I'm trying to interpret the sentence:

I heard a little silvery laugh.

What confuses me is I don't know if the speaker hear "a little laugh which sounded silvery" or "a somewhat silvery laugh"?

What does "a little" modify in this sentence, laugh or silvery

  • 1
    it modifies laugh- it was a small laugh. In this case, when couple with silvery, I think more like from a small child/person rather than a halfhearted or stifled laugh.
    – Jim
    Commented Dec 18, 2013 at 5:58
  • 1
    A little doesn't modify anything. A is there for the head noun laugh, not for the modifier little.
    – user230
    Commented Dec 18, 2013 at 6:19
  • @snailboat Then what does little mean?
    – dennylv
    Commented Dec 18, 2013 at 6:40
  • 2
    snailboat is just pointing out that the indefinite article is not part of the adjective. Jim's comment is your answer. Commented Dec 18, 2013 at 6:56
  • 1
    I agree with Jim – “little” modifies “laugh”. A somewhat silvery laugh might be called “a slightly silvery laugh.” Commented Dec 18, 2013 at 23:03

1 Answer 1


The natural understanding is that "little silvery laugh" is "little, silvery laugh": little is interpreted as an adjective on "laugh", rather than as an adverb modifying "silvery".

If a native speaker wants to invoke the adverb meaning, the most natural way is to transform the sentence:

I heard a laugh that was a little silvery.

There is no way to pronounce "a little silvery laugh" which will convey the above alternative meaning unambiguously.

Even if you say "little silvery" without any pause in between, and then insert a pause before laugh, it does not reliably convey this meaning: some listeners will continue to interpret it as "a little, silvery", whereas some will accept that "a little silvery" is a unit. And pretty much all listeners will find the speech unnatural.

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