In the clause it was set alight, is alight

  1. acting as adverb and modifying was set
  2. an adjective and modifying it; or
  3. something else entirely that I'm missing.

I'm fairly certain that set alight isn't a phrasal verb so I'm a little stumped.

  • I've made it a little easier to read, but I can't do anything about the last sentence. – Andrew Leach Dec 18 '15 at 14:08
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    My dictionary (NOED) says that usage is an adverb. What does your dictionary say? (Officially, I should have withheld my answer until you gave yours.) – GEdgar Dec 18 '15 at 14:17
  • @user152022 It's simply an agentless passive clause with "was" as the main verb, "set" as past participle and "alight" an adjective. The active version would be "X set it alight". – BillJ Dec 18 '15 at 19:49
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    The fact that a corresponding simplex verb (ignite) exists shows that the MWV status of set alight should not be lightly discounted. The adverb interpretation shows the need for a clearer definition of adverbials (*set it in an alight sort of way); it should be discounted. But the link-like verb plus resultative adjective interpretation is also a strong candidate (cf it is alight; he fell/is asleep). It will take someone to decide which is the stronger claim (and then someone else to disagree). – Edwin Ashworth Dec 18 '15 at 21:27

It was set alight.

I would understand alight here as an adjective describing it and acting syntactically as a resultative Predicate Complement to the verb set: [something] caused it to be alight.

  • Yes; a better way of looking at it is in the active, as the passive is just a rearrangement of that: He set it alight. Alight is acting as an adjectival object complement. – Jasper Locke Dec 18 '15 at 17:38
  • I would consider it an adverb modifying set. Though one might also argue that the verb is alight and set is a "helper verb". – Hot Licks Dec 18 '15 at 17:39
  • @StoneyB It's just the agentless passive version of the active "X set it alight". "It was set alight" has "was" as main verb, "set" as past participle and "alight" as adjective. – BillJ Dec 18 '15 at 20:04
  • @BIllJ Quite so. – StoneyB on hiatus Dec 18 '15 at 20:37

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