Discussion in 'English Only' started by nurdug51, May 3, 2008.
Can I use the word scared as an adverb?
For example: "Who's there?" Tom asked scared.
You can use it as in your example, but it remains an adjective and is describing Tom, not how he asked the question. I think possibly a comma is called for after asked, but I'm not sure.
I would be inclined to use a comma here too. But not in the phrase running scared.
So, what does that give us?
"Who's there?" Tommy asked, scared.
I don't know. I find the part after the comma a bit short.
If I wanted to express the same idea, I think I'd rather say
"Who's there?" asked a scared Tommy.
What do you people think?
At least in AE, this sort of construction is common, idiomatic, and unobjectionable.
"What should I do with those trailing adjectives?" he asked, perplexed.
I'm with cuchu.
I'd say "comma + adjective" is very common in this sort of reported speech construction.
Jean-Michel's version might be more elegant though
Hello, nurdug51. Actually it is an interesting sentence.
Will you think of this?:
John ate the pizza naked.
Thanks for the clarification, Cuchu and Loob.
Is that supposed to be an ambiguous sentence (i.e., He ate his pizza without any topping versus He ate his pizza with no clothes on)?
Jane ate the pie topless would be a bit more ambiguous
The serious part:
When a sentence describing an action ends with a comma followed by an adjective, the adjective normally describes the subject: Ewie sketched the pig-tailed doll, flamboyant.
(Sorry, kids. Just an example. )
The not so serious part, to illustrate intentional, comedic ambiguity:
Lolita munched the salad, undressed.
("Lettuce alone!" they cried.)
He's running scared -here, surely, scared really in an adverb. It describes the way he is running, not his state as he runs.
That's certainly plausible. Run scared may also be a phrasal verb. Can we be sure that scared refers to the way one runs, rather than to the subject? Or, perhaps a better question, can we or should we separate the modifier from the rest of the phrasal verb, and then name it an adjective or an adverb? I'm not sure.
What about an engine that's running hot? Hot could be taken either way, as an adverb describing the way the engine is operating, or as an adjective describing the engine itself. Which makes better sense? I lean towards calling it an adverb.
There would be no need to introduce a comma. In this sort of naked-pizza-eating sentence I showed, the adjective(the past or en- participle may be more correct) adds a desripction more about the subject, not the verb, after the full sentence.
We can understand the sentence with naked:
John ate the pizza while he was naked.
Here, the form of naked looks like an adjective and says the additional state of the subject John.
In my opinion, the original sentence in the question is
Tom asked "Who's there?" scared.
and then it can be changed:
"Who's there?" Tom asked scared. (the quotation is fronted)
Finally, we may interpret:
"Who's there?" Tom asked while he felt scared.
In "He's running scared", I think "scared" describes his feelings, tells why he is behaving as he is, and changes the meaning of "running" to something more like "scurrying about in a panic". I would say this "scared" plays simultaneous roles as both adjective and adverb, as does the phrase "in a panic". A less complicated example (I think):
My watch is running slowly. [not quickly (adverb)]
My watch is running slow. [behind standard time (both adjective and adverb)]
Now "asked scared" does not work for me the same way "running scared" does because asking is somehow less behavioral than running. I really feel it needs a comma, because without it I have to entertain and then reject the idea that "scared" is adverbial.
Yes, I see what you mean, Forero. I'd also add that the problem with the verb ask is that (rather inevitably) it's very often followed by a person/name. I experience a bit of a stumble when I read
"Who ate my pie?" Jane asked scared
because I'm kind of expecting the word after asked to be a name/person
("Who ate my pie?" Jane asked her gluttonous cousin).
There's no stumble at all when I read
"Who ate my pie?" Jane asked, scared
though there is a kind of 'hiccup' caused by that 'bare' asked + comma.
I'd say that "is runnning" is a copular verb here, and therefore followed by an adjective
I have taken some time today to develop a little theory of "scared". I am convinced that it is an adjective (or a participle, a verbal adjective), not an adverb.
An adjective can sometimes function partly adverbially, but it cannot take the place of an adverb everywhere. For example, “hesitantly” is an adverb and behaves as such in a sentence:
Hesitantly(,) Tom asked "Who's there?".
With or without the comma after the adverb, the meaning is the same. But substitute “scared” for “hesistantly”, and the comma becomes significant:
Scared Tom asked "Who's there?".
Scared, Tom asked "Who's there?".
Without the comma, “scared” modifies “Tom”. With the comma, “scared” still modifies “Tom”, but seems to affect “asked” too.
“Hesitant” is an adjective, and behaves just like “scared”:
Hesitant Tom asked "Who's there?".
Hesitant, Tom asked "Who's there?".
Here are some more sentences with “hesitant” and “wide awake”, which are adjectives. Substitute “scared” for either adjective, and the gist of these sentences is not altered:
"Who's there?" Tom asked, hesitant to break the silence.
Tom was hesitant asking "Who's there?".
Tom was hesitant to break the silence asking "Who's there?".
Tom was hesitant to break the silence, asking "Who's there?".
I heard Tom, hestitant, ask(ing) “Who’s there?”. (I saw Tom, wide awake, ask(ing) "Who's there?".)
I saw Tom wide awake, asking "Who's there?".
I heard Tom ask(ing) "Who's there?" hesitant to break the silence. (I saw Tom ask(ing) "Who's there?" wide awake.)
I heard Tom ask(ing) "Who's there?", hesitant to break the silence. (I saw Tom ask(ing) "Who's there?", wide awake.)
But I feel that substituting “scared” for an adverb, such as “hesitantly”, either does not work at all or clearly alters the gist:
Tom hesitantly asked "Who's there?". I saw Tom hesitantly ask(ing) "Who's there?".
Here “hesitantly” modifes “asked”. "Scared" does not fit here because an adjective cannot modify “asked”.
"Who's there?" Tom asked hesitantly.
I maintain that putting “scared” here requires a comma, as in the blue sentence above, because "scared" is an adjective.
That's the way I see it too.
In one case, the adjective describes the state in which Tom is, while asking the question.
In the other case, the adverb describes the way in which he asks the question.
That makes a real syntactic difference.
Semantically, it may come down more or less to the same, depending on the context and/or the words used.
For instance, in...
1. "How old are you?" he asked inquisitively
2. "How old are you?" he asked, inquisitive.
....there's no real semantic difference to the reader/listener.
In the sample sentence, scared really describes Tom's state, not the way in which he asks "who's there?". However, the reader is made to understand that's also the way the question is asked. That would be the "default" interpretation.
But, provided the context would indicate it clearly, it could be otherwise. Tom could actually be scared and pretend to be cool-blooded.
Also, I think it should be pointed out that, in nurdug's sentence, the "adverb" option is not available.
"Who's there?", Tom asked scarily
would mean that Tom was frightening, not that he was frightened. (or can it mean both?).
Does anyone know of an adverb that could fit here? (frightenedly doesn't exist and timidly is too weak. Anything else?)
Fearfully perhaps, but it's not used much, is it?
Separate names with a comma.