The Printable KISS Workbooks
The Poet
(Half Past Three)
1911
Marc Chagall
(1887-1985) 
Russian
The Branching 
of Adverbial 
Prepositional Phrases

    Adjectival phrases normally follow the noun that they modify, but adverbial modifiers can often be moved in a sentence to create variety in sentence structure, or even to emphasize something. 
     When the phrase comes before the subject and verb, it is called "left-branching." If it is between the subject and verb, it is called "mid-branching," and if it is after the subject and verb, it is called "right-branching."
     Consider, for example, the following versions of the same sentence. In each version, a prepositional phrase is in bold. In the brackets after each version, letters indicate the branching of that phrase.

Pinocchio jumped up in a rage at these last words.  [R - 10]
At these last words, Pinocchio jumped up in a rage.  [L - 8]
Pinocchio, at these last words, jumped up in a rage. [M - 5]
The numbers after the letters are a subjective rating of the "normality" of the position of the phrase. A ten indicates branching that would be normal. In other words, in a sentence like this one, it is where most writers would probably put the phrase.
      Most adverbial prepositional phrases branch to the right -- after the subject and verb. Thus, in most cases, right-branching would get a rating of ten. In some cases, however, especially when the phrase states where or when something happened, the phrase frequently branches to the left -- before the subject and verb. In these cases, you could give both the left and right-branching versions a ten:
In the morning, Robert slept late. [L - 10]
Robert slept late in the morning. [R - 10]
Robert, in the morning, slept late. [M - 5]
Mid-branching is the least used, in part because it separates the subject from the verb.
     In context, several other things affect where a prepositional phrase is placed. Your teacher may ask you simply to indicate whether the phrases in the following exercises are left-, right-, or mid-branching, or she may ask you to give a subjective rating and then give a reason for that rating, a reason that you and your classmates can discussed. Remember that there is usually no right or wrong rating. The numbers are subjective and simply give you and your classmates a means of focusing on the degree of the differences. 
     The most important things for you to remember about these exercises are that 1.) phrases can be moved to add variety to your sentence structure, and 2.) breaking norms draws attention and thus creates emphasis. In our two examples, the mid-branching version draws a little more attention to the content of the prepositional phrases.