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In the sentence below, is best an adverb? If so, what does it modify, left or are?

We’re best left alone.

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    Good question. My first answer was yes, it is. But I'm not so sure now. I don't think it modifies anything: I think it is the head of the complement AP best left alone, and so probably an adjective, with left alone as its complement. – Colin Fine Nov 16 '12 at 12:51
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    So, do you mean 'left alone' is a participial phrase? – Listenever Nov 16 '12 at 13:16
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    It's a very greatly reduced sentence involving several idioms. Knowing an official label for a single word is of no help here. – John Lawler Nov 16 '12 at 13:36
  • @Listenever: on my analysis, left alone is a adjectival phrase in which the head left is a past participle. I am not aware of participial phrase as the description of a constituent. – Colin Fine Nov 19 '12 at 0:23
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Best in your example is simply an adjective filling the role of the subject predicative. It describes the position of the speakers (‘in the best possible state’) if they are undisturbed.

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I think this is a highly colloquial phrase which defies typical grammatical standards. Best is an adjective, and better is usually an adverb. To express the above sentiment with grammatical precision, one would have to say, "We are better if left alone." I think analyzing colloquialisms can be intriguing, but rarely results in an especially clear understanding of the underlying structural principles of the sentence or phrase.

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