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I'm curious about the phrase “dearly beloved”. – It looks to me to be a phrase consisting of an adverb (dearly) modifying a noun (beloved). But I thought adverbs could only modify verbs or adjectives?

So what am I missing here? What are the parts of speech of this phrase, and how do they go together?


Edit: I’m thinking of the noun phrase (as used, e.g. in addressing someone). Originally I encountered this in the phrase in a Bad Religion song by the same name. In which the chrorus is:

Dearly beloved, dearly beloved, dearly beloved
Make no mistake, despite our traits, I've seldom seen
I can't relate to you
I can't relate to you

But wikipedia has a whole long list of novels, songs etc. with “Dearly Beloved” as a title.

I realise (as pointed out in the comments below) that dearly beloved might also be interpreted as a verb phrase, but my question is not intended to be about that.

  • I don't believe "beloved" is a noun. – user356866 Aug 20 at 21:45
  • Martha was dearly beloved by Jack. – Hot Licks Aug 20 at 22:27
  • You have to distinguish between the 3-syllable and the 2-syllable version. The vocative expression one hears at some weddings, for instance, is Dearly Belovèd, with three syllables, and that word doesn't necessarily occur in the same places as the two-syllable version, though the meanings are more or less the same. – John Lawler Aug 21 at 2:20
  • As @John Lawler suggests, the marriage service in the Book of Common Prayer begins with the words Dearly beloved (addressed to the congregation). However, the preamble to the Morning and Evening Services (often omitted nowadays) begins Dearly beloved brethren. Beloved is an adjective and dearly an adverb. – Kate Bunting Aug 21 at 9:27
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    How about this: "beloved" is an adjective or a past participle being used as a noun, and the adverb "dearly" qualifies the adjective or the past participle, and then the whole phrase "dearly beloved" is essentially an adjective or a past participle that can be used as a noun. – Michael Hardy Aug 21 at 20:29
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Beloved seems to be either an adjective or a past participle acting as a noun.

This use is similar to "the fallen" to mean the people who have died. To modify this phrase, we have two options: (1) modify the noun derived from the participle by adding an adjective, or (2) modify the participle by adding an adverb and then make the whole phrase into a noun.

1) Recent fallen - "fallen" is essentially a noun phrase, but a one-word phrase because we've elided a word. "Fallen" is essentially fallen people. We can modify the whole noun phrase (fallen people) by adding an adjective. Thus, recent fallen -> recent (fallen people) -> fallen people who are recent.

2) Recently fallen - if we use an adverb instead of an adjective, we must be modifying the participle, rather than the noun phrase. Recently modifies fallen, not fallen people. Thus, recently fallen -> recently fallen (people) -> people who have fallen recently.

Likewise with beloved. We can modify the noun: dear beloved. This would describe beloved people who are dear.

We can modify the adjective/participle: dearly beloved. This would describe people who are beloved dearly.

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    The recent fallen is perfectly fine – it just refers to the fallen people who are recent, as opposed to the people who have fallen recently. Similarly, dear beloved is perfectly grammatical, referring to loved ones who are also dear, as opposed to the ones who are loved dearly (by us). Semantically, both those examples are not very likely to occur in normal conversation, but they’re grammatical and might make sense in some context or other. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 20 at 21:54
  • Right. I wasn't thinking of that @JanusBahsJacquet. I'll edit. – Juhasz Aug 20 at 21:56
  • So there’s a difference in meaning betwen dearly beloved and dear beloved? – zrajm Aug 20 at 22:25
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    @zrajm, in theory there's a difference, but not in practice. First, dearly beloved is an idiom; it's meaning is not literal. Second, the meanings of dear and beloved overlap. Can someone be beloved and not dear? Third, if you address someone as "dear beloved," it will sound like you're addressing a letter ("Dear Mrs. Beloved..."). But take another example: "crazy/crazily." Crazy beloved would describe a person who is loved and who is crazy. Crazily beloved would describe a person who is loved to a crazy degree. Those are very different concepts. – Juhasz Aug 20 at 22:39
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    Or even more clearly (since crazy is quite common as a flat adverb, making the difference harder to distinguish), insane beloved is someone who’s insane but you love them; insanely beloved is someone you love to an insane degree. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 20 at 23:08
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A complementary answer:

I thought adverbs could only modify verbs or adjectives?

The categories "adjective" and "adverb" are very fuzzy in English. Words that can be used indiscriminately to modify any other word—nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions even—are probably more common than words that can only modify some categories of word.

It's true that we have the -ly suffix that you have to apply to some (but not all) "adjectives" when you want to use them to modify verbs and other modifiers, and remove from some (but not all) "adverbs" when you want to use them to modify nouns. Calling this suffix a derivation operator that "turns adjectives into adverbs" is, I think, a relict of If-only-English-were-Latin grammar theory. If we were working up a descriptive grammar of English from scratch, I suspect it would be cleaner to have just one category of "modifier," and treat the -ly suffix as an agreement marker, instead of an operator.

  • The ambiguity here is rather that between adjectives and nouns. Beloved is a nominalized adjective, and, as such, it is modified by an adverb. – phoog Aug 22 at 18:31
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Beloved is a nominalized adjective. Because beloved is an adjective, it is modified by an adverb. The same thing is happening with "the recently unemployed" in a sentence such as this program provides support to the recently unemployed.

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