It is possible, as we all know, to say those sentences below.

It was given to me by a kind woman.

I walked on the top of the building with my friend under a moon light.

One common point between those sentences is that the prepositional phrases are not connected by a conjunction.

It feels and sounds natural to me to hear and write those sentences, but when I apply my logic to it, it always feels that there should be a conjunction between those prepositional phrases as below.

It was given to me (and) by a kind woman. = It was given to me and given by a kind woman.

I walked on the top of the building (and) with my friend (and) under a moon light. = I walked on the top of the building and walked with my friend and walked under a moon light.

It seems that all those connected prepositional phrases are the product of coordinate ellipsis: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coordination_(linguistics)

So why isn't the conjunction used? Is certain grammar rule applied to it?

  • 3
    I think the onus is on you to explain why a conjunction is needed. You appeal to your logic, but your logic is not directly accessible to us, at least not to me: you’d need to explain it better. I would use a conjunction only to emphasise something surprising: “It was given to me, and by that stingy woman (no less).”
    – Jacinto
    Sep 20, 2015 at 22:52
  • I thought I explained it quite expressively. Also, another point I will make here: I agree that "and" sounds superfluous when used in the sentence I provided above -- but my logic can stretch out only so far, which leaves me no choice but to ask this question to someone.
    – newcomer
    Sep 20, 2015 at 23:05
  • I've been thinking about your question. And if it is about logic, then I think it was given to me and was given by a kind woman does not imply that the woman gave it to me. Other possibilities are: after it was given to me by someone else, I sold it to the kind woman, and then she gave it to X; or she gave it to Y, and Y gave it to me. You see, the original sentence, with no "ands", does not suffer from those ambiguities.
    – Jacinto
    Sep 21, 2015 at 20:58

2 Answers 2

  • (original) It was given to me by a kind woman. (passive voice—using "by" makes it passive.)

  • A kind woman gave it to me. (same thought, but transformed to active voice)

The active voice phrasing has only one prepositional phrase ("to me".) The preposition "to" indicates the indirect object "me"; the direct object "it"needs no preposition.

I hope you can see that there is no logical need for (nor even a possibility of) a conjunction in the active voice construction, so there is likewise no logical need for a conjunction in the original construction.

Your example of the moonlight walk on top of the building uses a longer series of prepositional phrases.

Let's take a different example to see how this works:

  • the keyhole of the lock in the door by the gate of the city...

The prepositional phrases attach consecutively, each preposition applying at its own level to link one noun logically to the next.

One can continue this indefinitely.

The A [of the B [in the C [by the D [of the E]]]]...

There is no need for a conjunction, because each noun has only one relation to the next one, which is fully specified by that preposition.

You might think of this as a stack, or a nest. The reader parses the multiple prepositional phrases by "unstacking" or "unwrapping" as indicated by the brackets, like evaluating a mathematical expression with parentheses. The nesting itself defines the relationships of the elements. Thus:

  • the keyhole is of the lock, which is in the door, which is by the gate, which is of the city.

That's it. As we say... "No Ifs, Ands or buts about it!" http://www.thesaurus.com/browse/no+ifs+ands+or+buts+about+it

Or more accurately: No Ands or Ors. No conjunction needed. None possible. None "elided".

+++++++++ oh, by the way, it's more idiomatic to say "under the moonlight" or "by the light of the moon"


If you want to link a simple noun or a noun phrase to a clause, you use a preposition. If you want to link a clause (something that contains a verb) you use a conjunction. Look that the second parts of the two sentences:

a kind woman.

my friend under a moon light

They do not contain a verb, so you use a preposition, not a conjunction.

Note that English can be confusing because many words can be both a preposition and a conjunction:

Wash your hands before dinner (preposition + noun)

Wash your hands before you eat (conjunction + clause)

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