MC studies grammar

  • John thought hard about chemistry.

Verb phrase: “thought hard” - an action verb
-verb “thought”
– adverb “hard”
Subject: “John”
Object: none
Preposition phrase: “about chemistry”
-preposition “about”
–preposition object “chemistry”

  • John put the toy soldier in the compartment in the box on the shelf in his room.

Verb: “put”
Subject: “John”
Object phrase: “the toy soldier”
-object noun “soldier”
–adjective determiner “the” and adjective “toy”
Preposition phrase: “in the compartment in the box on the shelf in his room” - adjective
-preposition “in”
– preposition object “compartment”
— adjective determiner “the” affecting “compartment”
Sub-preposition phrase: “in the box on the shelf in his room” - adjective
-preposition “in”
– preposition object “box”
— adjective determiner “the” affecting “box”
Sub-sub-preposition phrase: “on the shelf in his room” - adjective
-preposition “on”
– preposition object “shelf”
— adjective determiner “the” affecting “shelf”
Sub-sub-sub-preposition phrase: “in his room” - adjective
-preposition “in”
– preposition object “room”
— adjective determiner “his” affecting “room” referring to “John”

  • The delicious cake with berries unfortunately fell onto the dirty floor from the table.

Verb phrase “unfortunately fell”
-verb “fell”
– adverb “unfortunately”
Subject phrase “The delicious cake with berries”
-noun “cake”
– determiner adjective “The”
Preposition phrase: “with berries” adjective affecting “cake”
-preposition “with”
–preposition object “berries”
Preposition phrase “onto the dirty floor from the table” adverb affecting “fell”
-preposition “onto”
–preposition object “floor”
—determiner adjective “the”, adjective “dirty”
Sub-preposition phrase “from the table”
-preposition “from”
–preposition object “table”
—determiner adjective “the”

The sentence in the nested quote below is from ET’s grammar article.

I think “over the chair” is modifying “chased”, making the prepositional phrase an adverb.

Reference (Max Tutoring Video):
34:22 - Example: “The ferocious dog chased three cats over the chair.”; making tree at 48:41; S-expression at 50:36.

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Thanks for the link.

I’ve been uncertain about that answer after I posted it.

So as an adverb it’s: “chased over the chair”
As an adjective it’s: “three cats over the chair”
Both of these make sense to me, the adverb form means the dog is chasing over the chair in pursuit of the three cats, the adjective form means the three cats are over the chair - possibly going over the chair while the dog does not pursue over the chair.

But I don’t think it makes sense that both interpretations would make sense, so I think that means there’s some grammar rule I don’t understand about how to apply the modifier. I have the intuition that grammar rules do have some gaps/inconsistencies, but I’m suspending that intuition to try to find a clearer definition of the modifier rules.

Elliot starts explaining ways to tell what prepositional modifiers modify at 38:30 in the video. My notes from that:

  • Prepositional modifiers normally modify the thing they are to the right of.
  • Modifiers for noun usually go to the left or right of the noun.
  • Modifiers for verbs can go in more places than modifiers for nouns; they usually go at the start or end of the clause, or right or left of the verb.
  • A modifier can also apply to the whole sentence

In the video Max and Elliot talk about the preposition being an adverb but (as of 1:03:00) I’m not convinced. From the video both the adverb and adjective uses seem to be grammatically valid (as per my initial intuition). So I’m back where I started as having two possible explanations.

I checked the definition of “chased” for clues. This didn’t help as there are uses which are consistent with both interpretations.

So if “over the chair” is an adverb preposition, definitions 1 and 2 work (the dog chased the cats over the chair).
If “over the chair” is an adjective preposition, definition 4 works (the cats are being driven over the chair).

I don’t think I have a way to decide this objectively. But in the two lines above, “the dog chased the cats over the chair” was my intuitive way of writing that meaning - I wasn’t trying to replicate the original sentence structure but did anyway. I think that’s as good a deciding factor I can get for this, if I wanted to communicate that the dog was pursuing the cats and they went over the chair (but not the dog) I wouldn’t write it that way.

So yes I agree that I was wrong and “over the chair” is an adverb modifying “chased”.

I guess another way I could look at this is considering Occam’s razor. If “over the chair” is an adverb I don’t have to make many assumptions to understand the sentence, but if “over the chair” is an adjective I have to make multiple assumptions to understand the sentence.

The next set of exercises from Conclusion of Part 2 in Elliot’s grammar article.

I’m not going to do a full breakdown of subject/verb/object unless it’s complicated enough to be interesting.

I work hard and I play hard.

First clause “I work hard”
Coordinating conjunction: “and”
Second clause “I play hard”

Farting or belching is mildly impolite.

