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I'd like to learn what the part "for the preservation of food" modifies in the following sentence, the noun "heat" or the whole phrase "the value of heat" .

  • The value of heat for the preservation of food has been known for a long time.

What do you think?

I think "for the preservation of food" refers to the whole phrase "the value of heat".

"What value of heat?" "The value of heat for the preservation of food".

Do you agree with me on it? Thank you

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  • Where did you find the sentence? May 20, 2021 at 13:16
  • In a private English course. But why?
    – Jawel7
    May 20, 2021 at 13:18
  • Not very sure but of the top of my head it does look like it's a part of Verb Phrase. I mean for the preservation of food. Something is known for something else. Example: Mr A is known for his role in tutoring the kids. Or He was known for tutoring the kids. May 20, 2021 at 13:34
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    You are mistaken. for the preservation of food is a (syntactically optional) "adjective of purpose" element modifying the specific noun heat. I don't know why you would think that adjectival phrase could apply to the entire noun phrase the value of heat (which is a credible noun to serve as the "object" of knowing [something], but the value of something can't meaningfully be modified by an adjective telling us what that specific "value" is actually for). May 20, 2021 at 13:41
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    Jewel, in that link I didn't find any answer yet. It is his own thinking. Well I too agree with @FumbleFingers May 20, 2021 at 15:01

3 Answers 3

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It's ambiguous.

The value of heat for the preservation of food has been known for a long time.

One reading is that the kind of heat we are talking about is food-preservation heat. Then [heat for the preservation of food] is a phrase.

Imagine this expanded into a dialogue:

  • The value of heat has been known for a long time.
  • What kind of heat?
  • Heat for the preservation of food.

The other reading is that we are talking about what heat-in-general is valuable for: the value [of heat] [for the preservation of food]. Expanded as follows:

  • The value of heat has been known for a long time.
  • Its value for what?
  • Its value for the preservation of food.

Without any context I would guess the second reading is more likely.

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The 'value' being spoken of here is not just the value of 'heat', but specifically its use for the preservation of food.

If you asked simply "what is the value of heat?", it could refer to the cost of generating heat, ie the price of fossil fuels. In your example, it is not talking about monetary value at all. A secondary meaning of 'value' is "the importance or worth of something for someone". So, heat is important in the process of food preservation.

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Penicillin's value for the treatment of infection ...

Can be restated:

The value of penicillin for the treatment of infection...

The noun value is modified by the prepositional phrase, for the treatment of infection, identifying the context for the value. It is not value "as a long term investment", say, or "for stopping squeaks in machinery" or any other kind of value.

The periphrastic genitive and genitive construction (of penicillin, penicillin's) indicate the thing that possesses the value, penicillin.

Compare:

Tom's trick for making light and fluffy scrambled eggs is to beat air bubbles into the eggs and to cook them quickly over fairly high heat.

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