1

Consider:

Some "for + nouns" are adjectival prepositional phrases; others are adverbial prepositional ones, but I am not sure which is which in these following examples:

  1. The pension plans involve very little risk for employers.

  2. A bank creates a reserve for loan losses.

  3. How do investors decide on the expected returns they require for individual investments?

  4. Regulators aim to ensure that financial institutions keep enough capital for the total risks they are taking.

  5. Policyholders can often redeem (surrender) whole life policies early or use the policies as collateral for loans.

  6. Many exchanges on which stocks, options, and futures trade use market makers. Typically an exchange will specify a maximum level for the size of a market maker’s bid-offer spread.

  7. The CME has introduced contracts for 10 different weather stations.

  8. The lesson from these losses is that it is important to define unambiguous risk limits for traders.

  9. For similarly rated bonds and structured products, the probability distribution of losses are markedly different.

All the examples are taken from Risk Management and Financial Institutions, 3rd Ed. written by John Hull.

I have no difficulty in understanding these sentences, but it’s not easy to tell whether these "for + nouns" are adjectival prepositional phrases or adverbial prepositional ones.

I would guess this problem could cause ambiguity in some cases.

  • If you feel that the "for + nouns" phrase modifies a verb, could you give some specific reasoning on an example. It would help to understand your view. – user3169 Apr 19 '14 at 18:31
  • @user3169 Preposition makes a relationship between the noun/pronoun/noun-clause or whatever follows it and other words in a sentence. – Man_From_India Apr 20 '14 at 0:54
  • The reason is simple. e.g. I did it for you. It can be interpreted either as "I did it in order to help you.", or as "I did this and it is intended for you." @user3169 – Kinzle B Apr 20 '14 at 1:03
  • @ZhanlongZheng Its not valid to change the wording. What is "for you"? That is "it". Anyway, I deleted my answer as you believe it is wrong. But I think it would be better if you give a more detailed explanation of the relationship of "for + nouns" to verbs or preceding nouns. Just highlighting portions of the statements does not do this well. – user3169 Apr 20 '14 at 3:14
  • As Man_From_India indicates, the "for + nouns" phrase is related to all parts of the sentence. I'm wondering why it's a problem with you. I think others would agree with me. You can see several people have shown their interests in my question. I hope a good answer could demystify your doubt and mine as well. @user3169 – Kinzle B Apr 20 '14 at 3:54
4

I have no difficulty in understanding these sentences, but I was just wondering whether these preposition phrases of "for + nouns" modify the verbs or modify the nouns before them. Seems to me both can make sense, but I guess that the uncertainty of what it modifies could cause ambiguity in some cases.

These clauses beginning with "for" typically modify whatever is the closest where the for + noun clause occurs in the sentence, usually in front of "for". In many of the example sentences here the noun is an indirect or direct object of the verb so you could think of the verb + noun as being a unified whole and then the "for" clause is modifying the verb + noun clause.

Here is a basic case:

A bank creates a reserve for loan losses.

So the two options would be "create for loan losses" or "a reserve for loan losses". In this one, the two meanings are the same, because you would think of the verb + noun phrase as one unit because "reserve" is a direct object of the verb "creates".

But, consider this one:

Policyholders can often redeem (surrender) whole life policies early or use the policies as collateral for loans.

In this case the noun you have highlighted is not a direct or indirect object of the verb, so this noun can't be considered as part of the verb + noun phrase. In this sentence the "for" clause is, however, modifying "collateral" because that is closest to "for". You can see this if you try moving "as collateral" to a different place, which changes the meaning or leaves it more ambiguous, for example:

Policyholders can often redeem (surrender) whole life policies early or use the policies for loans as collateral.

Or in this one:

How do investors decide on the expected returns they require for individual investments?

So is it "returns for investments", or "require for investments"? In this one, "require" is closer to the "for" clause so it modifies "require", the verb.

In cases where the "for" phrase is not close to anything specific, the meaning is more ambiguous and you need to take the whole phrase together.

For similarly rated bonds and structured products, the probability distribution of losses are markedly different.

This one it could be either "distribution" or "are different", and you wouldn't know which without more context because the entire part "the probability distribution of losses are markedly different" needs to be taken together.

Does this help?

  • Thx. Most of what you said here isn't unfamiliar to me, but I think I still need more analysis. – Kinzle B Apr 20 '14 at 12:14
  • 1
    Yes, more examples will always help your understanding. If you find another one that you are unsure about, try moving the "for" phrase around in the sentence and see if you notice the difference in meaning. – Alium Britt Apr 20 '14 at 13:01
3
+50

It's not easy to tell because it doesn't make a difference.  
 

Let's look at the first sentence on your list:

The pension plans involve very little risk for employers.

First, we'll drop the prepositional phrase entirely.  Next, we'll separate the keywords in question, "involve" and "risk", in this case by casting the clause in the passive voice. Then, we'll reintroduce the prepositional phrase such that whatever it modifies is clear.  Finally, we'll compare those results with the original.

