Here is the sentence from The Britannica Dictionary: They stood under the tree and looked at the branches above.

The word 'above' in the sentence is an adverb according to the dictionary, and it seems to modify the noun 'branches'. So I'm confused with the rule I know, which is adverb doesn't modify noun. My question is: Does 'above' really modify 'branches'? Can adverbs modify nouns? Thank you!

  • 4
    "Above" is not an adverb but a preposition see link. It is possible, though rare, for an adverb to post-modify a noun, but that's not the case here.
    – BillJ
    Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 15:55
  • It would seem to be a case of ellipsis "the branches above them." The prepositional phrase "above them" has been reduced to "above". This construction could be usefully compared to "... looked at the branches overhead." There does not appear to be any reason to treat this sentence differently unless you accept the notion that there is ellipsis.
    – James K
    Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 16:17

1 Answer 1


They stood under the tree and looked at the branches above.

Modern grammar classifies "above" not as an adverb but as a preposition: link and link

It is possible, though rare, for an adverb to post-modify a noun:

Industrial action has resulted in the withdrawal indefinitely of the ferry service.

A shortage of timber internationally led to a steep rise in prices.

The construction is subject to severe constraints. For example, adverbial modifiers of nouns are restricted to post-head position.

  • @Andrew Li My answer assumes that you are asking about adverbs modifying nouns, as opposed to noun phrases.
    – BillJ
    Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 17:08
  • The two links you gave disagree with each other. The Wiktionary link agrees with your answer, and the Collins link disagrees with it. The Collins link says this use of "above" is an adverb. Their adverb examples: "Full details are in the table above" and "There are five bedrooms, a large attic above, and wine cellars below.".
    – gotube
    Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 17:34
  • 1
    There is no semantic, morphological, or phonological support for having two words spelled "above". It's just a matter of varying complementation. Collins is misleading on this point.
    – BillJ
    Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 17:42
  • @BillJ I found this on websit explaining my doubt quite well: While adverbs can modify most parts of speech, they normally do not modify nouns or pronouns. Much more common is the use of an adverb of degree to modify a whole noun phrase. e.g. "Dominic thought that Geoffrey was rather a good teacher". / "Jason is quite a skilled craftsman.“ There is a small group of adverbs that can modify nouns and indefinite pronouns. ”the man downstairs“ ” the example above“ ”Almost everyone brought a bottle to the party.“
    – Andrew Li
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 2:55
  • It seems like there are always some exceptions for a grammar rule, Then you add an exceptional rule for this, and finally done.
    – Andrew Li
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 3:37

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