2

He faced the same difficulty which we had at the airport in finding the direction to the gate.

Firstly, I think the entire clause "which we had at the airport in finding the direction to the gate" modifies the noun " difficulty".

Secondly, I think the PP "to the gate" is the complement of "direction",being an adjective,

and as the PP "at the airport" is closer to the verb "had", it functions as complement of the verb "had", therefore the PP is adverbial. Am I mistaken?

And what about "in finding the directions to the gate." Is it also a complement of the verb "had" or

it functions as complement of either noun "airport" or "difficulty"(difficulty is a bit far away though), serving as an adjective?


And, "which we had..." is a relative clause , so I think the object behind the verb "had" is "difficulty", then the sentence can be looked at this way

We had the difficulty at the airport in finding the directions to the gate.

As for this sentence, the PP "at the airport" is closer to "difficulty" , then it serves as a complement of "difficulty", being an adjective?

And the PP "in finding the directions to the gate", is it a complement of the verb "had", being an adverb? Or it is the complement of either the nouns "airport" or "difficulty", serving as an adjective?

  • Hi Fionna. Welcome to ELL. You have done a really good job of explaining your reasoning, but it might be a good idea to narrow this down to one specific question. – Tashus Jan 17 at 17:37
  • I can't say exactly why, but I don't much like which there. Either nothing at all (my preference), or that would sound more natural. – FumbleFingers Jan 17 at 18:38
  • He faced the same difficulty at the airport which we had faced in finding the direction to the gate. The phrase at the airport there refers to where his difficulty was encountered. Does labeling it adverbial or adjectival change your understanding of the meaning in any way? He faced the same difficulty we faced at the airport in finding the direction to the gate. Perhaps he was not at the airport? Maybe he was down at the docks in Baltimore, and the difficulty was that he did not speak English, which was your difficulty as well, when you were at the airport. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jan 17 at 18:41
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers - If you are an AmE speaker, then the general rule is to use that to begin restrictive clauses (as in this example) and which, set off by a comma, for non-restrictive clauses. BrE speakers are more likely to use which for both types of clauses (though the comma rule still holds). – Canadian Yankee Jan 17 at 21:51
  • @CanadianYankee: Perhaps I'm becoming "Americanised" thanks to the US Silicon Valley dominance of the Internet (as perhaps are you, given your online handle here! :) – FumbleFingers Jan 18 at 14:31
1

You're approaching this as if English doesn't allow ambiguous structures.  It does. 

The phrase "in finding the direction to the gate" could be part of the relative clause, just as you've described, attaching to the verb "had" in the same way as "at the airport".  Alternately, it could attach to the phrase "the same difficulty", making "which we had at the airport" and "in finding the direction to the gate" separate modifiers of the same phrase.  Yet another alternative is that "which we had", "at the airport" and "in finding . . ." are three separate modifiers of "the same difficulty". 

We have several grammatically and semantically sound possibilities.  Offhand, I don't even know how many valid parsings exist for this sentence.  It's more than the three I've mentioned.  It might be more than the dozen or so that your original post implies. 

I can tell you that "in finding . . ." doesn't attach to "the airport".  That would be a grammatically sound structure, but it's one that we can reject on semantic grounds.  I cannot tell you whether "in finding . . ." attaches to "had", "difficulty" (with or without "the same") or even "faced".  I cannot tell you whether "he" was at the airport or whether "we" were -- although at least one of those things should be true, and both could be. 

Attaching these structures to the nearest available sensible alternative is not a law of nature, not some enforced rule of grammar.  It's just a convenient practice.  It often corresponds to a native speaker's intuition, but there is no guarantee that it will.  Not every native speaker has the same intuition.  Ambiguity exists. 

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.