Certain nouns can also be verbs, i.e. run or play. Some adjectives can be applied to both forms of such a word, by switching the positioning:

  • Run fast
  • Fast run
  • Play clean
  • Clean play

But this isn't always possible -- Play seriously vs serious play -- the adjective changes its form. What is the name for this? I'm looking for a list of adjectives that go after a verb.

P.S. The tag "adjectives" claims that adjectives are only applied to nouns.

  • Actually, play clean is also incorrect, along with play serious.
    – Daniel
    Commented Sep 1, 2011 at 21:38
  • i obviously have no idea what i'm talking about
    – Mikhail
    Commented Sep 1, 2011 at 21:57
  • But you're learning, and that is as much as anyone can ask for.
    – Daniel
    Commented Sep 1, 2011 at 21:59
  • "play serious" would be an ungrammatical slang form; it's common enough in spoken language, but is largely restricted to commands between team-mates who don't have time to bother with five- or ten-word constructions. Commented Sep 2, 2011 at 3:11
  • 1
    These "adjectives" are usually called "flat adverbs". There are a lot of them; they're used more in American English than in British English, and more in the South than in the rest of the U.S. However, they're not an American innovation—they were common in British English in Shakespeare's time. Commented Apr 16, 2013 at 18:36

3 Answers 3


The difference between serious and seriously is that the former is an adjective, while the latter is an adverb. We use adverbs to modify verbs (hence Play seriously = [Verb] [adverb]), but adjectives to modify nouns (hence Serious play = [Adjective] [noun]). Since fast is both an adjective and an adverb, run fast and fast run are both correct.

It would be erroneous to suppose that adjectives can be applied to verbs. In the first of your examples, though fast is correct as an adjective, it is also correct as an adverb. The second example is fallacious since clean is not an adverb, making play clean incorrect.

As to the list, what you would end up finding would be adjectives which are also adverbs, such as fast, since that type of word is the only type which can modify both nouns and verbs. Clean, as before stated, would not be on the list.

Also, the tag is correct. Adjectives modify nouns, and adverbs modify verbs.

  • 1
    What's wrong with play clean? Isn't it like play nice or its opposite, play dirty?
    – aedia λ
    Commented Sep 1, 2011 at 21:53
  • 2
    They are colloquialisms, and technically incorrect as long as clean, nice, and dirty are not adverbs.
    – Daniel
    Commented Sep 1, 2011 at 21:54
  • 2
    Being inappropriate for a formal register (for example, you would not usually write play clean in a research paper) doesn't make something that occurs in the speech of native speakers incorrect. Many dictionaries list words like clean as adverbs and note how they're used. The OP makes a good point, too: play serious is probably more likely to be ungrammatical than, for example, play dirty (see COCA summary); maybe because seriously has currency compared to dirtily.
    – aedia λ
    Commented Sep 1, 2011 at 22:46
  • 1
    I'm sure that's also how fast got to be where it is; fastly must never have caught on. Also, the dictionary there says clean as an adverb is "informal" (what I'm calling "colloquial") and even that definition wouldn't fit with play clean, anyhow. In fact, that definition is useful enough that I would say it was correct, when used like that (e.g. I got clean away). Also, playing dirty is an idiom for foul play; it would never be used of a child playing in the dirt. IOW, In all those usages, the adjective used as an adverb has a different meaning than when it has an -ly.
    – Daniel
    Commented Sep 1, 2011 at 22:55
  • So dirty as an adverb has a different meaning from dirtily as an adverb. Playing dirty doesn't equal playing dirtily, etc.
    – Daniel
    Commented Sep 1, 2011 at 22:58

The fact is, "adjectives" can never modify verbs. The only thing that modifies verbs, are adverbs.

In your example "run fast", "fast" is an adverb, not an adjective:

fast : quickly, with great speed; within a short time

When you switch "Run Fast" to "Fast Run", "Run" becomes a noun, and "fast" is legitimately an adjective:

A regular trip or route. / A trial of an experiment. ("Fast run" meaning a fast(adjective) trip or trial, etc.)

The fact is, whenever you switch the words around (Play clean/Clean play; Play seriously/Serious play), the modifiers(Serious and Clean) change from an adverb to an adjective

  • 4
    I think you missed the point of the question, and are letting descriptors distort your view of English topology. When native speakers learn "a fast run" and "run fast", they do not first learn "adj" and "adv". All grammatical categories have been imposed on the spoken language after-the-fact, and so, when the topology of the language indicates that certain words can indeed be used to modify either verbs or nouns, there's not any point in insisting that this description doesn't "fit" with established grammatical descriptors. To do so is to miss an opportunity for study and learning. Commented Sep 2, 2011 at 3:15

Though adjectives, most often, describe nouns, they can also be used as a complement to (not a description of) linking verbs or the verbs of being, [to be] verbs, (am, is, are, was, were).

"That cow sure is happy."

"It smells gross in the locker room."

(Paraphrased, in part, from Grammarly).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.