Consider the following sentences:

Enough are present to form a quorum.
Not enough are present to form a quorum.

M-W and Wiktionary both label enough as a pronoun in this usage, but they also label not as an adverb. How can not be an adverb, if it's modifying a pronoun?

Perhaps more importantly, is this question about anything semantically meaningful under the surface, or is this just an arbitrary decision?

(Here is the thread on ELL that inspired this question.)

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    It was put (wrongly in many people's opinion) into the adverb category for the plain reason that nobody (correctly this time) would allow it into the noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, preposition, conjunction, or interjection classes. Sadly, we had to have 8 classes. Here is one treatment stating that the negator not is a "syncategorematic item, a very fancy word meaning ‘belonging to a category of which it is the only member’ ": "The best-known such item in English is the negative not, which behaves differently from every other word in the language." ['Parts of Speech': University of Sussex] – Edwin Ashworth May 29 '15 at 15:06
  • What information do you get when a dictionary says "not, adverb" ? Actually none and such a label is useless. – rogermue May 29 '15 at 15:58
  • @rogermue as much information as if it had said "not adverb"? :-) – Matt Gutting May 29 '15 at 17:43
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    Latin grammar had a special term for such words: particle. A good modern term is function word. A useful label in dictionaries would be particle/function word of negation. But dictionaries are careless and without ideas when labels for word classes are concerned. – rogermue May 29 '15 at 17:58
  • You can't get no satisfaction looking up grammar words in dictionaries, especially not inferior ones like M-W or Wiktionary. Enough is a quantifier, part of the enough ... (so that) S construction, where S is any result clause. In this case, the clause is an infinitive, so the so that part isn't necessary (or grammatical). Enough specifies that the quantity is above some threshhold value that allows S. Not enough specifies that the quantity is not obove the threshhold value, and therefore S is not allowed. – John Lawler May 29 '15 at 22:09

In the examples of the OP, enough is a determiner for the ellipted noun people:

Enough [people] are present to form a quorum.

The determiner is negated by the adverb not:

Not enough [people] are present to form a quorum.

The understanding of what an adverb is, and what it can modify, has broadened over time:

An adverb is a word that modifies a verb, adjective, other adverb, determiner, noun phrase, clause, or sentence...

Adverbs are traditionally regarded as one of the parts of speech. However, modern linguists note that it has come to be used as a kind of "catch-all" category, used to classify words with various different types of syntactic behavior, not necessarily having much in common except that they do not fit into any of the other available categories (noun, adjective, preposition, etc.)


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    I suppose your point is the same regardless of the fact that [people] is not necessarily what was meant; if the sentence had ended with "pride," the obvious "elided noun" would have been "lion." If it had ended with "group," there's no real way of knowing what had been elided. – Jason Melançon May 29 '15 at 21:55
  • One man's 'The understanding of what an adverb is, and what it can modify, has broadened over time' is another man's '[various] words ... get dumped into "adverb[s]" ... used as [a] "dustbin" category for words that don't really fit anywhere [else in the traditional schema]' [Neil Coffey]. – Edwin Ashworth May 29 '15 at 22:25
  • I believe we agree, @Edwin, that the traditional schema is inadequate, as it often leads us over the analytical cliff identified by the OP. Superwords like not deserve their own category, but it doesn't seem like anyone has gathered sufficient consensus to create a category that everyone can agree on. Flexibility is one of the glorious attributes of English, and in this case, one could rationalize parsing enough as a noun and not as an adjective, but that would attract the ire of the inflexible. – ScotM May 30 '15 at 11:02
  • Astute observation, @Jason, ellipsis requires a meaningful context. In the OP, the word quorum clearly implies people (or some subset of that group like members or executives). Pride would have implied lions, and if the final word had created ambiguity, the reader would be depending on an even larger context to resolve the ambiguity. – ScotM May 30 '15 at 11:14

Regardless of its location, not is still an adverb modifying the verb are present. If you were to move not to split the compound verb, the sentence would retain its meaning; the difference is simply in emphasis.

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    Welcome to the site! With due respect to your years of teaching, as a student of computer science I am required to question your assertion. :-) Moving the not does change the meaning in the general case. Consider these sentences: Not many are present. vs. Many are not present. Also, are you sure present is part of the verb? – Jason Melançon May 29 '15 at 21:45
  • Sadly, 'are present' is not a verb. 'Present' is a locative rather than part of a multi-word verb. Traditionally, it would be labelled a predicative adjective (see eg Collins // AHDEL). 'Not' can hardly be claimed to 'modify' the carrier verb (copula) 'are'. – Edwin Ashworth May 30 '15 at 12:45

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