Verb: “is” - action verb
Subject phrase: “Farting or belching”
First noun: “Farting”
Coordinating conjunction: “or”
Second noun: “belching”
Object phrase: “mildly impolite”

I went to a fancy university, yet I’m still quite ignorant.

Main clause: “I went to a fancy university”
Subordinating conjunction: “, yet”
Subordinate clause “I’m still quite ignorant”

I write because I like good ideas.

Main clause: “I write”
Subordinating conjunction: “because”
Subordinate clause: “I like good ideas”

The bully hit my buddy and me pretty hard.

Verb: “hit”
Subject phrase: “The bully”
Object phrase: “my buddy and me”
Noun phrase: “my buddy”
Coordinating conjunction: “and”
Noun “me”
Adverb: “pretty hard”

I seriously think that Ayn Rand was wise.

Main clause: “I seriously think”
Subordinating conjunction: “that”
Subordinate clause: “Ayn Rand was wise”

Don’t chew quickly while your mouth is open.

Main clause: “Don’t chew quickly”
Subordinating conjunction: “while”
Subordinate clause: “your mouth is open”

My daughter likes big dogs, but my son likes adorable cats.

First clause “My daughter likes big dogs”
Coordinating conjunction: “, but”
Second clause “my son likes adorable cats”

If universities are full of uncurious professors, don’t attend one.

Subordinating conjunction: “If”
Subordinate clause: “universities are full of uncurious professors”
Main clause: “don’t attend one”

After you throw a small, red ball, while you sing, you should stamp your feet loudly, and you should clap your hands energetically, if it’s still daytime.

Subordinate clause - modifying main clause pair
Subordinating conjunction: “After” - applies to the rest of the subordinate clause
-Main clause: “you throw a small, red ball”
-Subordinating conjunction: “while”
-Subordinate clause: “you sing”
Main clause pair:
First clause “you should stamp your feet loudly”
Coordinating conjunction “and”
Second clause “you should clap your hands energetically”
Subordinate clause - modifying main clause pair
Subordinating conjunction “if”
Subordinate clause “it’s still daytime”

Working on part 3 in Elliot’s grammar article.

I found reading part 3 harder than the earlier parts. I’m guessing because there are lots of different variants of verbs used in gerunds, participles, and infinitives. For example as “interesting”, “interested” and “to interest”. That branches a lot of verbs into a lot of specific verb variants and so makes a large number of individual connections which I need to integrate into the concepts of gerund, participle, and infinitive.

I’d guess this means my intuitive use of these concepts has been inaccurate. With earlier concepts (like conjunctions) it didn’t feel like there was a lot of integration needed, there may be some fine tuning needed but mostly I was just learning the word for something I already mostly knew how to use.

Simple notes on verbals:

  • Gerund: verb-based noun, ends with “ing”
  • Participle: verb-based adjective
  • Infinitive: verb preceded by “to”, can be noun or adjective

Part 3 conclusion exercises:

Running fast isn’t fun.

Subject noun gerund phrase: “Running fast”
Gerund: “Running”
Adjective: “fast”
Verb phrase: “isn’t”
Contraction: “isn’t” means “is not”
Object: “fun”

I don’t want to stand on my porch when it’s wet.

Subject: “I”
Verb: “don’t”
Contraction: “don’t” means “do not”
Object phrase: “want to stand on my porch when it’s wet”
Noun: “want”
Infinitive: “to stand” - adjective modifying “want”
Preposition phrase: “on my porch” - adverb modifying “to stand”
Subordinating conjunction: “when it’s wet” - modifying “my porch”

Eight more exercises to do in part 3 later.

Continuing part 3 exercises:

  • Swimming after work is too tiring.

Subject noun phrase: “Swimming after work”
Gerund noun: “Swimming”
Conjunction phrase: “after work”
Verb: “is”
Object noun phrase: “too tiring”
Adjective: “too”
Gerund noun: “tiring”

Note: “after” can be a preposition or conjunction and I wasn’t sure how to differentiate. I looked around at a few other grammar articles and couldn’t find anything definitive.

My guess here in this case is it’s a conjunction because it’s relating another connected action rather than, say, a time or other abstract (e.g. after midnight). Maybe it can be both at once?

  • John gets sweaty when he does his exercise routine.

Subject: “John”
Verb phrase: “gets”
Object phrase: “[himself] sweaty”
Implied pronoun: “himself”
Adjective: “sweaty”
Subordinating conjunction: “when”
Sub-clause “he does his exercise routine”

  • I gave him gifts.

I’m not sure on this one.

Elliot’s article doesn’t mention using pronouns as adverbs (only as adjectives under “reference adjectives”) but that’s how my intuition wants to interpret it - with “him” as a modifier to “gave”. I couldn’t find any reference specifically to the phrase “reference adjectives” anywhere else, this seems like something Elliot has created an explanation for.

