"He found it under the pile of books." Is there one prepositional phrase "under the pile of books", or are there two : "under the pile" and "of books" ?
***** A NON-TEACHER'S OPINION *****
(1) I believe that the sentence "He found it under the pile of books"
would be analyzed as having two prepositional phrases.
(a) Professor Quirk's book, I believe, refers to your two
prepositional phrases as "free noun-phrase sequences"
(page 671 in the 1985 edition of A Comprehensive Grammar of the
(i) One of his "tests": can we delete (erase/forget) the second
prepositional phrase and still have "good" English? Let's try:
He found it under the pile.
I think that sentence qualifies as a good sentence.
Therefore, your sentence has two prepositional phrases.
If I understand the good professor, we could extend your
sentence with more phrases:
He found it under the pile of books at the back door of my house
on Main Street. (That horrible sentence is only mine. I'm
trying to show you how you can extend your sentence. I think the
professor uses the word "embed.")
(2) In doing my research, I found something that I think will
interest you. Look at this sentence (again from Professor Quirk's
I did it on behalf of Jim.
In such a sentence, you have one so-called "complex
preposition": on behalf of. (Of course, you cannot say:
I did it on behalf. Therefore, "on behalf of" is a unit.)
P.S. Thanks a million for your question. It forced me to learn a lot.