In this sentence:

With George, his perfect manservant, and Miss Lemon, his perfect secretary, order and method ruled supreme in his life.

Why is ruled followed by supreme instead of by supremely?

  • 1
    Rule: to be first in importance or prominence .merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rule. Supreme refers to order and method.
    – user66974
    Aug 27, 2015 at 14:32
  • 7
    For the same reason we say I feel happy instead of *I feel happily: the adjective still modifies the subject, not the verb.
    – Anonym
    Aug 27, 2015 at 15:03
  • 2
    I love Poirot! :) Aug 27, 2015 at 16:40
  • 4
    I'd say "ruled supreme" means that she rules alone, without limit or competition - eg. like being "supreme commander" means that you're fully in charge. To have "ruled supremely", I would take that you have 1) ruled very well (eg. "supremely good") and 2) wasn't ruling any longer (past tense). For example, you could say that a king had "ruled supremely (well)" after he died... and you could say that a king "rules supreme" in countries with unbound monarchies, since the King has the final (and often only) word in all instances. Aug 27, 2015 at 23:48
  • Mainly because "ruled supreme" is an established idiom.
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 6, 2015 at 21:47

6 Answers 6


Use of adjectives rather than adverbs in such constructions is common. The adjective modifies not so much the verb as the verb’s subject. Such adjectival predication is by no means confined to such more or less copulative verbs as be and seem, but works with more active verbs as well. Thus New Hampshire’s license-plate motto, which is controversial only for its belligerence, not its grammar:

Live free or die.

Or for a more august exemplar, try the opening of Lamentations of Jeremiah, in the 1611 King James Version:

How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people!

Participles can work in this way too. Many a candidate for office has been said to “run unopposed.”

  • 2
    Agreed. The city doesn't sit solitarily [ = in a solitary manner] but both sits and is solitary. Aug 27, 2015 at 15:36

To rule supreme is something of a "fixed collocation", meaning rule unchallenged...

supreme - highest in rank or authority; paramount; sovereign; chief. (Source)

To rule supremely (a relatively uncommon usage) would mean rule exceptionally well...

supreme - very ​great, or the ​best. (Source)

  • By 'fixed collocation' you mean sort of 'set phrase'?
    – user66974
    Aug 27, 2015 at 15:46
  • @Josh61: I see fixed collocation -> set phrase as a continuum, where this particular collocation fits better on the left-hand side. Things that go on the right, such as raining cats and dogs are often much more opaque if you're not familiar with them. Aug 27, 2015 at 15:55
  • In terms of leadership, supreme means superior in the most literal sense, not in terms of quality. If the king of one country is a "better leader" than the king of another, unrelated country, the former cannot be said to be "supreme" relative to the latter. The meaning of "exceptional/the best" is an extension of this notion to concepts which don't involve political hierarchy, e.g. a "leading product" might be called supreme because it is better than all others in its market and therefore dominates them. This leads me to believe your observation on "rule supremely" is incorrect.
    – talrnu
    Aug 27, 2015 at 19:53
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    @talrnu: I did say rule supremely isn't a "common" usage. But if you're a native speaker I'd be interested to know whether you automatically recognise the difference between acted supremely and acted supreme. All matches for the first mean acted exceptionally well, and all those for the second are simply accidental collocations (no-one seems to use that form for "acted as if he were a supreme ruler"). Aug 27, 2015 at 20:18
  • +1. I think this gives some more background on the use of "rule supreme" specifically.
    – justhalf
    Aug 28, 2015 at 5:05

Predicative Complements

Many verbs take a Predicative Complement. This is a phrase that fills a special slot set up by the verb, one that portays either the Subject or the Object. Here are some examples:

  • She was elected treasurer.
  • The elephants were ecstatic.
  • The made me furious.
  • She felt warm.

In the sentences above, the word treasurer portrays the Subject, she. The phrase ecstatic describes the Subject elephants. It was the Object me that was furious in the third example. And the word warm describes the Subject she in the last.

Adverbs and adverb phrases can almost never, if ever, be Predicative Complements. Predicative Complements are nearly always noun phrases, adjective phrases or preposition phrases.

Adverbs and adverb phrases as Adjuncts

Adverbs like warmly, supremely or ecstatically often modify verb phrases. This means that they give us extra information about the manner in which the subject did what they did. These are usually Adjuncts in the clause structure, in other words they have no special relationship with the verb and are entirely extra in terms of both the meaning and the syntax.

Predicative Adjuncts and the Original Poster's example

The word supreme in the Original Poster's example describes the Subject. We might consider it a Predicative Complement of the verb rule. However, it could feasibly be an Adjunct in the clause structure too. We also often use Predicative Adjuncts to describe the Subjects of sentences. This type of Adjunct does not semantically modify the verb phrase, but instead gives us more information about the Subject. They are different from Predicative Complements because they have no special relationship with the verb. In fact they are supplements. They are are similar to an extra phrase that we might put in brackets. In addition, we can move them to either the beginning or the end of the sentence. We can't do this with Predicative Complements without the sentence sounding very marked:

  • ?Happy she made me. (marked - fronted Predicative Complement)
  • ?Treasurer she was elected (marked - fronted Predicative Complement)
  • Happy with the result, I packed my bags. (fine - fronted predicative adjunct)
  • Indignant, she stormed out of the building. (fine - fronted predicative adjunct).

The word supreme is either a Predicative Adjunct or a Predicative Complement, it's a little difficult to tell which. The following sentences seem to mean the same thing:

  • Supreme, he ruled over his subjects.
  • He ruled over his Subjects supreme.

  • He ruled supreme over his subjects.

However, the word supreme does seem to have a special relationship with the verb RULE. In addition, if supreme was really a Predicative Adjunct and not a Predicative Complement, we might expect it to be surrounded by commas:

  • He ruled, supreme, over his subjects.

This however seems to have a slightly different flavour from the first example.

Whatever the function of supreme is, we can be certain that we need the adjective supreme and not the adverb supremely; the phrase is describing the Subject of the sentence, it is not modifying the verb phrase. It doesn't directly talk about the manner of the ruling.


Take the sentence, Order and method ruled supreme in his life.

We would expect, Order and method ruled supremely in his life.

Now look at the sentence, Order and method were supreme in his life.

That looks correct.

I suggest that the original sentence is shorthand for, Order and method ruled[, and were] supreme in his life.


Adjective instead of adverb. Elvis used to sing: "Love me tender, love me sweet, ... Love me tender, love me true", in one of his most famous songs, when he meant tenderly and truly. He did not teach English, but he was pretty successful around the world. I think that following his "mistakes" is not so bad.


I suspect this has to do with the popular title Supreme Ruler, assigned to someone with absolute authority over a wide domain. In this case, to rule supreme doesn't directly translate to "rule in a supreme manner", but to "rule under the title of Supreme", and merely implies supremeness by that title.

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