Fearful, however, of losing this first and only opportunity of relieving my grief by imparting it, I, after a disturbed pause, contrived to frame a meagre, though, as far as it went, true response. (Jane Eyre)

The highlighted phrase has the very similar function of participial constructions. But fearful is not a participle, then what do you call this phrase?

  • This question goes far beyond learning English and is likely much better suited for EL&U. Feb 13, 2013 at 13:01
  • ^^ There should be a 'Brontë' filter on ELL questions with a redirect to EL&U :-)
    – mcalex
    Feb 13, 2013 at 13:28
  • 1
    @KenB In what sense does this "go far beyond learning English"? Though it is not fashionable to teach this way today, some people are most comfortable learning by way of the grammar: it provides a framework within which to understand lexicon and idiom. Feb 13, 2013 at 18:09
  • @StoneyB Perhaps, but this question strikes me as surpassing the basics of English grammar and being more in the realm of advanced knowledge and technical jargon. Perhaps I am wrong, but this is how it appears to me. Feb 13, 2013 at 19:04
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    @KenB Possibly; but keep in mind that students in other countries are taught far more grammar than are US students. And look at OP's history, here and on ELU. This is her way into the language. Let's not discourage her; she may be the next Joseph Conrad! Feb 13, 2013 at 19:34

1 Answer 1


It’s an adjective phrase, a phrase headed by an adjective; or an adjectival phrase, a phrase which acts as an adjective.

But that is something of an evasion. You are exactly right in seeing this as very similar to a participial clause: Fearful of losing functions exactly like fearing to lose.

What this demonstrates is that some adjectives take objects (or arguments or complements, whatever you want to call them) just like verbs, and form clauses in which the nouns they modify act as subjects. Some examples are desirous, responsible, reluctant—note that all of these derive from verbs.

And in fact there is no real difference between an adjective phrase of this sort and a participial phrase, for a participle is a verb form acting as an adjective. It’s only convention which distinguishes them.

  • Thank you for your explanation even to the 'arguments or complements.' ; Just starting to read a syntax book, I can understand your words and pleased.
    – Listenever
    Feb 13, 2013 at 12:40

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