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I've got a huge argument about the following sentence:

'Every now and then a ray of moonlight through the branches above lit a spot of silver blue blood on the fallen leaves.'

It's originally from the Harry Potter book.

Here we have the part 'through the branches above'

One guy said that this part might be replaced by an adverb without any change in grammar.

Every now and then a ray of moonlight faintly lit a spot of silver blue blood on the fallen leaves. Every now and then a ray of moonlight through the branches above lit a spot of silver blue blood on the fallen leaves. The grammar is the same.

These examples, in his opinion, both describe the verb 'lit.'

But another guy said this:

The formulation is just like: " A sip of tea from a porcelain cup refreshes the spirits." The phrase "through the branches" is adjectival, distinguishing the ray of moonlight from other rays of moonlight that have not passed through branches.

The question is: Is 'through the branches above' the prepositional phrase modifying the verb 'lit' or is it the prepositional phrase modifying the noun 'ray'?

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    The PP is a modifier in the NP "ray of moonlight".
    – BillJ
    Commented Mar 5, 2019 at 13:00
  • 1
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's a cross-post of a post on ELU. Commented Mar 5, 2019 at 15:38

1 Answer 1

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If "through the branches above" modifies the verb "lit", then a very strong accent is placed on "through the branches above" - which feels highly unnatural - especially in the context.

However, my impression is that another word is actually missing (intentionally or not) and that clarifies the things:

Every now and then a ray of moonlight shining through the branches above lit a spot of silver blue blood on the fallen leaves.

With the "shining" added, the sentence becomes fuller and then it becomes obvious that "through the branches above" modifies "ray" (or rather "shining").

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  • Your opinion is fine, but we don't have this word. Commented Mar 5, 2019 at 12:45
  • When you provide the answer "Yes" to some question, you actually do not have a lot of words. However, in the context, it is always clear what "Yes" means. Similar, in the movie you can hear Tarzan say: "Me Tarzan. You Jane." The verb "to be" is missing there twice, but the meaning is very clear. Without implicitly understanding / adding "am" / "are", the sentences have no sense. Same thing is in the original question: something is missing in the sentence. I chose "shining", but other words may fit as well.
    – virolino
    Commented Mar 5, 2019 at 13:07

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