It could also be multiple implied words: “I gave to him some gifts”.

  • I love to throw boomerangs to myself.

Subject: “I”
Verb phrase “love to throw”
Object: “boomerangs”
Preposition phrase: “to myself”

  • When a movie is boring, I stop watching.

Subordinating conjunction clause: “When a movie is boring”
Subject: “I”
Verb phrase: "stop watching
Implied object: “it”

  • I like reading non-fiction books out of order.

Subject phrase: “I”
Verb phrase: “like reading”
Object phrase: “non-fiction books”
Prepositional phrase - adjective: “out of order”

  • My broken speakers don’t work for making sound.

Subject phrase: “My broken speakers”
Reference adjective: “My”
Adjective: “broken”
Subject noun: “speakers”
Verb phrase: “don’t”
Contraction: “do not”
Object phrase: “work for making sound”
Object noun: “work”
Preposition phrase - adjective: “for making sound”

  • FYI, working at the CIA is cooler than the FBI.

Prepositional phrase - whole sentence modifier: “FYI”
Acronym: “For your information”
Subject phrase: “working at the CIA”
Gerund subject: “working”
Preposition phrase: “at the CIA”
Verb: “is”
Object: “cooler”
Preposition phrase - adjective: “than [working at] the FBI”
Implied words: “working at”

Overall I was making a lot more guesses with part 3 exercises than previous exercises. I’ll continue on to part 4, but if I find it starts to get very problematic I’ll look for more exercises for the part 3 concepts.

I think that “after” is just a preposition. “Swimming” is a noun that functions as the subject and “is” is the only verb, so we have a one clause sentence. In the definition of “after” that I looked up, it says that when “after” is a conjunction it introduces a clause. Also, “work” is a noun that is being governed by “after”. If “work” weren’t part of a prepositional phrase, then it would kinda be an extra noun in the sentence.

“Is” is a linking verb. Although, I think ET has referred to linking verbs as a “being” action. Curiosity – Nonfinite Verbs
The main point with linking verbs in that they require a complement, unlike action verbs, which don’t always require an object.

This doesn’t make much sense on further thought, “him” doesn’t change the action itself only it’s object.

I’ll go with the implied words version.

From Elliot’s grammar article:


Conjunctions are joiner words. They “conjoin” things (phrases or clauses) together. They connect or relate things.

A conjunction doesn’t necessarily require two clauses. Have you got a better definition of conjunction?

What definition of “after” did you use? For example in this one:

There’s the prepositional definition:

—used to indicate the object of a stated or implied action
go after gold
was asking after you

And the conjunction definition:

: subsequently to the time when
We will come after we make plans.

I think both of these can fit this use of “after”.

Yes I made a mistake there.

Continuing with part 4 of the exercises from the grammar article:

This seems more like a sandbox activity, experimenting with ways to use these techniques. Some of my answers are a bit whimsical.

John pet his dog and cat with vigor.

Phrase grouping and removing references: John pet <[John's] dog and cat> <with vigor>
Reducing to essentials: John pet [pets]

What happened? Petting.
Who petted? John.
What was petted? John’s dog and cat.
How was the petting done? With vigor.

Seeing isn’t believing.

Organization focused: [A] isn’t [B]

What connection is there? Is not.
What is not something else? Seeing.
What is something else? Believing.

I like philosophy because it involves thinking methods.

Phrase grouping and removing references: I like philosophy <because [philosophy] <involves thinking methods>>.
Reducing to essentials: I like [philosophy]

What connection is there? Liking.
Who likes something? I do.
What is liked? Philosophy.
Why is this connection there? Because.
Because of what? Philosophy.
What about philosophy? It involves stuff.
What does it involve? Methods.
What kind of methods? Thinking.

There are four more sample exercises to come back to later.

I think I have the same definition of a conjunction as the grammar article. Conjunctions in general don’t require two clauses but, when a word has multiple possible grammar functions, connecting clauses is a hint and not connecting clauses is also a hint. Usually, coordinating conjunctions are the ones that connect words or phrases instead of clauses. I would guess there’re exceptions to the distinction between a coordinating conjuction vs a subordinating conjuction.

Below are the definitions of “after” which helped me consider whether “after” is a preposition or a conjunction.

AFTER (adverb, conjunction, preposition) American English definition and synonyms | Macmillan Dictionary.

Coordinating vs subordinating conjunctions:

Continuing exercises from part 4 of the grammar article.

  • Some people don’t love truth or honesty.

Phrase grouping: <Some people> <don’t love> <truth or honesty>.

What connection is being talked about? Love.
What about love? They don’t.
Who doesn’t love? People.
Which people? Some.
What don’t they love? Truth or honesty.

