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In English, if you take the sentence behind the house was untidy, what is untidy is really an area behind the house – so assuming for now that behind the house can be regarded as the subject of the sentence (more below), that PP stands for an area which can be said to be behind the house, or in other words an NP to which it would apply.

In Thai, unless I have misunderstood, if you want to say he is angry because of you, you say because (of) you made him angry, where the PP is the subject and stands for a situation caused by you - so again, an NP to which the PP would apply.

Is this a recognised phenomenon, and does it have a name?

As to the subject of the English sentence, I posted something on EL&U that was intended to explore this, but chose a bad example (behind the house was a culvert) and got nowhere – it was immediately pointed out that the subject of that sentence is a culvert.

That analysis doesn’t work for behind the house was untidy, though. I suppose this could be seen as a transformation of it was untidy behind the house, but I’m not sure that would explain or simplify anything. Then there is the sentence behind the house was laid out to lawn. I’d be interested to know whether this strikes people as correct (intuitively, I mean). If it is correct, isn’t behind the house the subject, and doesn’t it stand for the area behind the house?

  • As you suggest, the PP in "[behind the house] was untidy" is interpreted as "the area behind the house", an NP. But the PP in "[Behind the house] was a culvert" doesn't mean 'the area behind the house' -- it can't be interpreted as an NP, so it can't be the subject. – BillJ Jun 27 '19 at 14:50
  • @BillJ Sure, that was just a poorly chosen example (based on a Thai sentence in which the word corresponding to was cannot mean lay, was situated, so the natural reading in En is not available). Any view on behind the house was laid out to lawn ? – user23078 Jun 28 '19 at 2:05
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    I'd say that "behind the lawn" also behaves like an NP (the area behind the house). It must be the subject because "was laid out to lawn" is a passive verb phrase, and hence cannot be the subject. – BillJ Jun 28 '19 at 6:05
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    A further comment about your "culvert" example: we could replace "a culvert" with "two culverts", which would require that we replace "was" by "were", with the agreement showing that "a culvert" is the subject. And in "behind the house was laid to lawn", we could have an interrogative tag, "wasn't it?", where "it" is anaphoric to "behind the house, showing that the latter is subject. – BillJ Jun 29 '19 at 11:43
  • Shall I put up a proper answer? – BillJ Jul 3 '19 at 7:27

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