The pension plans involve very little risk.
Very little risk is involved.
Very little risk for employers is involved / Very little risk is involved for employers

Regardless of whether the phrase in question is part of the subject or part of the predicate, the overall meaning of the clause remains the same.  This exercise produces similar results for the remaining sentences:

  • a reserve for losses is created / a reserve is created for losses
  • returns for investments are required / returns are required for investments.
  • enough capital for the risk is kept / enough capital is kept for the risk
  • the policies as collateral are used / the policies are used as collateral
  • a maximum level for the size is specified / a maximum level is specified for the size
  • contracts for 10 stations have been introduced / contracts have been introduced for 10 stations
  • limits for traders are defined / limits are defined for traders
  • the distribution for such products differs / the distribution differs for such products

 
 
You're right.  There is a technical, grammatical ambiguity between, for example, risk for employers and involvement for employers.  In fact, this technical ambiguity reaches an even greater depth in sentence 5: collateral for loans / policies for loans / used for loans.

However, there is no semantic ambiguity.

In every one of these examples, by the time we're parsing the meaning of the entire predicate, it makes no difference whether the prepositional phrase in question modifies the complete predicate, only the verb, only the direct object, or only one component of that direct object.  In our passive voice transformations, it doesn't even matter whether the phrase modifies the subject or the predicate.

In a sense, it's not even possible to modify only the predicate, or only the verb, or only the direct object, or only one component of that object.  Semantically, the meaning of any such modification is inevitably carried up to the level of the complete clause.

 
Since it doesn't make a difference, the simplest choice is likely the best choice.  I would say that the smallest and closest candidate is the simplest choice.  For simplicity's sake alone, I'll parse sentence 5 such that "for loans" modifies "collateral".  When I do this, I don't insist that the phrase "for loans" must be adjectival in this clause.  I only claim that it is a convenient (and harmless) label.

 
 


 
Edit:

It may be important to contrast these sentences with sentences where the grammatical ambiguity does make a difference.

  • One morning, I shot an elephant in my pyjamas.  How he got in my pyjamas, I don't know.   --- Groucho Marx

In the context of the joke, "in my pyjamas" modifies the noun "elephant".  In the context of ordinary life, "in my pyjamas" should modify the verb "shot".  The joke works because our ordinary-life expectations of an adverbial prepositional phrase are overturned by the subsequent adjectival interpretation.

Ignoring jokes, this kind of real ambiguity does exist.

  • I threatened the man with a gun.

Without more context, two clear possibilities exist:

  • I used a gun to threaten the man.
  • The man with a gun is the person that I threatened.

Unlike all of the example sentences in this question, the two possible interpretations yield two completely different meanings at the level of the clause.  Here, because it does make a difference, knowing the meaning of the clause does let you determine whether the phrase is adjectival or adverbial. 

We can even use the passive-voice technique to highlight the difference:

  • the man with a gun was threatened / the man was threatened with a gun
2

A preposition phrase headed by a preposition can sometimes be served in a sentence as an adjective or an adverb. Here as OP is concerned about only adjectival prepositional phrase and adverbial prepositional phrase, I will only stick to that.

I will start by analyzing the quoted sentences one by one and will try to identify whether the prepositional phrases are acting like an adjective or an adverb.

Sentence #1 -

The pension plans involve very little risk for employers.

enter image description here

Here the prepositional phrase is - for employee. It modifies the noun risk, and hence can be called as an adjectival prepositional phrase.

Sentence #2 -

A bank creates a reserve for loan losses.

enter image description here

Here the prepositional phrase is - for loan losses. It modifies the noun reserve, and hence can be called as an adjectival prepositional phrase.

Sentence #3 -

How do investors decide on the expected returns they require for individual investments?

enter image description here

Here two prepositional phrases are there. On the expected returns is the complement of the verb decide. And the another prepositional phrase is for individual investments. It is the complement of the verb require of the subordinate clause. They can be termed as adverbial prepositional phrase.

Sentence #4 -

Regulators aim to ensure that financial institutions keep enough capital for the total risks they are taking.

enter image description here

Here the prepositional phrase is for the total risks they are taking, and it is modifying the noun capital. It can be called as adjectival prepositional phrase.

Sentence #5 -

Policyholders can often redeem (surrender) whole life policies early or use the policies as collateral for loans.

enter image description here

Here the prepositional phrase is - for loans. It modifies the noun - collateral- and hence can be called as adjectival prepositional phrase.

Sentence #6 -

Many exchanges on which stocks, options, and futures trade use market makers. Typically an exchange will specify a maximum level for the size of a market maker’s bid-offer spread.

(cont...)

  • Aaaah, scrolling down, I told myself: "This must be MFI". – M.A.R. Apr 14 '15 at 18:14
  • 1
    I want to upvote, but the answer ends halfway through. – DCShannon Apr 15 '15 at 0:49

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