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What must google do to keep the competitors AT BAY?

I know a prepositional phrase can act as an adverb by modifying the finite verb in the sentence, or act as an adjective by modifying the noun/pronoun just before it. My question is about how I know prepositional phrases used are modifying verb or noun/pronoun before it. I'm confused that In the sentence above, Whether "AT BAY" modify the verb DO or noun The COMPETITORS. For example, I like the books on the table. Here *on the table * have modified the table not like. how could I be able to know it is acting as an adjective or an advern. Thank you.

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What must Google do to keep the competitors AT BAY?

Preposition phrases don't "act as adverbs or adjectives", but as modifiers and complements. Adverb and adjective are word categories (parts of speech) like noun and verb etc. What words do in a clause is called their 'function', e.g. subject, modifier, complement etc.

The idiom "at bay" is a PP functioning as complement of "keep". We know it's a complement, not a modifier, because it is obligatory for this meaning of "keep", which means to prevent someone or something from getting too close.

I like the books on the table.

By contrast, the salient interpretation of the PP "on the table" is not that of complement but of modifier of "books". It ascribes the property of being on the table to the books. Thus it's part of the noun phrase "the books on the table", not a direct constituent of the verb phrase.

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  • My question is about How I know the prepositional phrase is acting as a complement of the verb like KEEP or modifier of the noun before it like TABLE?? 1. I eat rice in my kitchen. 2.I like book on the table. in first sentance "In my kitchen" acts as complement and in second sentance "on the table" acts as a modifier. But question is How I know it is a complement or a modifier???? Thank you. – Mohammad Abul Hasem Feb 21 '19 at 19:47
  • @MohammadAbulHasem I dealt with that in my answer. Again, "at bay" is a complement because it is obligatory for this sense of "keep". If it's dropped the sentence becomes ungrammatical. By contrast, "on the table" is part of a noun phrase -- it ascribes the property of being on the table to "books" and hence must be a modifier. Remember that obligatory items are always complements; optional items may be complements or modifiers. – BillJ Feb 22 '19 at 8:59
  • Sorry to disturb you again, @BillJ, how I know whether "at bay" is obligatory or optional?? – Mohammad Abul Hasem Feb 22 '19 at 12:01
  • @MohammadAbulHasem, "keep (sb) at bay" is an idiom. "At bay" is not a standalone phrase modifying any specific word. Idioms are hard to spot. You can only identify them through practice. – urnonav Nov 25 '19 at 14:27

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