Hermione Granger was almost as nervous about flying as Neville was. This was something you couldn't learn by heart out of a book -- not that she hadn't tried. At breakfast on Thursday she bored them all stupid with flying tips she'd gotten out of a library book called Quidditch Through the Ages. Neville was hanging on to her every word, desperate for anything that might help him hang on to his broomstick later, but everybody else was very pleased when Hermione's lecture was interrupted by the arrival of the mail. (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

From both sides of the valley little streams slipped out of the hill canyons and fell into the bed of the Salinas River. In the winter of wet years the streams ran full-freshet, and they swelled the river until sometimes it raged and boiled, bank full, and then it was a destroyer. The river tore the edges of the farm lands and washed whole acres down; it toppled barns and houses into itself, to go floating and bobbing away. It trapped cows and pigs and sheep and drowned them in its muddy brown water and carried them to the sea. . . . . . . On the wide level acres of the valley the topsoil lay deep and fertile. It required only a rich winter of rain to make it break forth in grass and flowers. The spring flowers in a wet year were unbelievable. (John Steinbeck, East of Eden)

I come across adjectives that express result now and then as in the case – bored them all stupid. But I’m not sure that the to-infinitive phrase and prepositional phrase also express the result of the previous action, having the objects as their semantic subjects. Are all the highlighted parts those expressing the resultative meaning?

1 Answer 1


Resultative is a nice waffle word which adequately describes the meaning without tying you down to any very rigorous syntactic analysis.

  1. I haven’t got far enough in McCawley to know how this particular use of the infinitive clause is analyzed. As a writer I can tell you fairly precisely what Steinbeck is doing. He is adding what amounts to an independent clause (roughly, “and they went floating and bobbing away”); but on the one hand he does not want to cast this in the past tense, where it would interrupt his account of the river's action (tore ... washed ... toppled ... trapped ... drowned ... carried), and on the other hand he does not want imply that the houses' floating and bobbing was the river's purpose, which might be suggested by such constructions as so they went floating ... or to send them floating ... He settles on the infinitive adjunct, which provides him a syntactically subordinating form—and not incidentally is about the ‘lightest’ (shortest) construction available.

  2. Traditional grammar would treat in grass and flowers as an adverbial PP modifying break. I’m not sure; I think I’d be happier treating break forth in as a three-place phrasal verb of which grass and flowers is some sort of predicative (and, as you say, resultative) complement. Every ‘explosive’ term I can think of entertains this sort of complement:

    The French at Rick's break into the Marseillaise.
    The night skies burst forth in fireworks.
    My boss exploded in rage.
    The arsenal blew up in a hailstorm of smoke and shrapnel.
    When she was 13 her face erupted in acne.

Both of these uses are distinct from that in bored them stupid; stupid is an unambiguous modifier on them, while to go ... is a clause of which houses is the subject, and grass and flowers is a noun phrase representing ... what? A feature added to the topsoil is the closest I can come. Certainly not a ‘modifier’ of topsoil in the ordinary sense, but just as certainly attributable to it, belonging to it.

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    Wouldn't it be simpler to say that bore them all stupid is just a (somewhat colloquial) manifestation of the same grammatical principle involved in wipe the table clean? And that OP's other two highlighted phrases aren't particularly related to either that or to each other? Commented May 27, 2013 at 14:06
  • I’ve found the adverbial use of ‘stupid’ meaning ‘extremely.’ en.wiktionary.org/wiki/stupid So it seems like having the same meaning with ‘bore stiff’ thefreedictionary.com/stiff
    – Listenever
    Commented May 27, 2013 at 14:17
  • @StoneyB, I’m going to start reading his book from next month. It was not easy to decide to do so, for I’d like to just read my favorites. But without being helped by those kinds of books and these volunteer teachers like you, it is not easy to find out exact or deeper meanings. In fact. if professor Lawler and you weren’t here, I wouldn’t have any chance to read the book.
    – Listenever
    Commented May 27, 2013 at 14:45
  • @Listenever It's tough. Very good writing, and full of meat, but a hard read. I got four chapters in and decided I had to go all the way back to the beginning. Commented May 27, 2013 at 14:47
  • @FumbleFingers I agree about the stupid construction (which I think OP recognizes, too) and about the to go clause; but I the grass and flowers is syntactically related to the stupid construction. Commented May 27, 2013 at 14:58

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