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  1. #1
    birgit33 is offline Member
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    Default at least : prepositional phrase ?

    "At least five people drank wine." Is "at least" a preposition or a prepositional phrase ? Is only "at least" the prepositional phrase or is the prepositional phrase "at least five people" ?

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    TheParser is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: at least : prepositional phrase ?

    Quote Originally Posted by birgit33 View Post
    "At least five people drank wine." Is "at least" a preposition or a prepositional phrase ? Is only "at least" the prepositional phrase or is the prepositional phrase "at least five people" ?

    ***** A NON-TEACHER's OPINION *****


    (1) What an interesting question. I have checked my books and

    am delighted to share the results.

    (2) As used in your sentence, it is not considered a prepositional

    phrase. Older books call it a focusing adverb, and newer books

    call it a focusing subjunct. That is, it focuses attention on some

    word or words.

    (3) For example, the great Professor George O. Curme in his 1931

    masterpiece A Grammar of the English Language gives this

    example:

    None of them will go; at least John will not/ John at least will not.

    (As you can see, the adverb focuses attention on "John.")

    (4) Then I found this example in Professor Quirk's famous A

    Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language:

    At least ten workers reported sick yesterday.

    The esteemed professor says that "at least" focuses on the words

    "ten workers."

    Therefore, I guess we would have to say that "at least" in your sentence

    focuses on the words "five people."

    (5) It would appear that there is no prepositional phrase in your sentence.

    Your sentence is basically:

    Five people drank wine.

    Then if you wish to "focus" attention on those "five people," you can

    add the adverb/ subjunct "at least."


    Respectfully yours,


    James


    P.S. Be careful. Sometimes "at least" is not used the way that it was

    used in your sentence. Mr. Michael Swan's extremely useful Practical

    English Usage gives these examples of how this "fixed phrase" can be

    used in connected conversation:

    The car's completely smashed up -- I don't know what we're going to do. At least nobody was hurt.

    Another one from Mr. Swan:

    Ghosts don't exist. At least, I've never seen one.

    And my hero, Professor Curme, gives this example:

    He is very poor, at least he has not the wherewithal [resources] to

    buy proper clothes for his wife and family. (The professor says that in

    this kind of sentence, "at least" can be classified as a conjunction.)

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