  • John and Olivia enthusiastically sang their favorite song on the stage, but singing well wasn’t enough for the actors pretending to be judges.

Phrase/clause grouping and removing references: <John and Olivia> <enthusiastically sang> <[John and Olivia's] favorite song <on the stage>>, <but {singing well wasn’t enough} <for the actors <pretending to be judges>>.

Reducing to essentials: [They] [sang] [their song], [but it wasn't enough] [for the judges]

What happened? They sang.
Who are they? John and Olivia.
What did they sing? Song.
Which song? Favorite.
Who’s favorite? Theirs.
Where did they sing? Stage.
Which stage? The.
Where related to the stage? On.
What else? But.
But what? Enough.
Was it enough? It wasn’t.
What wasn’t enough? It (the song).
Who thought it wasn’t enough? Actors.
Which actors? The.
What were to actors doing? Pretending.
Pretending about what? Judges.
What where they pretending about judges? To be them.

  • While you’re having a discussion, never misquote anyone.

Phrase grouping and adding implied words: <While {you’re having a discussion}>, {[you] never misquote anyone}.

Reducing to essentials: never misquote [while discussing]

What is being talked about? Misquote.
When should you misquote? Never.
Who shouldn’t you misquote? Anyone.
In what situation shouldn’t you misquote? While.
While what? Having.
While who is having? You are.
What are you having? Discussion.
Which discussion? A discussion.

  • I think that nuclear power is safe.

Phrase/clause grouping: I think <that {nuclear power is safe}>.

What is happening? Thinking.
Who is thinking? I.
What is being thought? That.
What connection is “that” making? Is.
What thing “is”? Power.
What kind of power? Nuclear.
What is Nuclear power? Safe.

I found question-based analysis is harder and takes more creativity.

I went back through and checked my premises.

From Elliot’s grammar article under Grouping:

Note: A phrase can be a single word. It’s not wrong, and sometimes convenient, to say that the subject of a sentence is always a “noun phrase” (a phrase which functions as a noun) because there’s nothing wrong with groups with only one thing in them.

So I understood “phrase” here as “noun” OR “noun phrase” which is why I couldn’t differentiate between “after” as a preposition or conjunction.

I looked for some other articles.

Conjunctions vs Prepositions
There are some words that can be both conjunctions and prepositions. There are certain subordinating conjunctions which are also prepositions. Some such examples are: before, after, until, since etc.
If the word is followed by a dependent or subordinating clause then it is a conjunction. If the following words are objects, nouns or pronouns then it will be a preposition.

This article is the only source I’ve found that specifically talks about how to deal with words that can operate as both prepositions and conjunctions and gives an objective way of differentiating between them. So for now I’m going to take it as the best way of making the distinction.

Going back to the original exercise.

So in this case, as “after” just joins “work” and not any sort of clause, then it is a preposition.

I don’t think it actually makes any difference in terms of meaning and understanding sentences. Preposition seems like a subset of subordinating conjunction in these cases. But it’s better to have some clear way of arbitrating this ambiguity.

Subordinating conjunctions can only join clauses, not phrases.

Most conjoining of non-clauses is done using only two words: “and” and “or”.

There have been other errors FYI.

I just want to write a brief note for the moment to update the project status.

Project notes

Projected complete, I’ve gone through all the exercises in Elliot’s grammar article.

I will come back later with other thoughts on how to proceed next. Overall I’ve got a much better understanding of a lot of grammar words and concepts from doing these than I used to, but I’m going to think about ways to continue working on remaining areas of uncertainty and some other problems that have come up doing this project.


I’m guessing that you’re intentionally not being specific because you think it would be more useful if I go through and find my own errors[1].

I think it’s worth continuing to study grammar until I’m more confident with it.

I had considered doing some grammar analysis as I posted about other things (and did a little bit) but I don’t think that’s a good idea to continue as it will distract from the main subject of whatever else I’m posting about. I might revisit the idea later when I’ve automated more of my grammar analysis and don’t have to consciously concentrate on it as much.

I’m going to look at the Peikoff course first and possibly start another mini-project for it. If that doesn’t go well I will look for other grammar exercises to keep practising the basic.

  1. I probably wouldn’t have mentioned this prior to discussion in Big Picture Reasons People Give Up on Learning Philosophy, I internally flagged it as suspicious “looking for hidden meanings” sort of stuff when I first thought of it. ↩︎

There isn’t a hidden meaning. It doesn’t say anything about what I think would be useful to you. My actions are generally mostly about me, not about you.

I thought it was more useful to say than nothing. But I didn’t want to say more because that would require more work.

Also, sometimes when I point out some errors but not others, people think (that I think that) there were no other errors. I wanted to avoid that potential misunderstanding.

None of these were hidden meanings of my sentence, which simply didn’t include this other information.

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