Is the sentence "I was sitting alone." correct? And if so, is "alone" an adverb? Are there other examples of adjectives being used as adverbs without modification?

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    (1) Yes. (2) I wouldn't class it as such. (3) So this question is incorrect. Predicative adjectives are adjectives. There are some words that exhibit adjective - adverb intercategorial polysemy (eg leisurely adj and leisurely adv; well adj and well adv; wide adj and wide adv; fast adj and fast adv). – Edwin Ashworth Jun 24 '15 at 22:58
  • @EdwinAshworth thanks for the structured, crystal clear explanation! – semantax Jul 25 '15 at 7:51

Take the sentence into the simple past and it becomes 'I sat alone.'

Clearly, here, 'alone' modifies 'sat'. As such, it is an adverb.

If you were to say 'I, alone.' you could consider it an adjective. Others might argue differently. If the sense, however, was 'I was alone', then 'alone' would would arguably be a subjective complement.

The easiest way to think of adverbs is in relation to the 9 attributes which are part of Aristotle's 10 categories of being (everything except substance), in which terms they can simply be classified as 'attributes of attributes'.

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  • He might say as well I was alone (adjective). The problem is not the question is alone used as an adjective or adverb. Actually it does not matter whether you see it as adj. or adv. The meaning is clear and it has no -ly. So I prefer to say adj. in adv. position, but everyone can see it as he/she prefers. – rogermue Feb 12 '14 at 15:06
  • @rogermue despite your excellent answer I am persuaded to choose this one as the correct one. The example that swayed me was my recollection of the famous Apple quotation: "Think different", from which I would derive "I think different", in which "different" certainly applies to "think". I personally prefer to write "I think differently" so perhaps "I think different" is wrong. But then I came up with another example: in "I see far", "far" cannot apply to "I" and there is no clear adverb form such "far-ly" [sic] that can be applied. Similarly, "He plays rough". What say? – semantax Jun 12 '14 at 9:08

I agree with Barrie's answer and would say there are a lot of adjectives that can be used as adverbs. English dictionaries usually indicate uses of adjectives as adverbs simply as "adverbs".

I don't like this change of word classes. And I think this does not help to understand language. I prefer the formulation "adjective in adverb position".

In the sentence given in post 1 "I was sitting alone" alone is not an adverb, even when dictionaries say so. The basic concept is: I was alone - and that is an adjective. Even if you replace "was" by "was sitting" or "was standing" that does not change anything. "was sitting" is can be considered as a variant of the verb to be (the basic copula verb, that has a lot of variants).

Another example: The birds were flying high/low. Dictionaries list this use under high/low adverb. But that is really confusion of things. The bird fly at a high/low level and not in a high/low manner. "high/low" maintain their adjective character and the speaker has a clear concept of an adjective use in mind: at a high or low level.

Such adjective uses must be studied carefully and sometimes it is not so easy to decide how things are. In John Wyndham's excellent science fiction story The Meteor he describes the landing of a small extraterrestian space craft on Earth. He said: The thing burried deep into the earth. Here you might have difficulty to decide what would be right: deep or deeply. But Wyndham decided to take the adjective deep, obviously thinking the flying object burried to a deep point in the earth.

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  • +1 for raising the point. It's rather like Huddleston and Pullum’s attempt to extend the membership of the preposition class beyond the words that traditional grammar calls prepositions. – Barrie England Feb 12 '14 at 10:06
  • +1 for excellent answer! (btw Wyndham's could also be read as "The thing that was buried deep into the earth." but that is besides the point you successfully make with the example) – semantax Feb 12 '14 at 11:38
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    I disagree that alone is an adjective in the example given. It does not characterize I, it characterizes sitting. In the train full of people, I was sitting alone on the bench. – bib Feb 12 '14 at 12:42
  • You are not alone. But as to language a lot of things can be regarded differently. But your argument does not hold water. Not every adjective after a verb characterizes the verb. I say it characterizes the subject. The subject was alone, not the manner of sitting. – rogermue Feb 12 '14 at 12:50
  • @bib see my comment on Leon Conrad's answer below. – semantax Jun 12 '14 at 9:11

It is, and, yes, there are other words that can be used both as an adjective and an adverb. A little time spent with a dictionary will show you some of them.

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  • not sure how a dictionary would help but I appreciate the confirmation of my hypothesis, +1 – semantax Feb 12 '14 at 8:59
  • A dictionary would help because it would have adjective and adverb senses listed under the same lemma. Indeed, alone would in most dictionaries. – Jon Hanna Feb 12 '14 at 9:59
  • @JonHanna Wouldn't I need to scan a lot of words before encountering one that is both an adjective and an adverb? The point is that if I already knew such a word a dictionary could help confirm it, but it wouldn't help find other examples in any easy way. – semantax Feb 12 '14 at 11:35
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    You could have looked up alone. – Jon Hanna Feb 12 '14 at 11:36
  • @JonHanna that's correct, but Barrie's answer suggests "A little time spent with a dictionary will show you some of them." (emphasis on "some of them"). He didn't say that a dictionary would help confirm alone, which it understandably would. My quibble was with his suggestion that I could find examples in the dictionary. – semantax Feb 12 '14 at 11:40

I was sitting alone.

"Alone" is an adverb as it modifies the verb; it identifies the way I was sitting.

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The word “alone” didn’t describe the "I". thus it is not a adjective. It tells a condition around the I, not the I itself. "Alone" didn’t describes how I sat. It seems like a different category, because sit is a action, and alone is condition. Thus it is also not a adverb. This sentence is combined with two sentence: “I sat.”and “There is no people around me.”It is a combined sentence being simplified.

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  • While I would agree that there are problems accepting some 'non-semantically-predicative adjectives' as being true adjectives (a former President is hardly 'former', and a 'mere youth' is 'no more than a member of that undervalued, underpaid, powerless and callow (Oh, yeah!) group known as youths'), it is a lot more reasonable to treat some other 'placing-in-a-context'-modifiers (solitary, alone, rare, common, adjacent ...) as adjectives. They do give more information about the referent. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 24 '15 at 22:52

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