This question arises from a mistake I made in class. I incorrectly identified hungry as an adverb in the sentence below. I appreciate your wisdom.

Question: In the sentence, "They went to bed hungry," hungry functions as an adjective modifying they. I am trying to figure out what "type" of adjective hungry is here.

As I understand it, there are, broadly speaking, two types of adjectives: attributive adjectives and predicate adjectives. Attributive adjectives appear adjacent to the noun they modify. Predicate adjectives appear in the predicate (duh) and are "linked" to the subject by a linking verb.

If hungry is an adjective in the above mentioned sentence, it is obvious that it cannot be an attributive adjective since it is not adjacent to the noun it modifies. However, it does not seem like it can be classified as a predicate adjective either. This is because it is not linked to the subject via a linking verb. Though went can be used as a linking verb (such as in the slightly modified sentence "They went hungry"), it seems to be an action verb here since it is actually describing a movement through space.

If my reading is correct here, "hungry" can be neither an attributive nor a predicate adjective. This led me to initially posit it as an adverb describing how they went. Is it another class of adjective altogether? What am I missing here? Thanks!


6 Answers 6


"Being linked to the subject via a linking verb" is not a requirement for an adjective to be "predicate."

For example:

(1) All this talk about food made me hungry.

Here, the adjective hungry ascribes a property to the object me, so it qualifies as a "predicate adjective" without "being linked to the subject via a linking verb".

Similarly, OP's hungry ascribes a property to the subject they, so it qualifies as a "predicate adjective".

The only difference is whether the predicate adjective is an obligatory component (i.e., complement) or an optional component (i.e., adjunct).


In the sentence, "They went to bed hungry," hungry functions as an adjective modifying they.

No. It modifies the whole of "They went to bed."

As I understand it, there are, broadly speaking, two types of adjectives: attributive adjectives and predicate adjectives.

Yes, but this is not the only categorisation or subcategorisation


She arrived drunk(adj.). = She arrived and she was drunk(adj.). Here, "drunk" is a depictive. It depicts her state of arrival.

She arrived drunkenly (adv.) = She arrived in a manner as if she were drunk (she may not have been - she could have been ill or dizzy.) Here, drunkenly is an adverb that modifies "arrived".

He hammered the metal flat(adj.) = He hammered the metal and, as a result, the metal became/was flat. Here, flat is a resultative.

He hammered the metal flatly (adv.) = He hammered the metal without emotion. Here, flatly is an adverb that modifies "hammered".

More generally, there are two types of modifier: free modifiers and bound modifiers. They may be adverbial or adjectival:

(Thought & Co have a good article on these.)

Free modifiers are a reduced form of a main clause and modify the complete clause: In "She arrived drunk". Drunk modifies "she arrived"

Bound modifiers are a reduced form of a subordinate clause and modify the a noun or verb. She arrived drunkenly. Drunkenly modifies "arrived". "The drunk man fell over." - drunk modifies "man"

Depictives and resultatives are free modifiers.

"They went to bed hungry" = "They went to bed and they were hungry." It is a depictive.


This has a meaning similar to

They were hungry when they went to bed.

"They were hungry" is the main clause, and "were hungry" is its predicate. So "hungry" is a predicate adjective.


For purposes of simplification, similar to diagramming the sentence, it may be helpful to put it in present tense and bracket out the prepositional phrases.

"They go [to bed] hungry."

In this case, the prepositional phrase "to bed" is acting as an adverbial because, like an adverb which provides information about where, when, or how, it is providing the "where" information.

Removing the adverbial, we have:

"They go hungry."

It should be easier to see now how "hungry" is used.

The dictionary even uses this expression in its definition. Because "go" has an extensive list of use cases, I will quote only sense 4, the one pertinent in this case.

4 [no object, with complement] pass into a specified state, especially an undesirable one: the food is going bad | he's gone crazy | her mind immediately went blank.
• (go to/into) enter into a specified state, institution, or course of action: she turned over and went back to sleep | the car went into a spin | no one went hungry in our house.
• make a sound of a specified kind: the engine went bang.
• (of a bell or similar device) make a sound in functioning: I heard the buzzer go four times.

A verb that takes a complement is a linking verb, by definition. So using "go" in this context of "going hungry" is to use it as a linking verb, with hungry as its complement.

  • Thank you. Would that mean "went" (or "go") is acting as a linking verb? Feb 15 at 4:31
  • Yes. Please see my additional edits.
    – Biblasia
    Feb 15 at 4:39
  • 2
    Go is a verb of motion here, not a 'linking' verb. The phrase to bed is a complement of go and the meaning changes if it is omitted. Note also that it would be ungrammatical to say 'They go hungry to bed', or 'They are to bed hungry'.
    – DW256
    Feb 15 at 9:32
  • @DW256 If "hungry" is a complement of "go" as you say, then "go" is acting as a linking verb. There are only three types of verbs: transitive, intransitive, and linking. Transitive verbs have an object. Intransitive have no object. Linking verbs have a complement. These have always been the definitions, so far as I was taught. Has this evolved since I was in school?
    – Biblasia
    Feb 15 at 10:12
  • 1
    @DW256 For example, we can use "smell" as each of the three verb types. (Transitive) "She smells the rose." (Intransitive) "The garbage really smells." (Linking) "The food smells good." Also, "they go hungry to bed" is not grammatically incorrect; it is, however, not idiomatic.
    – Biblasia
    Feb 15 at 10:19

In a comment John Lawler wrote:

Categorizing adjectives that way contributes no useful information. The construction NP V NP Adj has a lot of varieties: They found him dead/alive, They shot him dead, They buried him alive, They want him dead/alive, They made him hungry/sad/happy, He told them blue, not red, ... There is no special term for these adjectives; they represent a variety of things.


How about taking another look at hungry as an adverb instead of an adjective? You can look at "hungry" as the state in which they went to bed, ie it describes their state or condition in which they went to bed. For me, hungry describes "went" rather than "they" and what describes "they" is the whole "went to bed hungry"

  • Questioner already knows that hungry is not an adverb (that would be hungrily). Feb 15 at 9:45

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