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In a lot of sentences when speaking people use adjectives after verbs. In some examples it sounds right, however, and I was wondering if such uses were valid in formal writing.

The only example I can think of:

"I'm hungry," she said, shocked.

There are of course many cases in which I'm sure doing such a thing is incorrect:

He ran slow

I ate quick

But I ask about less blatantly incorrect examples such as the first one above.

  • There are over 450 hits here for a search on 'link verbs'. They are also known as 'linking verbs' (as their main function is to link a subject noun with a predicative adjective: John is cold / The rain became very heavy). Some similar verbs also carry semantic content (The rose blushed pink). – Edwin Ashworth Dec 22 '14 at 22:41
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    For "he ran slow", "he ate quick", slow and quick are acting like adverbs so they in a sense are adverbs. It's non-standard usage (newspapers don't use it) but everyday people will use that a lot. As to "I am hungry", 'to be' takes adjectives. – Mitch Dec 22 '14 at 22:43
  • @tchrist That’s not a duplicate—as stated in the question, this one is about sentences like “I’m hungry”. The question is based on a misunderstanding (or an imperfect understanding) of how the grammar works, but it’s not the same as the one in your link. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 22 '14 at 22:56
  • possible duplicate of Adjectives used with intransitive verbs in lieu of adverbs – Edwin Ashworth Dec 22 '14 at 23:03
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    @EdwinAshworth I bet I can dig holes deeper than you can. I also bet that dig is transitive. :) Other examples are available upon demand, like typing comments faster. – tchrist Dec 22 '14 at 23:08
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Part One

Hungry is here used as an adjective. In the case of the verb be, it takes substantives (nouns or pronouns) or adjectives in its predicate complement, NOT adverbs. You cannot say “I am *soon.” or “I am *often.” as complete sentences with a period/full stop following: both those are wrong.

This is because you cannot use an adverb to modify be any more than you can use an adverb to modify a pronoun. Sure, you can use intensifiers, like saying I really am, but an intensifier isn’t exactly in the same class as an adverb. Plus there has been something left out at the end that’s to be understood as the target of the intensifier.

Sometimes people will get all tangled up about things like “I’m here” or “I’m there” or “I’m home”, but that all works differently: it’s not actually an adverb there. It’s some kind of substantive. Sometimes it’s more of a locative pronoun as with here or there or a temporal one like now or then.1

At other times it’s a normal noun used as an adverbial phrase in of itself, like tomorrow or home. “Adverb” is something of a grab-bag category into which the weak-willed toss anything they don’t much know what to do with.

Part Two

As for the other examples apart from hungry, those are NOT adjectives: they are clearly adverbs because they are modifying a verb. It doesn’t matter what they look like, and it doesn’t matter what one or another dictionary says that they “are”. All that matters is what they happen to be doing here and now, and here and now they are modifying verbs.

Remember this: Just as not all words that end in -ly are adverbs, not all adverbs end in -ly.

If one person runs FASTER than the second person, then the second person runs SLOWER the first. If you dig down DEEPER, you will find that adverbs aren’t bound by any such -ly restrictions, be those in the positive degree, the comparative, or the superlative.

The SOONER you are brought to understand this, the SOUNDER you will sleep.


Footnotes

  1. There’s a fancy word for these types of words — deictic — but it isn’t one they teach in grammar school and I don’t want to confuse anyone.
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    Another difference: adverbs modify their verbs, which means they’re not in the predicate at all, unlike the noun phrases that constitute the predicates of linking verbs. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 22 '14 at 23:03
  • @JanusBahsJacquet You keep telegraphing my edits!! – tchrist Dec 22 '14 at 23:04
  • I like this answer, but it seems that I see the problem differently. In the OP's first sentence, the word shocked seems to be a participle used as an adjective to describe the pronoun subject she. She did not "speak shocked". "Shocked, she spoke!" The rational quality of your answer and your overwhelmingly powerful reputation subdue my inclination to offer a competing answer. – ScotM Dec 23 '14 at 3:25
  • @ScotM I never mentioned shocked. – tchrist Dec 23 '14 at 3:26
  • Agreed, cheerfully. The OP's stated question: "But I ask about less blatantly incorrect examples such as the first one above." – ScotM Dec 23 '14 at 3:28
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It can be seen in military terminology, presumably originally from lists to make related items appear together when sorted alphabetically, e.g. 'meals, ready-to-eat' (MREs), 'airman, basic', 'sergeant major'.

See also this question: when-can-an-adjective-be-postposed

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