Subject finding

From “Among Bodies Discarded on a Beach, One That Doesn’t Fit” by Manny Fernandez (NYT, 5/30/11):

The police cut a path into the brush and made a small clearing where the body was found. She appears to have been laid on a patch of dirt about 50 steps from the edge of Ocean Parkway, at the foot of a thin tree, leafless and largely branchless.

The intention is that the final phrase (boldfaced here) should pick up its subject from the immediately preceding NP a thin tree, but some readers will first latch onto the Subject Rule (for interpreting subjectless predicative adjuncts, preferring that the omitted subject of the adjunct be picked up from the subject of the clause to which its attached), as they would if the final phrase were, say, naked and bruised.

Another tribute to the power of the Subject Rule, especially notable for sentence-final adjuncts; see the discussion in “Dangling advice”, here.


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