Revised 12/26/04
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The Frog Prince -
Greeting the Frog
by
Walter Crane
Sliding Parts of Speech

     One of the reasons for allowing alternative explanations is that grammatical constructions often slide from one part of speech, or one grammatical category, into another. Whereas alternative explanations imply differences in the way people may perceive grammatical constructions, "sliding" implies slippage from one grammatical category to another within the language itself. A major problem, not only of traditional grammars, but also of many modern linguistic grammars, is that they view grammatical categories as thick-walled boxes and assume that a grammatical construction "belongs" in one such box. But the more one studies the structure of actual sentences, the more one will get a sense that constructions literally slide from one category into another. 

Adjective or Adverb?

     Consider the sentence "His tears fell hot and fast." Some people will argue that "hot" and "fast" are adverbs that modify "fell." Other people, however, will counter that "hot" and "fast" are adjectives that modify, either as predicate adjectives or as post-positioned adjectives, "tears." Both explanations are logical, so, instead of considering "hot" and "fast" as either adjectives or as adverbs, why can't we say that they are both?

Adverbs that Function as Adjectives?

     Consider function of the "as" clause in the following sentence from Ouida's The Dog of Flanders:

His owner sauntered on without noticing him otherwise than by the crack of the whip as it curled round his quivering loins.
An "as" clause is almost universally considered to be adverbial, but if we ask what this clause modifies, we have a dilemma. We could say that it modifies the gerund "noticing," but in terms of meaning, it makes much more sense to take it to the noun "crack," especially since the normal noun "crack" is here equivalent to the gerund "cracking." Thus, in some cases, it makes more sense to say that an adverb can modify a noun and thus function as adjectives do.

Adverbs / Ellipsed Prepositional Phrases / Ellipsed Clauses?

     In a sentence such as "She did this before," some grammarians consider "before" an adverb, but if we ask the perfectly reasonable question, "Before what?" we see that there is, if the sentence has meaning, an implied answer, an answer that would function as the object of "before" as a preposition, or, depending on context, as a subordinate clause:

She did this {before today}.
She did this [before Bill arrived.]
Traditional grammar focussed on categorizing words, not sentences. Even less did it consider how the structure within one sentence may depend on the context established by preceding sentences. Note how, in the following passage from a student's paper, "underneath," in the second sentence, gets its object, and thus its meaning, from the preceding sentence:
But the most vivid impression left on me this summer by this theater came not from the stage; instead, it came from the rooms underneath the theater. In this world underneath existed an atmosphere of mystery which made me feel as if I was exploring an old dungeon in a decaying castle.

Finite Verb, or Gerundive?

     Perhaps the best example of literal "sliding" may be that from a participle as part of a finite verb phrase to the participle that functions as a gerundive. Consider the following sentence:

The king was counting out his money in his counting house.
Most grammarians would consider "was counting" as the finite verb phrase. But look at the sentence as it appears in "Sing a Song of Sixpence":
The king was in his counting house counting out his money.
In a sense, we could say that the prepositional phrase "in his counting house" has slid between the two parts of the finite verb phrase. Is "was counting " still the finite verb, or has it become a gerundive? On this, grammarians will almost certainly disagree. But then what happens if we slide the end of the sentence to the beginning:
Counting out his money, the king was in his counting house.
Most grammarians and linguists do not like the KISS "gerundive," but they would almost all consider the "Counting" phrase as a participle that functions as a verbal adjective, i.e., a KISS gerundive. Not a word in the sentence has changed, but we sure have what looks like a clear slide from "counting" being part of the finite verb phrase to its being a gerundive.

Passive Verb, Gerundive, or Simple Adjective?

     Consider the following sentences:

1.) The eggs were scrambled.
2.) Eggs scrambled by his mother were just right.
3.) Paul likes scrambled eggs.
Different grammatical theories have different ways of explaining "scrambled," and the discussions can become very complex. KISS follows traditional grammar in (1), considering "were scrambled" as a passive finite verb. In (2), however, "scrambled" is usually considered a gerundive (the traditional "participle"). But what is "scrambled" in (3)?
     Although many grammarians would consider it to be a gerundive, I suggest that it might be considered as a simple adjective. The question, I suggest, depends on how one learns the word. Paul, like many other people, may never have seen eggs scrambled, or, even if he did, the meaning of the word may be more tied, in his head, to the texture etc. of the resulting eggs. In his head, the word may primarily be registered as a simple adjective, comparable to "cold," "warm," or "fresh" eggs.
     Depending on the context, the speaker, etc., the verbal meaning of a participle (the action) slides into the adjectival (the qualitative). A "well-done steak" is not a steak that has been done well; it is a steak, at least for many of us, that has been cooked such that the middle is not pink. When we speak of a "dilapidated house," we are not usually interested in the process that led to its dilapidation. The origin of the word may be in the verb, but most of us who might use "dilapidated" have probably never used "dilapidate" as a verb. 
     A similar "problem" occurs with present active participles. Paul Roberts, in one of his books, devotes half a page to the problem of whether "moving" in "moving van" is a participle or a regular adjective. His problem, in this case, is that he was working in the context of a structural grammar which attempts to describe English syntax without references to what words mean. In the KISS Approach, which depends on meaning, the distinction is simpler. In "The moving van hit the pedestrian." "moving" would be a gerundive if the speaker/writer meant that the van was in motion; if, on the other hand, the speaker used "moving" to define the type of van, "moving" would be a regular adjective.
     Some students prefer to analyze "The eggs were scrambled." as an S / V / PA pattern. When they do so, I state that it is an interesting, logical interpretation, and that some grammarians do consider it this way. However I push students toward recognizing it as a passive finite verb phrase so that they will be able to discuss passive verbs.

