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My question regards the following sentences

  1. The province is nominally independent.
  2. While nominally a film student, Barnett had no aspirations of a career behind the camera.
  3. Although 75 per cent of Swedes are nominally members of the church, only 2 per cent attend regularly.

and so on.

In all of these sentences, the word 'nominally' gives extra detail about the words which are not verbs. In the first sentence, if I ask 'how independent?' the answer would be 'nominally independent'. The same question-answer process can be run for the other two sentences and the result would be the same. So, why does the word 'nominally' an adverb and not an adjective?

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    adverbs can modify adjectives as well as verbs, as is definitely the case in (1). In the other two sentences, you can't really do that, as it modifies state-of-being verbs
    – Esther
    Jun 8 at 19:07

2 Answers 2

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An adverb is a word that modifies a verb, but adverbs can also modify adjectives, other adverbs, or whole clauses. For example, loudly, slightly, and almost are all adverbs. Here are some examples of their action:

She coughed loudly (loudly is modifying the verb cough)
The bread is slightly green! (slightly is modifying the adjective green)
We ran almost to the finish line (almost is modifying the prepositional phrase to the finish line)

In your examples, nominally is an adverb. In (1), it modifies the adjective independant. In (2), it modifies the implicit verb to be ("While Barnett was nominally a film student..."). In (3), it modifies the verb are.

(2) might be especially confusing, but the construction is relatively common. A similar example might be:

Though often unbearable, my sister is still family = Though my sister is often unbearable, she is still family

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Words which are nominally adverbs can also be used to modify adjectives as well as verbs, and in many cases can modify nouns, thus functioning as adjectives. many words in English are not rigidly bound to a single function or a single part of speech, just as many words have multiple senses.

Let us look at the example sentences:

  1. The province is nominally independent.

The word "independent" here is an adjective. One might think of this as a short form of "The province is nominally independent of the central government." In general, in a construction of the form 'The X is Y" Y is functioning as an adjective. Thus a word that modifies it is functioning as an adverb, as "nominally" is here.

  1. While nominally a film student, Barnett had no aspirations of a career behind the camera.

There is an implied use of 'to be" here. Think of the start of 2as a short form of "While nominally being a film student..." Thus "nominally" is again functioning as an adverb, modifying a verb.

  1. Although 75 per cent of Swedes are nominally members of the church, only 2 per cent attend regularly.

in 3 one could regard "nominally" as modifying "are" but I would say that it modifies 'members" thus functioning as an adjective. But there is nothing at all wrong with that.

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