He was standing silently behind the curtain.
He was standing silent behind the curtain.

What’s the difference between these two sentences?

  • 1
    I shall add this to better explain the meaning as well: "He was standing silently behind the curtain" entails that "his standing was what was silent", i.e., that he was not making any footsteps or tapping his feet", whereas, "He was standing silent" entails that "he was, in fact, silent", i.e., that he was not making any noises such as talking, coughing, sneezing, muttering, blowing his nose, clearing his throat, etc.
    – Nick
    Dec 27, 2017 at 19:23

3 Answers 3


Superficially, nothing. Both describe the same action.

There is a slight difference in nuance. "Silently" is an adverb, which modifies the verb "to stand". The writer is simply describing how he is standing ("in silence"). In the same way, the following examples are merely descriptive:

He waited patiently for her to return

She lay restlessly in bed, unable to even close her eyes.

"Silent" is an adjective, and must modify a noun, not the verb. If I say "He stands silent," I'm saying he is silent, that silence is a part of who he is, at least in this moment.

She lay in bed, restless and unsleeping, unable to even close her eyes.

By using the adjective, the writer implies the person has a certain innate quality (or a capacity for that quality), and isn't just expressing it that one time.

Since the adjective relates to the subject, and not the verb, you might want to separate it with a comma:

The plane flew, serene and graceful, through the clouds.

  • 1
    I like the explanation, Andrew. I couldn't have explained it any better if I had tried.
    – Nick
    Dec 27, 2017 at 19:18
  • 1
    Might be worth it to note that the adjective versions can be broken into two sentences cleanly. "He was standing behind the curtain. He was silent."
    – jaxad0127
    Dec 27, 2017 at 22:34
  • 3
    Not enough for another answer, but I would use "He stands silent" in connection to someone else asking him a question or when there's activity in the room. "He stands silent, even as the grandchildren rush through the room playing tag."
    – mkennedy
    Dec 27, 2017 at 23:21

I'd say there's very little difference between the stated sentences, though I agree with the nuances that Andrew points out.

In other contexts, there can be a more significant difference. "Stand silently" can really only be used literally, to refer to standing up while not making any noise. "Stand silent", on the other hand, can be used metaphorically to describe somebody conspicuously saying nothing in some situation. For example, "The Republican Party stood silently while Donald Trump said that the Earth is flat" would mean that the members of the party were literally standing up and not making a sound while Trump made that remark; "The Republican Party stood silent while..." would mean that no members of the party spoke out to contradict Trump on that claim, with a suggestion that they could and probably should have. (Feel free to substitute any other party and person; I have no reason to believe that any US political leader actually believes the Earth is flat, or any other shape.)


I disagree that the only difference is metaphorical. There is actually a literal difference.

"Silent" has two different meanings:

  1. "Not making or accompanied by any sound", which is the meaning "standing silently" implies.

  2. "Not speaking", which is the meaning "standing silent" implies.

Counterexample: Let's say there's a burglar in your house and you have noisy floors on the second story of your home. You're upstairs, standing without saying anything, but you're trembling and hence your floor is making noise. Then you're standing silent, but you're not standing silently.

  • You seem to be asserting that "standing silent" uses exclusively one definition of "silent", while "standing silently" uses exclusively the other. Why is that? Dec 28, 2017 at 16:41
  • @DavidRicherby: I mean, given additional context, it can obviously be different? But absent additional context, this is how I've found it's interpreted. I don't know what kind of an answer you expect for "why" that is the case... that's just how it is.
    – user541686
    Dec 28, 2017 at 18:38
  • I disagree with your claim so some evidence beyond "I say yes and you say no" would be nice. Perhaps some evidence from a dictionary or quotations from literature, good quality newspapers, etc. But I'm aware that would probably be difficult to find and I don't you to think I'm making ridiculous demands. Dec 28, 2017 at 19:37

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