Consider the example: I am happy to wait. In some publications, the function of the infinitive is called 'adverb'. In others, it is 'complement of adjective'. Is there a difference in the naming of the function? I've always learnt that adverbs do modify adjectives, and I'm wondering why the name of this particular function is not the same everywhere.

  • Because people have different views. Please include your source/reference/research in your question. Are you asking whether "to wait" is an "adverb" or a "complement of adjective" and why? "Unanimous" seems to be misused.
    – user140086
    Commented Nov 5, 2015 at 10:04
  • Unfortunately, I have no resource to provide for the moment. It's been a while since I first encountered this difference in naming. I must confess that the function "adverb" occured more frequently than "complement of adjective" when I searched for it. Yes, that's what I'm asking about. "unanimous" has been edited. :)
    – Nel
    Commented Nov 5, 2015 at 12:12
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    Yeah, I encountered this yesterday, looking up the non-preposition version of "to". I'm guessing that when lexicographers get together there are some vicious shouting matches.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Nov 5, 2015 at 12:14
  • Anyone who says "to wait" is an adverb should not be listened to for grammatical analysis. Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 13:28
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    @curiousdannii Infinitives can be adverbs; typically, they answer the question "why". "To wait" is likely not an adverb here as it answers none of an adverb's questions (when, where, how, why [although one could make a tenuous argument here], to what extent [how often or how much]), nor does it seem to intensify anything, like "only" or "very", or define the manner, -ly adverbs, in which something is done. Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 16:11

1 Answer 1


Calling 'to wait' an adverb (or adverbial, in either the nounal or adjectival sense of this word) is really stretching the definition of 'adverb/ial' too far. It is a sad fact that 'adverb' was the class that 'doesn't appear to be one of the other 7 parts of speech' became.

'I am waiting happily' is very different (though they may be said in the same situation) in meaning from 'I am happy to wait'. It's better to regard 'to wait' as the 'completer' of the adjective 'happy' here; it even really modifies ('changes to a certain degree' rather than the 'attaches additional meaning' sense) what 'happy' means in the context ('I am happy' means 'I am almost joyful', but 'happy to wait' means 'not unwilling to wait'; imagine 'joyful to wait' or 'unhappy to wait'). It is 'necessary' in the sense that it modifies meaning rather than just adds additional information (contrast 'I am waiting quietly).

  • Aren't adjectives modified by adverbs? Since 'happy' is an adjective and 'to wait' modifies it, why isn't 'to wait' simply called 'adverb'?
    – Nel
    Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 15:09
  • And how about when it is followed by another word group: "I am happy for you"?
    – Nel
    Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 15:14
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    'Aren't adjectives modified by adverbs?': You're citing a view of traditional grammar; many analysts think that the various word groups once dumped in the 'adverb' class should be separated according to their functions. This has been covered here before. '... to wait' modifies 'happy'. Sorry, I was using 'modify' in the non-specialist but more usual sense there: 'changes the actual nature of, usually not to a vast degree' rather than 'says something more about'. 'I am happy to wait' is essentially a paraphrase of 'I am content that I will wait'; the that-clause is doing more than 'modifying'. Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 16:00
  • Traditional grammar is still alive where I live. :-)
    – Nel
    Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 20:00
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    That of 1880 or that of 1220? Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 22:33

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