It is about saving lives, starting with mine." (A line from a tv series)
(Context: He talks about time travel to save lives including his life.)

I can't understand how that participle works here. I think it "starting" describes the "saving lives" but I am not sure if a participle can modify a noun phrase (or participle phrase I don't know which is correct) "saving lives".

I think it means: It is about saving lives and "saving life" starts with mine.

If it modifies "saving life", can I rewrite the sentence as:

It is about saving lives, which starts with mine.

  • 1
    "Starting with mine" is not a modifier. It's a supplementary adjunct, a loosely attached element giving supplementary non-integrated content. Participial clauses can be modifiers in NP structure, e.g. "[The people living near the site] will have to move", where "living near the site modifies "people".
    – BillJ
    Jun 22 '19 at 7:45

There are many kinds of adjectival phrases, or rather, many parts of speech which can be used to modify nouns. Participle phrases (that act as adjectives) can be combined with other modifiers. Example:

The [small][whining][terrier] dog [on the front seat of my car] [looking out the window] is not my dog.

In your example, "starting with mine" is more of an adverbial use. Here's a related use that should be clear:

Let's plan tonight's formal dinner, starting with the main course.

Here "starting" modifies "plan" by saying how (in what order) we should plan. In the same way with your example, "starting with" tells us how (in what order) the narrator wants to "save lives". It's made a little more complicated since "saving lives" is itself a gerund phrase, but is otherwise the same structure.

So the answers to your questions are yes, and yes. Both of your rephrased sentences are accurate.

  • Thank you. So a participle can be used to modify pretty much everything in the main clause? For example : "You need to paint the whole cupboard, starting from the bottom. (You need to paint the whole cupboard and in the process of painting start from the bottom). In the latter example, participle starting modifies not the need but paint. It seemed kind of interesting to me at first. Jun 22 '19 at 6:13
  • @TalhaÖzden Yes. The participle phrase tells you how to paint, so it's (more or less) an adverb. It's possible one of the more professional linguists on this site could give you more detail -- perhaps this kind of structure has a specific name.
    – Andrew
    Jun 22 '19 at 14:35

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