I am having a difficult time identifying whether the prepositional phrase in the following sentence is acting as an adverb or an adjective. Here is the sentence:

Did they really buy all the guys tickets for the birthday party?

It seems to me that the prepositional phrase "for the birthday party" is functioning as an adjective, as it is describing the tickets. Which tickets? The tickets for the birthday party. However, my grammar book—which contains this sentence as an example—states that the phrase is modifying "buy."

Is this because the prepositional phrase is adding more context to why the subject bought the tickets?

3 Answers 3


Either interpretation is possible.

If "for the birthday party" describes the purpose of the purchase ("adding more context to why the subject bought the tickets", as you say), then that phrase functions adverbially. For example: The tickets provide admission to a funeral, but the guys are supposed to cut them into small pieces to use as confetti at the birthday party. (Yes, this is a strange example, but then again, one normally wouldn't need tickets at all for a birthday party!)

If "for the birthday party" is instead "describing the tickets" (as you say), then that phrase functions adjectivally. For example: They meant to buy tickets for a funeral but made a mistake and accidentally bought tickets that granted admission to the birthday party instead.

This is sometimes called "attachment ambiguity", and ELL has a tag dedicated to it (which I've added to this question).


Normally, you don't need tickets to enter or participate in a birthday party. But you might buy tickets to get into a place where a you might hold a celebration. You might also buy tickets for some unrelated event so that you can distribute them as gifts at the party.

So they aren't tickets for the birthday party itself. Instead, they are tickets purchased for the sake of the birthday party.


It is a prepositional phrase, and not an adjective or adverb. But I understand you question to mean, "what does this prepositional phrase modify or complement?"

It seems clear that "for the birthday party" is giving the reason for buying, and so this should be seen as adverbial.

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