Reply to "participle subject advice needed"

john121 posted:

Going to the participle thing again, i read something in a harry potter book, jk was describing two men walking along:

" The high hedge curved into them, running off into the distance beyond the pair of imposing wrought-iron gates barring the men’s way."

It seems as though she is saying the men were running off into the distance rather than the hedge, because " they " is the last pronoun before the comma.

Hi, John121: The implied subject of the participial clause beginning with "running" is "the high hedge," not "them"; that is, it was the high hedge that ran off into the distance beyond the gates. And "the high hedge" is, of course, also the subject of the main clause of the sentence.

There are two main differences between this sentence and the sentences you originally asked about. First, the participial clause in this Harry Potter sentence has clause-final placement; the earlier ones had clause-initial placement. Second, there is nothing wrong with the Harry Potter example.

A participial clause does not necessarily modify (or "describe," to use the term you used earlier) the noun phrase constituting its implied subject. Indeed, we haven't looked at a single example so far in which the participial clause does modify its implied subject in the matrix clause.

In each of the examples we have looked at, the participial clause does not have an adjectival function in the sentence: its role is not to modify a noun phrase. Rather, they have an adverbial function. They function to modify the verb phrase of the matrix clause.

In the Harry Potter example, "running off into the distance beyond the [gates]" modifies "curved into them." We could call it an adverbial of manner: the high hedge curved into them in such a way that it ran off into the distance beyond the gates.

The participial clauses with which we have been dealing are sometimes called "free adjuncts." In clause-final position, free-adjunct clauses never (or, to be more careful, I will say "almost never," even though I can't think of any exceptions right now) immediately follow their implied subject.

Does this violate the principle we discussed earlier? No. We were talking about modifiers. These clauses are adverbial; they modify the verb phrase. The verb phrase is the heart of the sentence. A clausal modifier of the verb phrase can therefore precede or follow the clause, or come in the middle.