Gerundive? or a Gerund in a Noun Absolute Functioning as a Noun?

     You may have already read the basic KISS explanation of noun absolutes. Traditional grammar books give little attention to the noun absolute used as a noun, so I would like to explore the construction more here. Please remember that the noun absolute is a Level Five KISS construction. Please don't confuse students by explaining noun absolutes when they are working on gerundives (Level Four). For students working at Level Four, each of the following examples should simply be considered as a gerundive.
     The case I want to make, however, is that if we want to align grammatical explanations with meaning, the best KISS explanation (i.e., for students at Level Five), often uses the noun absolute. The two constructions (noun modified by gerundive vs. noun absolute), in essence, slide into each other. The difference is perceptible only when we consider meaning. 1
     Consider:

1. A fox was strolling through an orchard till he came to a bunch of grapes just ripening on a vine. 

2. As soon as the hares saw a single animal approaching them, off they used to run.

In (1), the fox came to a bunch of grapes. That the grapes were ripening is important, but non-essential information.  In (2), however, the hares did not run off as soon as they saw a single animal. It had to be an animal that was approaching them. Thus, by considering "animal approaching" as a noun absolute, and that absolute as the direct object of "saw," we can align the grammatical explanation with the meaning of the sentence. 
      In some cases the noun absolute used as a noun is close to the gerund with a subject. Consider:
1. They hear the children's screaming.
2. They heard the children screaming.
In (1) "children's" is a possessive noun, and thus functions as a modifier of  the gerund "screaming." The emphasis, therefore, is on the direct object, "screaming." In (2), we could explain "children" as the direct object, and "screaming" as a gerundive modifying it. But such an explanation seems to undercut the meaning of the sentence. The explanation of "children screaming" as a noun absolute, used as a noun and here functioning as the direct object of "heard," in effect puts equal emphasis on the children and on the screaming. 
     The following are additional examples of noun absolutes used as nouns.
One day [the Hares] saw a troop of wild Horses stampeding about, and in quite a panic all the Hares scuttled off . . . (Aesop, "The Hares and the Frogs")
[In itself, the troop does not cause the panic; the panic and flight are caused by the troop stampeding.]


As he glided over the floor he felt his skin pricked by a file lying there.  (Aesop, "The Serpent and the File")
[He didn't feel his skin; he felt his "skin pricked" (noun absolute). But he was pricked by a "file." Thus "lying" is simply a gerundive.]

1. This difference is close to the traditional distinction between restrictive and non-restrictive clauses.
Than -- Subordinate Conjunction, Preposition, or Both?

      Some people consider "than" to be a subordinate conjunction, not a preposition. A complication occurs because the ending of the subordinate clause is usually not stated (It is ellipsed.), or so say the grammar books. Consider:

He runs faster than I.

Traditional textbooks tend to claim that this means:

He runs faster than I *run fast*.

I'd like to know how the writers of the textbooks know that. Since I always ran slow, I certainly would not have meant that. Some grammarians would counter by saying that the sentence actually means:

He runs faster than I *run*.

Another example, however, suggests that that argument doesn't work either. "Sally is prettier than Sarah" does not mean "Sally is prettier than Sarah is [exists]." (The adjective preceding the "than," in other words, has to remain part of the equation.) Nor does it have to mean that either woman is pretty.

      Most people's minds probably often process "than" as a preposition. Thus we would hear "Sally is prettier than me." and "He runs faster than me." While we are working on prepositions, I let students analyze these as prepositional phrases. I don't encourage it; instead, I simply ignore what they do with "than." If students ask, I do say that it is o.k. to consider it a prepositional phrase, but I note that there is a complication with the word "than." In my own research, I would mark "than me" as a prepositional phrase. 
     For the sake of curiosity, I checked the Merriam-Webster's On-line Collegiate Dictionary. Its entry for "than" as a preposition includes an interesting summary of this little debate. There is a usage question here, but my position is that if Shakespeare and T. S. Eliot could use "than" as a preposition, I have no right to tell my students that they can not.

      When we get to clauses, we face the problem. A cute young woman once wrote:

Anyone can train a horse better than me.

This causes a problem because the ellipsis doesn't work right. Since "me" is in the objective case, the sentence means

Anyone can train a horse better than *anyone can train* me.

I could picture the young men in the course imagining how they would try to train her. But since we are now working with clauses, students are able to see the ellipsed clause structure. And, since our analysis ALWAYS depends on meaning, students can decide for themselves whether they are dealing with a prepositional "than" or an ellipsed subordinate clause.