"Out" is listed as an adverb in the Cambridge Dictionary in the following example.

I came around to see you this morning, but you were out.

Does anyone know why it isn't an adjective?

  • The question is based on incorrect parsing.
    – Kris
    Oct 28, 2019 at 11:29
  • 3
    @Kris I think the question has merit on some level. For example, why are these locations following to be considered to be modifying the verb and not adjectival. I think you could make a case that when following to be it serves as both but we've decided by convention it's still an adverb. What if we're saying someone is out of the closet or out and about. These blur the lines a bit as they're a bit more descriptive of the person rather than their state. This actually might make a decent question when I get in the mood.
    – David M
    Oct 28, 2019 at 12:30
  • Locative expressions are not predicative, so it can't be an adjective. I take "out" to be a preposition, in accordance with the latest thinking, See here: link
    – BillJ
    Oct 29, 2019 at 8:23
  • @ Bill J .I agree with you. Each grammarian differs with the other grammarian.So I think the discussion on parts of speech tend be misleading and go anyway.so I think we give more importance to meaning than splitting our hairs on this issue Oct 29, 2019 at 14:44

2 Answers 2


Though out is used predicatively, it acts as an adverb in the sentence.

I came around to see you, but you were out.

We can not say whether a word is an adjective or adverb unless we know its function.

An adjective modifies a noun or pronoun but an adverb modifies an adjective, another adverb or a whole sentence.

You were out means you went out. here out modifies the verb were but not you.because there was some movement or something was not there( it was away)

Here is a link which helps you.


If the lights are out Here out means not shining which modifies lights so it is treated as an adjective.

If the flowers are out. here out means blossed which modifies flowers so it is treated as an adjective

Here there was no movement of lights are flowers but there was a change in their state.

However , it is really confusing.It can not only be an adjective but also a preposition too.

Here is a link which shows how out can be a preposition too.


  • See also, my comment at OP.
    – Kris
    Oct 28, 2019 at 11:28

I agree that it seems confusing. Out seems like it would be an adjective to describe you. But, it is in fact a place adverb or spatial adverb.

It describes where the action took place. In this case, the confusion is being caused by the fact that your verb is to be (past-tense were). We're conditioned to believe that things that follow that verb are adjectives. But, in this case, what's following it is an adverb of place.

If you substituted another verb the usage becomes clearer:

I came around to see you this morning, but you jumped out.

This works for adverbial phrases, too.

I came around to see you this morning, but you were out in the yard.

  • 2
    You could also replace it with there, which is clearly an adverb; this strongly suggests adverbiality. Oct 28, 2019 at 4:19
  • @Cerberus that was my original example. But I decided that it took the same understanding of adverbial usage as out did ... So I changed it as above ....
    – David M
    Oct 28, 2019 at 11:32

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