I found this sentence in a thesis that you can find here:

How do people learn abstract concepts unsupervised?

I sounds strange to me since unsupervised is an adjective (and from popular dictionaries, adjective is the only class for this word) but the noun it's modifying seem to be absent from the sentence.

My best guess here is that unsupervised may be used to modify some "hidden" noun phrase (rather than people) that I'm unaware of. Please help to point it out.

  • 3
    It's a reduced clause with a participial predicate; it means How do people learn abstract concepts (when/while/although they are) unsupervised? Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 13:55
  • @JohnLawler By using "they" in your sentence, did you mean "people" or "abstract concepts"?
    – Khanh Tran
    Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 15:15
  • 1
    I meant people but it's actually ambiguous, whether it's deleted or not. All written sentences are multiply ambiguous because writing doesn't include intonation. Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 15:21
  • 1
    It's interesting because it seems to work with some adjectives but not others. A similar sentence might be "I don't know how to sail a boat single-handed." It might also be related to constructions such as "drive drunk" where you have an adjective and a verb in a close relationship. In each case the adjective describes the manner of doing something or the state of the person while doing the thing. (I thought there was already a question about "drive drunk" but I can't see it.)
    – Stuart F
    Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 15:47
  • 1
    Why must it modify a noun? It seems to me it describes learn.
    – Xanne
    Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 0:32

1 Answer 1


How do people learn abstract concepts unsupervised?

"Unsupervised" is an adjective here functioning as a predicative adjunct.

It's predicative because it relates to a predicand, i.e. "people", and it's an adjunct because it's a modifier, not in NP structure, but in clause structure, i.e. in the verb phrase.

It is of course depictive in that it gives descriptive information about "people".

  • I agree that "unsupervised" is an adjective, what I'm still reluctant to agree is the part that says "it gives information about people". Cause as I commented in the question section, it should give information about the learning process rather than people. And it's perfectly fine to be an adject since a verb (even not copulative) can take an adjective as it's compliment to describe changes to the state of things (I was unaware of this thing before). Sources: dictionary.cambridge.org/us/grammar/british-grammar/go?q=Go - grammar.collinsdictionary.com/grammar-pattern/v-adj_15
    – Khanh Tran
    Commented Oct 7, 2022 at 14:57

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.