How could adjective come after verbs such as the following sentence:

He spoke nary a word until they arrived.

I checked the word nary up and I saw that is adjective, means not a single, but as known, we use adverbs after verbs.

Moreover, the dictionary mentioned that nary is a dialect. Does that mean this words is only used in a specific area or state? enter image description here

  • Nary a is a determiner--a quantifier like some--on word, so it's part of the noun phrase nary a word, which is the Direct Object of spoke. Jun 23, 2017 at 17:32
  • Nary is not really part of any specific dialect. It's an adverb, not an adjective, according to some dictionaries (Macmillan, e.g.) You'll often hear it when the writer is trying to sound archaic or old fashioned, and almost always as part of the phrase nary a, meaning not even one. Jun 23, 2017 at 17:32
  • I added a picture above. See that the oxford dictionary clarified it as an adjective, why? Jun 23, 2017 at 17:55
  • Dictionaries aren't an authority on that subject.
    – user3395
    Jun 23, 2017 at 18:02
  • Most dictionaries adhere to the traditional categorization of all determiners except articles as "adjectives". Jun 23, 2017 at 18:04

2 Answers 2


The word nary derives from never a, with the sense "not one", and was once used exactly as that phrase is; in those contexts nary may be taken as a negative quantifier = "no". Traditional grammars would classify this as syntactically as an adjective, and contemporary grammars would classify it as a determiner.

Where nary survives today it is (at least in all the dialects I am familiar with) used exclusively in combination with a. In that context it could be taken in its original sense as the adverb = "never" or "not" qualifying a. In practice, however, nary a is a fixed phrase which acts like "no"—again, a quantifier/determiner.

It falls immediately after the verb because it is the introductory piece of the noun phrase nary a word, which is the Direct Object of the verb.


To answer the general question: Adjectives routinely come after verbs in English. Many verbs are "transitive", that is, they require some object, some thing that the verb is operating on. Like, "I read a book". "A book" is the thing that I read, the thing that the verb "read" operates on.

An object is a noun or a noun phrase. A noun phrase often includes adjectives. So for example, "I see dead people." The thing I see is "dead people". "People" is a noun", and it is modified by the adjective "dead".

Yes, an adverb may follow a verb when the adverb is modifying that verb. "I ran quickly", etc. But if there is no adverb and the verb is transitive, then the next word after the verb could be a noun or adjective. (It could also be a preposition, as in, "I sat on the chair". Etc.) I think you're getting confused by the difference between "an adverb follows the verb it modifies" and the fact that almost ANY word could follow a verb, depending on the organization of the sentence. The next word after a verb may not be a modifier for that verb; it could be some other word that just "coincidentally" follows the verb.

"Nary" is a fairly obscure and rarely-used word, but it means "none" or "not". It's almost always followed by "a" or "an", as in "I saw nary an honest man among them", meaning, I did not see any honest men among them.

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