5

I am quite new to the idea or postpositive adjectives, and would like to know if the adjective 'alone'(which is usually predicative) can be placed in that position.

e.g.

 - I alone cannot change this world.

 - I alone can handle this.

 - He alone will save us all.

Or perhaps the examples I gave are grammatically incorrect?

If that is the case is 'alone' a predicative-only adjective/adverb?

Do I need to separate it with commas? Ie. I, alone, cannot change this world.

Many thanks

  • Your examples are all fine: you are right that "alone" is a post-head modifier in noun phrases, but note that it is an adverb here, more precisely a focusing adverb. – BillJ Jul 29 '16 at 17:45
  • Thanks for clarifying BillJ. If you don't mind may you please give me some examples of 'alone' used as post-head adjective? – JUNCINATOR Aug 1 '16 at 8:30
  • As a post-head modifier it is an adverb, not an adjective. When it is an adjective, it functions as a predicative complement in examples like They felt very alone on the moors that night ; Kim prefers to be alone; They were alone when the burglars struck. – BillJ Aug 1 '16 at 11:03
  • @BillJ Do you have any sources to support the claim that it's an adverb rather than an adjective here? With the functionally similar -self words, this focusing/intensifying use is often called adverb(i)al, since it can move around in the verbal phrase; but the fact that this otherwise identical use of alone can only appear adnominally, never adverbally, would seem to indicate to me that it really is an intensifier adjective (or pronoun?) in this usage. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 1 '16 at 12:26
  • @Janus Bahs Jacquet link. – BillJ Aug 1 '16 at 12:54
2

Yes, you can indeed use "alone" in this way and with no comma required. Here is a rather nice quote from Dragon Lord Messiah (Elijah Stone): "Yes. That is how I must remain. To truly be true to myself, I alone must stand, alone." Two uses of the word in one sentence (one predicative; one not)! :)

1

Alone is an adverb, not an adjective. (The adjectival form is lone, as in The Lone Ranger.) "Alone" is equivalent in meaning to the following adverbial phrases, but being one word only, "alone" is preferable to

by myself

by yourself

by itself / himself / herself

by ourselves

by yourselves

by themselves

Note that adverbs and short adverbial phrases do not need to be set off by commas.

Substitute the above mentioned adverbial phrases for the word "alone" in the three example sentences you supplied, and you will see how they modify the verb--not the noun. Hopefully you also see why a comma is unnecessary, and see that the single word "alone" flows more smoothly than the phrase.

For the predicative case, consider the two equivalent constructions,

I went home alone.

I went home by myself.

But the meaning would be different if I said,

I alone went home.

The meaning in this case is that I was the only one who went home (while others stayed out / at the scene / away from home).

  • 1
    "Alone" can be an adjective in something like "He prefers being alone". – BillJ Jul 30 '16 at 9:46
  • Alone, adj., adv., and n. Source: OED The definitive record of the English language. – Anonymous Aug 1 '16 at 9:18
  • How will substituting any of the other phrases show that alone modifies the verb? The only thing you will get from such a substitution is that prepositional phrases are at the very least highly poetic in that slot. “I by myself went home” sounds like something from an Irish drinking song and is borderline ungrammatical in regular language use. Substitute an actual adverb that does modify the verb, though, and you get a grammatical sentence: “I quickly went home”. Not sure what your predicative comparison is supposed to prove, since alone is just as likely an adjective there (too). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 1 '16 at 12:08
  • That is a very good point. I believe one can argue that 'alone' in 'I alone cannot change the word.' can be a postpositive adjective, as it focuses on the pronoun. However, 'alone' as a focusing adverb seems just as, if not more correct. I find it hard to tell whether it functions as an adjective or adverb. – JUNCINATOR Aug 1 '16 at 13:33
  • 1
    @JUNCINATOR The focusing modifier "alone" in I alone cannot change the world cannot possibly be an adjective since it is not ascribing some property to "I" as would normally happen with an adjective. It is not saying I am alone and I cannot change the world; the meaning is I, entirely on my own, cannot change the world. Here's a link to the Oxford dictionary entry for focusing adverb "alone": See item 2 and 2.1 in the link: link – BillJ Aug 1 '16 at 16:34
0

BillJ posted the following answer in the comments:

Your examples are all fine: you are right that "alone" is a post-head modifier in noun phrases, but note that it is an adverb here, more precisely a focusing adverb.

As a post-head modifier it is an adverb, not an adjective. When it is an adjective, it functions as a predicative complement in examples like They felt very alone on the moors that night ; Kim prefers to be alone; They were alone when the burglars struck.

Huddleston & Pullum's The Cambridge Grammar Of The English Language gives "alone" as a focussing adverb on p587 and discusses it in depth on pp591-2

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.