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Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=REgfziJqD14#t=1m48s (at 1 min. 48 sec., just click the link and it will take you to the exact timing automatically)

What is the last thing you ordered takeout?

What part of speech is takeout in this sentence and how does it figure into the rest of the sentence grammatically? I can't really make proper sense of this sentence.

  • Takeout is a noun. Food ordered by phone (or text or email) and picked up at the counter. British "takeaway". Here it is adverbial, "in the manner of takeout". – Tᴚoɯɐuo Nov 16 '14 at 12:43
  • If takeout is a noun, and a dictionary says it is, I guess I can say, "What is the last thing I watched video clip?" – Damkerng T. Nov 16 '14 at 12:47
  • Take-out has a phrasal verb lurking beneath its skin. Video-clip does not. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Nov 16 '14 at 22:57
  • Did Lady Godiva ride her horse side-saddle? (Refuting my own point). – Tᴚoɯɐuo Nov 16 '14 at 23:04
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    I don't know if this is an AmE vs BrE thingie or not, but my AmE ear wants to hear an "as" in there: "What is the last thing you ordered as takeout?", which would be completely unremarkable to me (that is, it would be completely acceptable and grammatical as standard English, imo). -- (Supposedly, "takeaway" is the BrE alternate to the AmE "takeout"; though I'm not so sure that they are completely the same in all senses of meanings.) – F.E. Nov 22 '14 at 23:15
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+150

What is the last thing you ordered takeout?

In this sentence, takeout is a reduced form of the relative clause that is takeout. The relative clause modifies thing.

In its unreduced form, the relative clause is used as follows:

What is the last thing that is takeout you ordered.

You can move the relative clause to the end of the sentence to highlight it:

What is the last thing you ordered that is takeout?

You can reduce the relative clause by removing both that and the verb to be:

Thus:

Whst is the last thing you ordered (that is) takeout?

Which equals:

What is the last thing you ordered takeout?

Note: you can also reduce the relative clause in its original position to get:

What is the last thing (that is) takeout you ordered?

Or:

What is the last thing takeout you ordered?

The above sentence is grammatical, but not necessarily idiomatic.

To get the idiomatic usage, reverse the order of thing and takeout:

What is the last takeout thing you ordered?

Takeout cannot be an adverb. It does not describe in what manner the person ordered.

To show this, we use a word that can only be used as an adjective, spicy and a word that can only be an adverb, abruptly.

As an adjective, the following sentences work in the same manner that the sentences with takeout work:

What is the last thing that is spicy you ordered?

What is the last thing you ordered that is spicy?

What is the last thing you ordered (that is) spicy?

What is the last thing you ordered spicy?

Spicy can only be an adjective, so it cannot modify ordered.

As with takeout, you can also reduce the relative clause in the original position:

What is the last thing spicy you ordered?

Which is equivalent to

What is the last spicy thing you ordered?

As mentioned, spicy is only an adjective, so you canot use it as an adverb. The following two sentences are not acceptable, because in them spicy fails as an adverb:

*What is the last thing you spicy ordered?
*What is the last thing you ordered spicy (adv)?

Now, a word that functions only as an adverb:

Abrubtly can only be used as an adverb.

So, you can have the following, with abruptly as an adverb modifying ordered:

What is the last thing you ordered abruptly?

However, the following does not work, because abruptly can not function as an adjective:

*What is the last thing you ordered that is abruptly?

The following also does not work:

*What is the last thing (that is) abruptly you ordered?

Nor does:

*What is the last abruptly thing you ordered?
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There will be sentences in which the modifier could function either as an adjective or an adverb:

As an adjective:

What is the last soup you ate cold?
What is the last soup you ate that was cold? What is the last soup that was cold you ate?
(What is the last cold soup you ate?)

As an advervb:

What is the last soup you ate cold?

The above can mean either

What is the last soup you ate while you were cold?

Or:

What is the last soup you ate in a cold manner? (cold = indifferently)

(In the above, cold is a dialectal version of standard English coldly.)

In the following, is damaged an adverb or adjective:

What is the last DVD you received damaged?

According to the very first construction, it functions as an adjective:

What is the last DVD you received (that was) damaged?

