"To play basketball" is an infinitive phrase. An infinitive phrase is generally used as a noun. Is the word "professionally" as in "To play basketball professionally..." an adjective or an adverb?

Is it an adjective because it modifies an infinitive phrase?

Or is it an adverb because it modifies the verb play?

  • 1
    Infinitives have some properties of nouns and some of verbs. The idea that if it is one then it cannot be the other is just wrong. Noun phrases may have infinitives as their head, but they then have a very different syntax from ordinary noun phrases: they do not take determiners, quantifiers, or adjectival modifiers. They may on the other hand take direct and indirect object phrases and adverbial modifiers. – Colin Fine Jun 22 '15 at 14:00
  • He wanted to play basketball professionally surely uses the modifier the same way that He played basketball professionally does. Some words that look like adverbs are ... adverbs. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 22 '15 at 14:41
  • I would be a bit more precise. To-infinitves are verb forms, but they can stand in positions that nouns have in a sentence. They have mainly the function of object and occasionally of subject. But infinitives as verb forms are modified by adverbs. – rogermue Jul 22 '15 at 16:34

It seems to me that this is a question of nested contexts.

In the "outer" context we can have a nominal|noun-phrase

To play basketball professionally is my dream.

In the inner context, professionally expresses manner, and is adverbial.

  • Sorry, Tim, my comment was meant to go on the question, not on your answer. I've copied it there and deleted it, so you might want to delete your reply. – Colin Fine Jun 22 '15 at 13:59
  • This is exactly right. "Outer" context is sometimes called "upstairs" context, thinking of the usual inverted tree representation of expressions. Similarly, "downstairs" for "inner". The notion that noun phrases have to have nouns as heads causes lots of confusion -- it just isn't so. – Greg Lee Jul 22 '15 at 16:03

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.