Please guide me for the part of speech of clean here in this extract:

He had schooled him in the evils that befall prophets; in those that come from the world, which are trifling, and those that come from the Lord and burn the prophet clean;
for he himself had been burned clean and burned clean again. He had learned by fire.

Excerpt from The Violent Bear It Away, by Flannery O’Connor.


Clean is an adjective, modifying he.

O'Connor - or, more accurately, her character - is treating burn as analogous to wash: the evils which come of the Lord are experienced by him as a fire which does not consume but cleanses, burns off what is impure and leaves him clean. So clean is an "object complement" of the verb in burn the prophet clean and a "subject complement" in he himself had been burned clean and burned clean again.

The notion of cleansing fire runs throughout the Hebrew Bible, and is embraced by the Christian. For instance, John the Baptist is reported to have said:

I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but He that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire. -Matthew 3:11

| improve this answer | |
  • object complement – Edwin Ashworth Apr 18 '13 at 13:08
  • The OED suggests that this might be taken as an adverb here. However, it also notes that “In many instances, this may be analysed as an adj. standing as complement of the predicate, and referring to a n. expressed or understood.” – tchrist Apr 18 '13 at 13:53
  • @EdwinAshworth 'doh. I fix him gooder. – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 18 '13 at 14:30

I would suggest this is an adverb, as "burned" is your past participle, and the word "clean" modifies it in terms of extent.

Unfortunately, I can't find any examples to prove this, however it is relatively common to use the 'adverb' group as a catch-all, anyway.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    It is tricky because 'clean' is being used to describe the result of the burning (eg. the prophet was cleansed after the burning), not to describe the burning itself. So it is an adjective. If the sentence was "the prophet had been burnt cleanly" then cleanly would be an adverb but the meaning of that sentence is very different. – mattacular Apr 18 '13 at 14:55
  • My favourite pair of examples showing the difference is: "Sir, you've marked this question wrong" and "Sir, you've marked this question wrongly". – Edwin Ashworth Apr 19 '13 at 18:34

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.