PPs create lot of ambiguity in sentences especially at the end of sentences. In a structures like VERB+NOUN+PPs there are two interpretations. One is that PPs are adverbial modifying the VERB, another is that PPs are adjectives modifying the NOUN, making it specific or modifying it.
But so many times I find it is very hard to distinguish the differences between them.


  • I received a letter from Mary.
  • Elon Musk has a lot of fans / a lot of fun in China.
  • There are some books on the table.
  • I heard some information from Teddy.

All those of sentences could either be interpreted as adjective or adverbial, and all make sense.

  • 3
    I see adverbials of ownership, location, location in the examples. Location. Commented Jul 11 at 1:42
  • Where is the ambiguity in something like "There are some books on the table"? As a native speaker that is totally unambiguous.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jul 11 at 7:58
  • You mean "Few people on the Web raise the question". (If few don't, it means that a lot of people do!) Commented Jul 11 at 8:41
  • I think the Elon Musk sentence is about fans rather than "funs", which is ungrammatical, but it could be "fun".
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 11 at 9:17
  • It's clearly a typo, but for what? My first thought was funds. Commented Jul 11 at 10:51

2 Answers 2


[1] I received a letter [from Mary].

[2] Elon Musk has a lot of fans / a lot of fun [in China].

[3] There are some books [on the table].

[4] I heard some information [from Teddy].

Only the PP "in China" in [2] is an adjunct (adverbial) in clause structure.

The others are all complements:

In [1] "from Mary" is complement of "received".

In [3] "on the table" is a locative complement of "are" in an extended existential construction.

In [4] "From Teddy" is a complement of "heard".


All four examples have their preposition phrases used adverbially, as commented.

We can move the preposition phrases and still get meaningful sentences. If these were adjectival, they would need to be close to their modificands.

  • Not sure that I agree entirely with this. What's wrong with letter from Mary? It was Mary's letter that I received. Commented Jul 11 at 10:54
  • A prepositional phrase is normally adverbial, and that would be the default assumption for native speakers, so these sentences are quite ordinary. Otherwise it's often indicated by tone/stress, punctuation, etc, as well as word order - if it's important that we know it's not adverbial. But context also helps a lot.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jul 11 at 11:21
  • Thanks, @Peter Kirkpatrick and Stuart F. I’ve simplified my answer. Commented Jul 11 at 13:53
  • The sentence "A letter from Mary arrived in the mail" shows that "a letter from Mary" is a perfectly fine NP.
    – alphabet
    Commented Jul 11 at 16:52
  • Thanks, @alphabet. I have edited my answer. Commented Jul 12 at 9:45

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