Are "in the air" and "at my home" adverbs modifying "was" or adjectives modifying "change" in the sentence below?

Change was in the air at my home.

2 Answers 2


Naively, it looks like "in the air" is an adverbial of place because it answers the question "where". In "There's smoke in the air", "in the air" describes the location of the smoke.

But when we say that change/love/tension/... is "in the air", the question "where" no longer applies. Merriam-Webster defines "in the air" as: being felt or expressed by many people. This is a participial phrase, which usually means it acts as an adjective.

To demonstrate it's an adjective, let's try and replace the expression with a common adjective of similar meaning:

"Change is present."

This loses a lot of the nuances, but it's a comparable sentence, so "in the air" is likely an adjective modifying "change".

  • 1
    It can't be an adverbial, since such modifiers are always optional. Here, it's required to complete the VP. Obligatory items are always complements.
    – BillJ
    Oct 3, 2021 at 9:00

"In the air" does not function as an adverb. It does not modify the verb. Instead it functions as the object of the verb, although it is not strictly speaking an object, because it is not a noun phrase. Formally it is a verb complement. "In the air" is a fixed phrase or idiom, meaning generally felt by those in the room, house or area. "at my home" modifies the entire main clause, telling where the action occurred. The term "locative" or "locative adjunct" is used for such phrases that indicate where something happened.

  • 1
    "in the air" is certainly not an object. Oct 1, 2021 at 18:10
  • @Jeffrey Carney what would you say its grammatical role is here then? Oct 1, 2021 at 18:18
  • Some possibilities include: adverbial of place, subject complement, adjective.
    – gotube
    Oct 1, 2021 at 23:49
  • Only NPs can be objects. The PP "in the air" is a complement -- it's obligatory because it's syntactically required to complete the VP. Obligatory items are always complements. On the other hand, the PP "at my home" is a locative adjunct, a modifier in the copular VP.
    – BillJ
    Oct 3, 2021 at 11:54

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .