The sentence is : They rest sixteen to eighteen hours a day and spend most of that unconscious.

It comes from a passage about koalas and why they are so lethargic. Well, the sentence is complete without 'unconscious,' so it seems to have to be followed by an adverb not an adjective. But, if the adverb, unconsciously, is used, I think, it specifies the manner in which the verb phrase is done; the way of their spending time is unconscious. But here, what is meant by 'unconscious' was the state of the subject, they, during their spending time. And thus, I think the adjective, unconscious, is the right choice. But I'm not a native speaker, so I just want to make sure if the alternative sounds really bad, which would be "They rest sixteen to eighteen hours a day and spend most of that unconsciously."

Also, at the same time, I'm in a position to explain about this sentence, but I can't think of grammatical phenomenon for this. The closest one that I can think of is what is called quasi-complements, like the adjectives at the end of the following sentences. He died young. Or, they arrived exhausted. In these examples, the adjectives young and exhausted specify the subjects after intransitive verbs. But I heard that these quasi-complements occur after these types of intransitive verbs, such as die, arrive, etc. Unfortunately, that is not the case with the sentence that I'm struggling with. Could you explain to me what grammatical rule made this sentence possible? Thank you so much for your help!

  • What makes you say "the sentence is complete without 'unconscious'? – BillJ Apr 7 at 11:06
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    We get these sorts of questions constantly, and I don't understand where they come from. What alleged rule demands an adverb here? Using too many adverbs really sounds quite wrongl̶y̶, don't you think? It certainly doesn’t look rightl̶y̶ to me, but such questions always leave me uncertainl̶y̶. I know it may seem unsightly but I’d almost be willingl̶y̶ to bet the next asker a pretty pennyl̶y̶ they'll find English adverbs hardl̶y̶ than need bel̶y̶. I’d best stop now before I wax too obscurel̶y̶ . 😜 – tchrist Apr 7 at 12:45
  • '... spend most of that time unconscious' is a harder example, but 'John arrived here totally exhausted' is a simpler sentence that is of a similar form where it matters for our analysis. This is a depictive construction; 'totally exhausted' describes the [referent of the] subject, the man John: he was totally exhausted when he got 'here'. It does not describe the manner in which he journeyed. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 7 at 13:17
  • Which is why the term 'predicative adjunct' is a good one. 'Predicative' because it refers to a predicand and 'adjunct' because it's a modifier in clause structure. – BillJ Apr 7 at 13:43

It would have a different meaning, as you say.

Unconscious is a complement, without which the verb spend is incomplete.

Unconsciously would say nothing about how they were during that time, just how they were doing whatever it was they were doing. (It only makes sense with a different meaning of unconscious: unthinking, automatic, unpurposeful).

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They rest sixteen to eighteen hours a day and spend most of that unconscious.

"Unconscious" is a predicative adjunct: predicative because it refers to a predicand, i.e. "they", and an adjunct because it's integrated into clause structure and hence a modifier..

In other words, the predicative/non-predicative contrast cuts across that between complement and adjunct.

Since the predicative denotes a property that is ascribed to "they", it must be the adjective "unconscious", not the adverb "unconsciously".

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