This is a sentence from Cambridge dictionary

I was rather quiet as I didn't feel I had much wisdom to impart on the subject.

Does "on the subject" function as an adverb to modify the verb "impart" or it functions as an adjective to modify "wisdom"

By the way, can I rephrase it to:

I was rather quiet as I didn't feel I had much wisdom which I can impart on the subject.

If the paraphrase is grammatically correct, can the sentence be looked at this way?

I can impart wisdom on the subject.

Then, does "on the subject" still function as an adverb to modify the verb "impart" or it functions as an adjective to modify "wisdom"

  • 1
    I'd say that the PP "on the subject" serves as complement of "impart", since "on" has to be licensed by the verb "impart". Btw, phrases don't functions as adverbs or adjectives. Those are word classes, not functions. Instead we use the functions term 'modifier' .
    – BillJ
    Jan 16, 2019 at 15:49
  • @BillJ An adverbial\adjectival phrase is the usual term in grammar books, isn't it? Jan 16, 2019 at 16:05
  • @MvLog Yes, but as word categories (parts of speech), not for functions. In the OPs example, on the subject is a PP (category), and its function is that of complement. The main functions are subject, object, modifier and complement, while the categories are noun, verb, adjective, adverb etc. It's important to maintain the distinction between the two.
    – BillJ
    Jan 16, 2019 at 17:10
  • @BillJ Thanks, what about this sentence?
    – 黃冠霖
    Jan 17, 2019 at 2:10
  • "The minorities don't have the resources that are needed for social advancement" What the function and the category of " for social advancement"?
    – 黃冠霖
    Jan 17, 2019 at 2:11

1 Answer 1


Technically, the meaning of the sentence is ambiguous without knowing the wider context. You are correct that "on the subject" could link to "impart" or to "wisdom". However, the more likely scenario is that it is an adjective modifying "wisdom". The other interpretation implies that there is some person who is a "subject" being given wisdom. "Subject" is usually only used in this sense to refer to experimental subjects. There is nothing else in the sentence that would suggest this context, so it does not seem likely, whereas "wisdom on the subject" is a very common phrase. Assuming that this is the intended meaning, a less ambiguous version of the sentence would have been:

I was rather quiet as I didn't feel I had much wisdom on the subject to impart.

Your rephrased sentence carries only the adverbial meaning, because now "on the subject" is part of the relative clause beginning with "which" instead of simply being a prepositional phrase following an infinitive. One could argue that there is still some ambiguity, but I cannot imagine a native speaker forming the sentence in this way if they intended the adjectival meaning.

Also, your rephrased sentence should use "could" rather than "can". The imparting of wisdom is a hypothetical situation (because the person is remaining quiet) and should use the conditional "could".

(As a side note, style guidelines often suggest using "that" with restrictive relative clauses and "which" with nonrestrictive relative clauses. This is not a grammar rule, but it is a convention that is taught at least in the USA. Your clause is restrictive, because it is not offset by a comma, so I would recommend using "that".)

Your shorter paraphrased version is still somewhat ambiguous for the same reasons as above, although I think "on the subject" is more clearly adjectival in this case, because it immediately follows "knowledge".


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