included the two passive-voice examples. In the active voice version (and in the absence of further context) nobody can tell the difference. Both possibilities are right. You need both to be complete. Mar 22, 2018 at 19:34
  • @J.Doe, If I were you and thought the answer was helpful, up-voting and accepting it, is the correct action to take instead of thank you. :) Mar 22, 2018 at 21:07
  • @LucianSava I'm sorry if I offended anyone. I'm new at this, I just created this account on this page. I don't really know how it works.
    – J.Doe
    Mar 22, 2018 at 21:19
  • @J.Doe, don't worry, you didn't offend anyone, my comment sincerely tried to explain how to thank :). Mar 22, 2018 at 21:28

I know that I am two years late, but I just googled this "issue" and found this post. I could find a similar example my English professor made, thus I do think that there are many ways of analyzing the same exact sentence.

My prof. wrote the following sentence: John read a story to the children - and the parsing is like this: S - V - Direct Object - Prepositional Object.

I don't have the guts to call neither your sentence nor that of my professor to be wrong.

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