Her teeth gleamed white against the tanned skin of her face.

It seems ‘white’ is an adjunct modifying gleamed, while it’s not a complement for it’s not necessary to complete the meaning. But I’m wondering if adjectives can make adjuncts modifying verbs. My question are two: (1) Is ‘white’ a complement or an adjunct? (2) Can adjectives make adjuncts modifying verbs? (Even if the case is not an example of this question, would you let me know?)

  • I don't think it's correct to say that "white" is modifying "gleam". Rather, "white" is modifying "teeth". Feb 2, 2013 at 16:36
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    It's not helpful to think about "adjectives making adjuncts modifying verbs". Part of speech is governed by use in constructions, not the other way around. And adjunct is a question-begging term; if one's audience knows and believes all the same answers to the questions it begs, then it's safe to use. But I doubt this is the case on EL&U. Feb 2, 2013 at 19:21

2 Answers 2


Collins Cobuild term verbs such as be, remain, look, and turn link verbs, some of which take an 'adjective complement'. Certainly, Her teeth were etc need some form of completer. A snag is that one can't really sensibly separate syntax and semantics here. Be in this usage is certainly just a placeholder, whilst turn has added semantic content (as well as linking descriptor of final state back to the subject's referent).

In passing, these link-verb constructions, those link-verb constructions that also take an object, and the similar constructions using verbs not truly link verbs described below, can describe the initial state of the subject's referent (He was eaten alive), the final (He was shot dead), the prevailing (He stood there motionless) or the desired (They wished him dead). Notice that the adjective may or may not be syntactically mandatory; it is certainly semantically significant (except perhaps in 'He was eaten alive').

Cobuild also mentions 'other verbs taking complements' though these are usually if not always syntactically optional. These latter verbs carry significant semantic weight, as well as syntactically linking in the way link verbs do. Perhaps they should be called 'link-like verbs'. Where semantic weight becomes telling enough to disqualify from true link-verb status is of course open to debate. Examples of usage:

Alexander lies dead in the field.

Her brother escaped unharmed.

Her blood ran cold.

Her teeth gleamed white against the tanned skin of her face.

Given that unharmed is an optional element syntactically whilst cold is arguably syntactically necessary (Her blood ran would mean something different), one wonders about the value of using different terms to analyse these structures. 'Being necessary' is often an arguable property of word groups.

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    Two thoughts: 1) In all of these there's little if any semantic difference between "Subject verbed complement" and "Subject verbed, adjunct", with a comma. 2) Hypothesis: Any verb may license a secondary complement of this sort; intranstive verbs license subject complements, transitive verbs license object complements in the active voice, subject complements in the passive voice. ... I realize those two observations tend to cancel each other out! Feb 2, 2013 at 18:02
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    @StoneyB: 1) There are several idiosyncratic differences between link-usage and free-modifier (absolute) usage, for instance Ben turned angry at the news that he had been dropped and Ben turned, angry at the news that he had been dropped_. // John remained afraid to leave the country. // Tim went mad at the sight of all that suffering. But these border on the idiomatic or utilise different senses and in general I'd agree. Feb 2, 2013 at 22:00
  • 2) Some verbs need a complement (seem; look in that sense); a free modifier can generally be added; but not all verbs can link (*the bell rang blue / dry / ??), and the choice of adjectives is of course restricted (*He climbed smug. / He climbed high. / He climbed, smug in the knowledge that he was the first to get so high.) Feb 2, 2013 at 22:06
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    Quite. Copular turn, remain, go have metaphoric meanings which I think any dictionary would distinguish from the literal, spatial meanings in the non-copular versions. Feb 2, 2013 at 22:10
  • This answer does not explain why we cannot use an adverb here ... (as is asked in the linked-from question. Maybe you could more explicitly add that in? Aug 21, 2016 at 14:12

I would call white in that case a modicative adjunct, for it describes the state brought about by the verb. That also answers your second question.

There are many examples of this pattern, creeping even into formulaic phrases.

He stood dumb at the bar.

Usually they are employed in descriptions of a literary nature, as in your example.

The bones bleached dry and brittle in the sun.

Rule of thumb: when you do see an adjective where you expect to see an adverb, chances are it is this kind of adjunct.

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    Couldn't this be considered an example of a subject predicate? "Her teeth gleemed white" is structurally very similar to "her teeth were white" and "her teeth looked white." Feb 2, 2013 at 16:37
  • @Robusto: “It must wake up the moment you stop playing.” In the sentence, ‘the moment you stop playing’ is probably called an absolute construction. Can this also be called as an adjunct modifying verb?
    – Listenever
    Feb 3, 2013 at 7:32

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