Note: This question has been cross posted to linguistics.se at Сoncept of an attribute used by Russian grammarians.
How to find attributes in these sentences,and not to confuse them with other members of the sentence?
- It was such a cruel thing (what kind of?) to have happened to that gentle, helpless creature.
To have happened to that gentle, helpless creature - an attribute?
- Dumb with amazement, I slumped into (whose?) my chair.
My - a simple attribute expressed by a possesive pronun(my)?
- The best thing for you to do is to leave at once.
For you to do – a complex attribute expressed by a for-to-infinitive construction?
- The fence (what kind of?) surrounding the garden is newly painted.
Surrounding the garden - a phrasal attribute expressed by a participial phrase?
Did I miss any attributes,or choose the wrong ones???
And what member of the sentence is "newly" in the last sentence??
The attribute is a secondary part of the sentence which characterizes the referent of its headword (the modified word) qualitatively, quantitatively or situationally. The most characteristic feature of the attribute is that it always refers to a noun or its substitute (a noun-pronoun or substantivised element).
Depending upon the degree of the closeness of the connection between attributes and their headwords the former are either non-detached (close) or detached (loose).
Non-detached attributes form one sense group with their headwords and are not set off from them by commas: A little smile of amusement came to Sir Arthur's lips. (Christie) The connection between detached attributes and their headwords is very loose.
Detached attributes form separate sense groups and are set off from them by commas, sometimes by dashes: Blind and almost senseless, he still heard the sharp slam of the door. (Cronin)
From the point of view of their structure almost all parts of the sentence are traditionally divided into simple and complex. But Prof. N.A.Kobrina and other authors of 'An English Grammar. Syntax' (M.,1986) divide them into simple, phrasal, complex and clausal.
THE SIMPLE ATTRIBUTE The simple attribute is expressed by:
a) in the common case (always in pre-position): The village water supply was two streets down the road. (Hemingway)
b) in the possessive (genitive) case (always in pre-position): John is Peter's brother (Longman).
a) most often in pre-position: I am a strange old man. (Hemingway)
b) more rarely in postposition: But they were in a past so very distant. (Bragg)
3. Pronouns: a) adjective-pronouns (in pre-position): We've made some money. (Hemingway) His voice rose to a shriek. (Maugham)
b) noun-pronouns in the possessive (genitive) case: One should wash one's hair regularly. (Longman)
4. Statives: (very rarely) a) in pre-position: It’s nice to be such an aware person. (Longman)
b) in post-position: But it was a woman asleep. (Fowles)
5. Numerals: a) cardinal: I’ve invited one or two friends round this evening. (Longman)
b) ordinal: A second month passed... (Maugham).
6. Adverbs: in postposition: But you only made up your mind to go the day before, hence it was necessary to warn her. (Christie) Note: Some adverbs can be used in pre-position: The above photo, the then president (R.Quirk), but they are felt to be adjectivised to a certain extent.
7. Infinitives: always in post position: But Polly had no wish to travel. (Capote)
8. Gerunds: in pre-position: Her eyes rested on the writing table. (Woolf)
9. Participles: both I and II : a) in pre-position: Red Rocks is a struggling little place. (Wain) 'I have only one offering to give', he said, 'a broken heart'. (Voynich)
b) in post-position: There's a fine moon coming up. (Glasgow) Things seen are mightier than things heard. (Proverb)
lO. So-called nonce-words: It was an easy go-as-you-please existence. (Prichard)
Note: One should bear in mind that sometimes the function of a sentence part can be treated in a twofold way: as an attribute and as a prepositional object, for instance according to Prof. Barkhudarov L., “of the bridge” in the phrase 'the construction of the bridge' can be treated in both these ways. In the sentence 'There was no possibility of taking a walk that way', the gerundial phrase 'of taking' is commonly regarded as a prepositional object (see their 'English Grammar', M., 1964-p.273).
THE COMPLEX ATTRIBUTE
Like any other complex part of the sentence the complex attribute is expressed by predicative constructions with verbals (verbids), namely by:
l. For-to-Infinitive construction (for-complex): There is no need for us to argue about this. (Longman)
Note: Sometimes the function of the for-complex is ambiguous: it can be treated either as a complex attribute or as a complex adverbial of purpose:
He spread a rug for his wife to sit on. (Galsworthy), in which the for-complex may be treated in a twofold way: “He spread a rug on which his wife could sit” - complex attribute or 'He spread a rug so that his wife could sit on it'- a complex adverbial of purpose.
2. (Half)-gerundial constructions (always with a preposition): Dorin was wakened by the second of her husband’s splashing in the bathhouse. (Maugham) All along I have realized the significance of that pistol being removed from the scene of the crime. (Christie)
3. (Absolute) Participial constructions (with the preposition “with”): It was a large detached room, well-ventilated, with afire burning at one end.(Cronin) A wide river, with naked children splashing in the shallow, glided into sight and was gone again. (Mansfield)
4. Absolute (prepositional) constructions (with the preposition “with”):
There were several bird-cages, with birds in them, ranged against the wall. (Greenwood)
He ... gave up wine and cigars, drank a special kind of coffee with no coffee in it. (Galsworthy)
Absolute prepositional constructions are always detached.