She's a teacher working at a public high school. Now, you can say either of these:

(1) She teaches at a public high school.

(2) She works at a public high school.

Is the prepositional phrase "at a public school" a complement or an adjunct in (1)? How about in (2)?


This site shows this sentence:

Dr. Sneeden teaches English at the University of Florida.

And they say "at the University of Florida" is an adjunct.

And while I was looking at Oxford Modern English Grammar the other day, I came across a sentence similar to (2) with the verb "work".

I work in the Physiology Department.

And the book says "in the Physiology Department" is not an adjunct but a complement, because if the PP is left out the meaning of the sentence changes.

So I guess, according to these references, the PP in (1) is an adjunct and the one in (2) is a complement. If so, I'm still not sure why leaving out the PP from (2) changes (2)'s meaning but leaving out the PP in (1) doesn't change (1)'s meaning.

  • 2
    What do you think? Sep 20, 2017 at 17:56
  • @lemontree Please see the EDIT.
    – JK2
    Sep 21, 2017 at 2:15
  • The PP "at a public high school" is an adjunct in (1) and (2) since it is not licensed by the head. Same applies to "at the University of Florida" and "in the Physiology Department.
    – BillJ
    Sep 21, 2017 at 11:45
  • @BillJ Are you saying that "in the Physiology Department" is an adjunct?
    – JK2
    Sep 21, 2017 at 11:46
  • 1
    I suspect the OMED was trying to show that work at/in can refer to specific generalized activity, the same way teach in a university is a very different verb from teach in a kindergarten. That doesn't make the PP a complement, of course, but it may be what they're aiming at.
    – jlawler
    Sep 21, 2017 at 17:15

1 Answer 1


Prepositional phrases are always tricky and depend on the semantic frame dictated by the verb and related participants.

You can use FrameNet for example to see the set of known frames for a given verb. In your example work takes a PP{at} as a theme so it is a participant thus a complement. Teach on the other hand takes only a recipient or a topic as second participants so anything else is a circumstance/adjunct.

  • Complements have to be licensed by the head. That is what distinguishes them from adjuncts.
    – BillJ
    Sep 22, 2017 at 14:43
  • @BillJ Being licensed by the head is not a necessary condition but only one of many criteria to determine whether a phrase is a complement or an adjunct, according to CGEL by Pullum.
    – JK2
    Sep 26, 2017 at 4:05
  • @JK2 On complements vs adjuncts, CGEL says, "The most important property of complements in clause structure is that they require the presence of an appropriate head which licenses them". How much clearer do you want it?
    – BillJ
    Sep 26, 2017 at 6:19
  • @BillJ "The most important property" doesn't mean "the only property".
    – JK2
    Sep 26, 2017 at 10:40

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