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Could you tell me If "to adults" is obligatory or not as in

I taught English to adults.

I was told in school that "to adults" is an indirect object.

I (S) + taught (V) + English (D.O) + to adults (I.O)

If that's obligatory, I would be attempted to call it as an adverbial complement modifying "taught".

I (S) + taught (V) + English (O) + to adults (Adverbial Complement)

But, I suppose "to adults" is just an adverb phrase. (not obligatory)

It seems to me that the removal of the prepositional phrase can't render the sentence ungrammatical. i.e., "I taught English." I perfectly understand.

I (S) + taught (V) + English (O) + to adults (Adjunct)

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    "To adults" could be important for clarity, even if it's not grammatically necessary. "I taught English" without any context would most commonly be used to describe teaching children/teenagers/young adults, just because the majority of English classes are for those ages (K through 12 and college). – user3067860 Feb 6 at 19:14
  • Thanks a lot. Depending on context, "to adults" could be a complement. But, generally, I'd like to see if the sentence itself, "I taught English" is grammatical or acceptable without any context. In the knowledge that "To adults" could be important for clarity, even if it's not grammatically necessary, I might choose the term "pseudo-complement". – bookish Feb 6 at 20:37
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    The OP question would have been clearer if it started by asking simply if the sentence itself, "I taught English" is grammatical. – MarkHu Feb 6 at 21:17
17

"I taught English" is a complete, correct sentence. "I taught English to adults" is also a complete, correct sentence.

Native speakers of English are likely to understand "I taught English" as equivalent to "I taught English to school-aged children", because that's the default assumption for anyone teaching anything. If you say either sentence in a country where English is the common tongue, native speakers will assume you mean you taught English literature and/or writing skills, not the language, because that's what the school course called "English" will focus on.

In comments on the other answer, you seem to be insisting on a grammatical distinction between a "complement" and an "adjunct". English is not a language whose constructions fall into well-defined categories with sharp edges. Prepositional phrases like "to adults", "on the table", etc are especially hard to categorize. I think it's easier to understand your examples in terms of the transitivity of their main verbs. English has at least five different transitivities for verbs:

  • I put the dish on the table: ditransitive. Subject, indirect object, and direct object are all required. You have to say what you put and where you put it. "On the table" is a prepositional phrase, but any locative construction will do.

  • I taught English: transitive. Subject and direct object are required. You have to say what you taught, unless it's clear from context. You can, again, add more information with prepositional phrases.

  • I ate [an apple]: ambitransitive. Subject is required, direct object is optional. You can say what you ate, using a direct object, but you don't have to. (Perhaps you only want to communicate that you're not hungry right now.)

  • I slept: intransitive. Only a subject is required. You have to say who slept, but no more words are required for a complete sentence. You can add more information with prepositional phrases, e.g. "at home", "on the train", "for only three hours".

  • It rains: impersonal. Not only are no object phrases required for this complete sentence, the "it" isn't a real subject. You can't leave it out, but it has no referent and you can't substitute any other subject phrase without sounding weird. (Many of the world's languages treat verbs describing weather this way.)

(It is not clear to me that any language's constructions fall into well-defined categories with sharp edges, but that's a whole 'nother can of worms.)

14

If a verb requires a subject or a direction then you must include it otherwise the sentence is not complete, for example:

"She put the dish..."

This is not correct because there is no direction specified for the verb "put". You could say "put the dish down" or "put the dish on the table" which would indicate either a place or a direction.

In the example in your question, "taught" is your verb, but you can teach a subject or you can teach a person, so the sentence is complete with either the name of the subject (English) or the person(s) you are teaching (the adults):

I teach adults

OR

I teach English.

Including both is optional and depends on how much detail you want to convey.

If you need to indicate that you were teaching adults as opposed to children then you do need to say something like:

I taught English to adults.

OR

I taught adults English.

The preposition is not required here because the relationship between the nouns is clear. You could not say...

I taught English adults

... because that sounds you are using "English" as an adjective to describe the adults' nationality.

Because "English" is the name of the subject being taught there is no need for a verb, but if you introduced a verb into the sentence you would need the preposition again:

I taught adults to speak English.

  • I was hoping to discern if it is an essential element like "on the table" as in "She put the dish on the table" The removal of "on the table" renders the sentence ungrammatical. She put the dish (?) i.e., "on the table" is obligatory, not optional. Depending on your answer, "to adults" as in "I taught English to adults" is clearly optional, not obligatory. Was I clear? Whether it is obligatory or optional is super important to me in order to determine whether the prepositional phrase, "to adults" is a "complement" or just an "adjunct". – bookish Feb 6 at 14:05
  • @bookish "She put the dish" isn't correct because there is no direction. You could say "put the dish down" or "put down the dish" without specifying exactly where because "down" is a direction that completes the sentence. That isn't really the same as the example in your question. "Taught" is your verb but you can teach a subject or you can teach a person, so the sentence is complete with either the name of the subject (English) or the person(s) you are teaching (the adults). I have added this detail to my answer, hope this answers your question as intended. – Astralbee Feb 6 at 14:10
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    @bookish First, please don't shout. Second, you cannot say "she put the dish" without specifying a direction or location. You could include both direction and location by saying "she put the dish down on the table". Want to lose both details? Don't use "put". Say "she let go of the dish". Of course this creates further questions such as what happened to the dish, but any detail you choose to include is complementary and not necessary. For clarification, I am a native British English speaker. – Astralbee Feb 6 at 15:09
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    @Flater Saying "I teach" by itself would odd, but there are contexts where it would be a reasonable thing to say, for instance in response to the question "What do you do for a living?" – Acccumulation Feb 6 at 16:46
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    Actually, "teach" can even be intransitive: "What do you do for a living?" "I teach." (A vague answer, but grammatically acceptable.) – aschepler Feb 7 at 4:43

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