Some examples of nonfinite adverbial clauses:

Susan left me [without having said goodbye]

[Being a trained boxer] Cathy always forces Mark to his knees with ease

[Green with envy] John asked the donkey for a carrot

and with regards to theta roles:

[Bound in leather] the book we gave him as a present was appreciated a lot by our grandpa

[Bound in leather] grandpa really liked the book we gave him as a present

It seems to be true for me that nonfinite adverbial adjunct clauses always adopt their (silent) syntactical subject (vs. theta role!) from the verb that they are modifying.* Please correct me if I got that wrong!!

If my statement turns out to be right, I wonder if syntax theory assumes a PRO element in the subject position of the adjunct clause.

Susani left mej [without PROi/*j having said goodbye]

Since such a PRO element couldn´t possibly be correferential with anything other than the modified verb´s subject, speaking of a control relation between the subject of a verb and its adverbial clause would appear somewhat odd to me.

What do you think?

*English is not my mother tongue, so I´m not shure whether the expletive pronoun may be an exception to this. But actually I tend to believe that expressions like the following, where the adjunct relates to the main verb´s object, are not possible (though they might be acceptable?):

?[Being an expert on syntactical analysis] it seems to me that he has some difficulties in building well-formed relative clauses.

  • "With the onlookers green with envy, John asked the lovely donkey for a dance."
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Dec 3, 2016 at 16:31
  • "Green with envy" and "bound in leather" look like AdjP predicative adjuncts (not clauses), related to the predicands "John" and "the book" respectively. And "without having said goodbye" is a preposition phrase, not a clause, though it is an adjunct in clause structure.
    – BillJ
    Commented Dec 3, 2016 at 18:11
  • Hmm...could you explain why these strings shouldn´t meet the conditions for being clauses? (Dependent, non-finite clauses certainly). Because I more and more think that there has to be a control relation between main clauses and the exemplified adjuncts precicely because they are adjunct clauses. If we want our clauses to satisfy the extended projection principle we have to assume a PRO element in the subject position of our dependent clauses even though the only possible correference is to the main verb´s subject, right? I probably didn´t consider that... Commented Dec 4, 2016 at 1:13
  • "Green with envy" I thought to be a small clause with green as its head and predicate. Commented Dec 4, 2016 at 1:17
  • It can’t be a clause: clauses express predications but are not, as wholes, predicative. Predicative adjuncts aren't restricted to AdjPs: you can also have PPs: In a bad temper, as usual, John walked on ahead of the main party, or NPs: A proud teetotaller, John stuck to water while the others drank champagne.
    – BillJ
    Commented Dec 4, 2016 at 9:11

1 Answer 1


Obviously, in cases like Greg Lee's above, a non-finite clause introduced by the 'complementizers' with or without simply cannot be controlled, because 'Control', as defined in GB, P&P and subsequent Chomskian metatheory, does not apply to 'referential' NP/DPs like the onlookers, which, by definition, must be autonomous in reference (recall Principle C of Binding Theory), but, assuming you are interested only in non-finite predications containing PRO subjects, the answer is still No, non-finite adverbial clauses do not have to be 'controlled', because their PRO subject can - if only in exceptional cases - be arbitrary in reference, as in e.g. PRO Talking about serious matters now, what do you think of Trump's attitude towards Russia and Putin? Of course, in all the examples you provide in your question (and you could have added predications apparently consisting only of PPs, NPs, etc.), PRO subjects are controlled, and they are controlled by the subject of the 'main clause', but there is no choice: such PROs cannot be controlled by NP/DPs in any other position, because 'control' requires c-command and no NP/DP can c-command a detached adjunct from any lower position than that of subject. As to whether Green with envy, Bound in leather, etc. could be analysed other than as bare (or 'small', 'reduced', 'verbless' etc.) 'clauses' (i.e.,'predications'), I agree with you that, from a Chomskian perspective, they cannot, but, even if, according to some other grammatical metatheory, they could be considered detached 'predicative' APs (PPs, NPs, etc.), instead of 'clauses', the fact would remain that green, bound, etc. are 'open', one-place 'predicates', and, unless a 'predicate' has a 'subject' argument, it is, by definition, 'unsaturated' and uninterpretable (in the sense that any unvalued variable makes the value of the function undefinable). Hence, even if other grammatical metatheories are entitled to object to 'empty' categories like Chomsky's PRO, they still have to say somehow that the 'external' argument of green, bound, etc. (or its theta-role) is 'discharged' ('satisfied', 'saturated',... you name it) by the entity referred to by the subject of the main clause, which makes such alternative solutions and Chomsky's original one mere notational variants of each other at best! (i.e., provided the alternative solutions represent co-reference, c-command restrictions, and other principles of Control Theory in terms comparable in rigor and accuracy to Chomsky's own).

  • there´s another thing i want to ask (but i don´t dare to ask it as a proper question here on ling. stackexchange): has any one of you heard of a website where you can ask native speakers of any language to give their grammaticallity judgements on your sentences? i think that could be an useful tool... Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 18:46
  • btw what did you think of the very last example sentence in my question? Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 18:50
  • In the Wordreference forums you can ask for native speakers' judgments about specific examples in many languages, including English, Spanish, German, French, Italian, Chinese, and about a dozen others. I do not know all of them equally well, but in some of them the average quality of the answers is really high.
    – user6814
    Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 21:22

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