But it is arguable whether damaged can be an adverb here. In some dialects, it could:

What is the last DVD you received while you were damaged (mentally damaged, for example)?

But

What is the last thing you ordered takeout?

cannot be construed to mean takeout is an adverb.

The following do not work:

*What is the last thing you ordered while you were takeout?

*What is the last thing you ordered in a takeout manner?

We are left with

What is the last thing you ordered takeout?

With takeout functioning as an adjective in a reduced relative clause, in the same manner as:

What is the last thing you ordered to go?

What is the last thing you ordered (that is) to go?

What is the last thing (that is) to go you ordered?

What is the last "to go" thing you ordered?

  • What was the last thing you ordered curry? sound very bad. Whereas what was the last thing you ordered which was curry seems fine. In general this type of relative clause reduction doesn't seem felicitous: I met a man French, I met a man lawyer both seem pretty bad to me ... What was the last thing you ordered in a a takeout manner in contrast seems perfectly acceptable to me ... – Araucaria Nov 26 '14 at 10:51
  • @Araucaria In my idiolect, I can consider 'curry' only as a noun. Therefore, yes, What is the last thing you ordered curry is ungrammatical. Also, to me, curry is a noun in What was the last thing you ordered that was curry. Which is equivalent to What is the last curry you ordered that was curry. Also, if What is the last thing you ordered in a takeout manner is fine for you... What about the following: – user6951 Jan 15 '15 at 12:37
  • @Araucaria (cont) What is the last thing you ordered in an online manner? and What is the last thing you received in a damaged manner? To me, What is the last thing you ordered online, online is not an adverb. Or is it? – user6951 Jan 15 '15 at 12:39
  • It would be a preposition, I reckon. :) – Araucaria Jan 15 '15 at 13:12
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Takeout is used in a strange way here, in a way that you don't hear many other nouns used. This is referring to "takout-style". This sentence is basically asking "What is the last thing you ordered as a takeaway". Please note that (although I can not speak from an American point of view as I am English) I don't think this would be classed as grammatically correct.

Also note that I wouldn't recommend using this sort of structure, even as a native speaker I would probably not use this though that may be because I am not American. Off the top of my head, I can't think of another word that would make sense in the position of takeout.

So like I said, personally I wouldn't even consider this sentence particularly correct I think it is more likely just idiomatic American. If you are looking for the best grammatical explanation though, takeout is an adverb here.

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    I wouldn't want to get bogged down in grammatical/ungrammatical here, but this "ad-hoc adverbial" usage is definitely "non-standard" (as opposed to, say, "What is the last thing you ordered by phone?"). – FumbleFingers Nov 16 '14 at 17:38
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    But it is idiomatic in American English. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Nov 16 '14 at 22:58
  • So, basically I can understand this usage as follows: what is the last thing you ordered "in the takeout manner". Does that sound to you guys like a possible understanding? – Michael Rybkin Nov 17 '14 at 2:29
  • @CookieMonster That is definitely a correct understanding! – Harvey Nov 17 '14 at 7:55
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    Just dawned on me. Could this be something along the lines of "what is the last thing you ordered online?"? – Michael Rybkin Nov 17 '14 at 15:04
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What is the last thing you ordered takeout?

The Oxford English Dictionary dives the following description for the adjective take-out:

    1. Of, pertaining to, or characterized by the sale of prepared food for consumption elsewhere. Cf. take-away n. 2 orig. U.S.

It is generally not a good idea to look in dictionaries for parts of speech. However, we can see that take-out is definitely used to modify nouns - especially nouns indicating types of food or drink:

  • I ordered a take-out sandwich.
  • Take-out food is not good for your health, but it's good for your free time.

It's possible that take-out is an adjective here, but it also looks like a noun. However, notice that usually if we have a noun which modifies another noun, it must come directly before the noun:

  • A phone box.
  • A credit card.

We cannot use these nouns as predicative complements, complements which tell us about the subject. For example:

  • *That box was phone. (wrong)
  • *Was that card credit? (wrong)

However, we can do this with the word take-out:

  • That curry was take-out.
  • Is that eat-in or take-out?

So, in fact, it seems take-out is an adjectie, not a noun according to this data.

