Student or Learner
I've been told that in such kind of phrases as:
Harry, emerging from his crumbling house clad in ivy, saw the postman.
clad in ivy most probably modifies Harry and not crumbling house.
If it were crumbling house that was clad in ivy I might expect:
Harry, emerging from his crumbling ivy-clad house, saw the postman.
This is the way (some? most?) native speakers see this kind of sentences.
Do you see it in the same way and, what is most important, what is the underlying reason, if at all, that clad in ivy does not modify house? Is there any rule that forbids it to do so?
Incidentally, your suggestion means that you view this sentence in the way I've described and do not consider clad in ivy as a modifier of house. Why is this so?
(Although I understand that it may be one of those things that should be put into this-is-just-the-way-it-is category, I'm still eager to get at the roots of this issue.)
(Unfortunately, I can't give you the name of the writer or specific context as this phrase was created as an example to show me how (but not why) this kind of sentences work.)
Yes, I read it exactly the way you did. If I actually found the sentence in a book or an article, I would still assume that the writer was using clad in ivy as a modifier of the house and that he/she had simply worded it badly. It happens all the time. We subconsciously make the sentence make sense in our heads sometimes despite the words! That's why, in English, it's not possible to read a sentence one word at a time and understand it. You have to take the sentence as a whole and frequently we have to just work out what the writer meant.
It's not unusual to have to re-start a sentence because you have miisunderstood it on first reading. For example, you might initially read I kissed Anne and Mary looked upset "as" I kissed Anne and Mary... ", i.e. I kissed two girls.
There is a name for this type of sentence, which has slipped my mind. Perhaps someone can help?
Blennies are curious looking fish with elongated bodies, some four inches long, shaped rather like an eel; with their pop eyes and thick lips they are vaguely reminiscent of a hippopotamus.
In the breeding season the males became most colourful, with a dark spot behind the eyes edged with sky blue, a dull orange hump-like crest on the head, and a darkish body covered with ultramarine or violet spots.
(The Garden of the Gods, Gerald Durrell)
Can we be sure that the author meant [with a dark spot] behind the eyes [edged with sky blue]?
If we stick to how we should (as it seems to be a great way to avoid unnecessary ambiguity, isn't it?) normally view this kind of sentence then the answer seems to be yes.
But we can't actually see those blennies (and what was in the writer's head) and therefore be 100% sure, can we?
I seem to think those are called "squinting modifiers" because they could apply to either of two nouns, though to really be "squinting" it's supposed to be between and not after.
So here''s a question:
Harry emerged from his crumbling house clad in ivy. -- We giggle because it sounds like Harry is covered with ivy when the author means the house.
Harry sipped from his water bottle running down the street. -- We giggle because it sounds like the water bottle is running down the street.
Why would we grammatically assume "clad in ivy" applies to Harry in the first but "running down the street" applies to the water bottle in the second? (Semantically, we know what to do.)
I'm not a teacher, but I write for a living. Please don't ask me about 2nd conditionals, but I'm a safe bet for what reads well in (American) English.
I saw Pam going home.
On one interpretation (that of the supplementive clause), I is the implied subject of going home, whereas on the other (that of verb complementation), Pam is the overt subject.
Further, a sentence such as  is ambiguous in more than one way:
I caught the boy waiting for my daughter. 
[...], we may identify the final adjective phrases of the following examples (where there is no intonational separation) as verbless supplementive clauses:
The manager approached us full of apologies.
He drove the damaged car home undismayed.
In each, the adjective phrase is in a copular relationship with the subject of the sentence, and is thus distinct from an object complement, which would be in a copular relationship with the direct object.
(Quirk et al (1985,1126))
As far as I can understand (although I'm going to read this passage over and over again) Quirk et al assert that whereas Harry sipped from his water bottle running down the street. can be ambiguous grammatically, Harry emerged from his crumbling house clad in ivy. can only be perceived in one way.
I found him sitting at a table covered with papers.
(Practical English Usage, # 411, Michael Swan)
I can surmise from our previous discussion that from a grammatical point of view this should mean "I found him covered with papers and sitting at a table".
But I highly suspect that it was meant to mean "I found him sitting at a table that was covered with papers."
Am I right in my assumptions?