I know my title is a bad one, and I can't figure another one.
I have a question. This sentence:

  • He sends another letter to Romeo explaining the situation.

Here he uses "explaining" not "to explain", I wonder why? I think there's a grammar like this: send something to somebody+v-ing. I have looked up the word "send", but I still can't find the answer.

Thank you for your help.


4 Answers 4


[1] He sends another letter to Romeo explaining the situation.

I'd say that in [1] the gerund-participial clause "explaining the situation" is modifying "letter".

Such non-finite clauses are semantically similar to relative clauses: compare "He sends another letter to Romeo which explains the situation", where the relative clause is postposed, just as the gerund-participial is in [1].

[2] He sends another letter to Romeo to explain the situation.

The meaning and grammar in [2] are different from those in [1]. Here, the infinitival clause is not a modifier of "letter", but a purpose adjunct in clause structure.

  • How would you parse "He wrote to Romeo explaining the situation"?
    – Henry
    Nov 20, 2021 at 14:29
  • @Henry Yes, I've just seen that you've beaten me to this query. I believe it points to a different possible parsing in the original also (though I'd say a less likely one). Nov 20, 2021 at 14:48
  • @Henry The PP "to Romeo" is complement of "wrote", and the participial clause "explaining the situation" is an adjunct in clause structure, though I’m not sure how to describe the subtype of adjunct that it is.
    – BillJ
    Nov 20, 2021 at 15:43
  • @Tuffy What you say has nothing to do with parsing, which is about syntactic analysis.
    – BillJ
    Nov 20, 2021 at 16:06
  • 1
    In order to modify the VP, the participial clause would have to be an adjunct in clause structure, not a modifier in NP structure. That seems a less plausible analysis.
    – BillJ
    Nov 21, 2021 at 10:39

The gerund-participial (-ing clause) modifies letter. In its default position, the noun phrase would be,

a letter explaining the situation

The modifier explaining the situation has been post-posed (moved to the end of the clause), probably for emphasis. Equally grammatical would be,

He sends another letter explaining the situation to Romeo.

Often the relative weight (length and complexity) of the elements makes this more or less likely to happen. When the clause is particularly long or there is potential ambiguity, it's almost required.

?He sends another letter explaining that the situation has worsened significantly since the last time they spoke to Romeo.

He sends another letter to Romeo explaining that the situation has worsened significantly since the last time they spoke.

Examples are not very easy to find, but do exist.

'If they say they want to oppose you,' declared Mr. Cousins, 'don't send another letter to us asking us to send £ 600 to wage a campaign against us' (British Parliament; House of Commons; Mr Kenneth Lewis; 17 July 1967)

President Roosevelt sent another message to Congress recommending that sugar be made a basic commodity, proposing definite quotas for the various sources of U. S. sugar supply.(Time; 20,000,000$ Fine; 1934/02/19)

It is expected that he will send another message to Congress embodying the latest facts in a day or two. (New York Times: (Features): 18920128)

The difference between the gerund-participial and to-infinitival would likely be that of the content of the letter as opposed to the purpose in sending it. The last example above makes this clear.

another message embodying the facts = the message embodies the facts

There is no possibility of replacing the gerund-participial with a to-infinitival here.

*It is expected that he will send another message to Congress to embody the latest facts in a day or two.

  • 1
    In 'He writes again to Romeo explaining the situation' the ing-clause has no NP to modify, and must modify the main clause. Isn't this an alternative reading of 'He sends another letter to Romeo explaining the situation' (though some might want a comma after Romeo)? Nov 20, 2021 at 14:44
  • @EdwinAshworth In the action of writing it is possible to explain, but in the action of sending? He sends to Romeo(,) explaining the situation seems to be lacking something.
    – DW256
    Nov 21, 2021 at 6:00
  • Yes, but 'He visits Romeo, explaining the situation' shows that the semantic association between main clause and participial clause can be fairly loose. Nov 21, 2021 at 17:47
  • @EdwinAshworth Of course, gerund-participials can function as adjuncts in clause structure, that's pretty uncontroversial. It's just that in this case, the salient interpretation is that it is a dependent of letter. If we negate the clause, it's particularly apparent He does not send another letter to Romeo explaining the situation. Yes, I do see that if a comma were inserted, we might understand that the fact that he sent (didn't send) another letter to Romeo explains some situation. It just seems an unlikely reading in this case.
    – DW256
    Nov 22, 2021 at 2:24
  • It's equally uncontroversial that they can modify NPs. And yes, I agree that this is the default reading. But a full answer would include all of this. Nov 22, 2021 at 10:19

It is not really related to send. "This is a self-referential sentence giving another example."

The -ing participle version describes what the letter does while the to infinitive version describes what it is designed to do. There will be cases where either works and it even is possible to have both. Perhaps

Capulet sent another letter to Romeo to explain the latest dispute between the families, revealing that Juliet is very young.


He sends another letter to Romeo explaining the situation.

In this sentence, "explaining" is a present participle. I'd say that it modifies either "another letter to Romeo" (if you think that "to Romeo" modifies "letter") or otherwise simply "another letter". Some people might instead say that it modifies the verb "sends".

He sends another letter to Romeo to explain the situation.

In this sentence, "to explain" is a full infinitive. I think that most people would agree that "sends" is its parent and that it means "in order to explain". That meaning was not necessarily present in the first sentence.

  • "Another" is a determiner, external to the nominal "letter to Romeo", and thus not part of the element modified by the participial clause. The PP "to Romeo" is a complement in, and thus part of, the nominal so the participial clause is modifying "letter to Romeo".
    – BillJ
    Nov 21, 2021 at 10:29
  • @BillJ Yes that's one interpretation, but I was also thinking of the case in which the prepositional phrase "to Romeo" functioned adverbially, modifying "sends". (Where does he send another letter? To Romeo.) In that case, it wouldn't be part of the nominal. The word order would be a bit unusual (more common would be "He sends another letter explaining the situation to Romeo.") but not necessarily wrong, especially if "explaining the situation" were also considered adverbial. Nov 21, 2021 at 14:12
  • I know what you mean. But it can be compared to the ditransitive “He sends Romeo another letter”, where “Romeo” is undoubtedly indirect object, i.e. a core complement of "send". “He sends another letter to Romeo” is monotransitive, and although a recipient (“Romeo”) is inherently involved in the semantics of “send”, the preposition “to” can be regarded as identifying the NP that has this role, meaning that the PP “to Romeo” is a non-core complement.
    – BillJ
    Nov 21, 2021 at 18:07
  • @BillJ I'm not quite sure whether you're disagreeing with me. When you say "this role", which role do you mean? It probably doesn't help that I don't distinguish between "core" and "non-core" complements, so I don't understand what difference that makes. I still think that the sentence can be interpreted in multiple ways. Nov 22, 2021 at 14:48
  • I am disagreeing with you that the PP “to Romeo” could be an adjunct (your adverbial). “Send” selects (licenses) the preposition “to”, and hence the PP “to Romeo” is a complement where the role of “Romeo” may be described as goal or, more specifically, recipient. Note that the admissibility of a complement depends on the predicator belonging to a particular subclass of verbs; this is known as ‘licensing’. This may also be of help: link
    – BillJ
    Nov 22, 2021 at 18:21

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