In the sentence:

  • What is the last thing you ordered takeout?

... the word take-out is a complement of the verb ORDER. The verb ORDER can take two complements. The first complement is the direct object. In the sentences below, the direct objects are the coffee and the bread:

  • I ordered the coffee hot.
  • I ordered the bread in slices.

In these sentences, the verb ORDER has a second complement - a predicative complement. This complement describes the direct object. The predicative complements are hot and in slices. The adjective hot describes the coffee. The phrase in slices describes the bread.

In the Original Poster's example, the predicative complement, the adjective (-or perhaps noun) take-out, describes the thing you bought. It occurs in the relative clause:

  • [you bought ____ take-out]

The direct object in that clause is a gap. It's antecedent is the word thing. We understand the noun phrase like this:

  • thing [you bought (it) take-out].

So we understand take-out as describing the thing that you bought.

Hope this is helpful!

Oxford English Dictionary Reference

"ˈtake-out, adj. and n." OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2014. Web. 25 November 2014.

  • Nice answer! I think you nailed the crux of the problem nicely. Two minor things I'd like to note: a) I avoided saying that take-out is an adjective because most dictionaries usually define these adj.-n. as adj. explicitly. I couldn't find any ref. saying that. (It looks like an adjective; I was told it's adj. And finally you found it in OED. Nice!); b) The reader might apply the test in this answer and come up with "What's the last dish you ordered seafood?" because "That dish was seafood" is grammatical. It's a small thing that I don't have any good explanation yet. Great answer, anyway. – Damkerng T. Nov 25 '14 at 13:54
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    @DamkerngT. Nice point. I think the difference is that seafood in that dish is seafood is a specifying use of BE where as in that curry was takeout the likely reading is ascriptive. So the ascriptive use gives us a quality of the food. The specifying tells us what it actually was. Same difference between, it was meat and it was tasty - I think ;) – Araucaria Nov 25 '14 at 15:31
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    "We cannot use these nouns as predicative complements, complements which tell us about the subject." <== Consider: "That curry was dinner/takeout". (Also, CGEL pg. 409, [19.i] Henry became treasurer.) I glanced at one cheap dictionary, and it only has "takeout" as a noun; its two examples are "let’s just order takeout", "takeout pizza". -- It had seemed, when I had looked at this OP's question before, that at first blush that considering only a noun "takeout" might be okay. I haven't had any coffee yet, so I don't know if you've yet provided definite proof for need of an adjective. :) – F.E. Nov 25 '14 at 18:17
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    Yes, I too had thought that one strong possibility was that "takeout" might be a PC in the OP's example (though as a noun PC). As your examples with the gap are showing, the verb "bought" can take one or two complements ("You bought takeout", "You bought steak", "You bought steak as takeout"), where "as" is the marker for an oblique PC. In the OP's example, the "as" might be obligatory (according to my ear) to indicate that there is a direct object gap; though, I'm not completely sure if my reasoning is correct here since there are some similar types of fronting that don't require it. :) – F.E. Nov 25 '14 at 18:30
  • Actually, I'm now thinking that a non-fronted version without "as" might actually be using the first noun as a modifier for the second noun. E.g. "You bought [steak takeout]" is a kind of takeout, which would be similar in structure as "takeout pizza" (which is a single NP). – F.E. Nov 25 '14 at 18:39
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As some others have noted, this is a bit of a strange phrase.

It means: "What was the type of food that you have most recently purchased takeout-style?" Takeout is a term for when you order food from a restaurant but do not eat it there. Another term for this is carryout or "to go". For example, if you were ordering something you might be asked, "Is this for here or to go?"

Grammatically, in this sentence:

What is the last thing you ordered takeout?

"takeout" is an adjective which modifies "thing". I think this is referred to as a predicate adjective.

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Most of the natives opine that this is a bit of strange usage of the noun takeout. Looking at the structure, even I too find it out of the general use of the word. However, I'm not a native speaker, but can find appropriate references that help understand that phrase.

takeout (n) - Prepared food that is intended to be eaten off of the premises

The synonym described is takeout food.

Said this, the closest way we can interpret this sentence

what is the last thing you ordered takeout?

...is the speaker is asking about the last takeout food the listener has ordered.

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