I just cannot seem to comprehend this question, but it has been bothering me all evening.

In the sentence "He lay unconscious," what is "unconscious"?

It cannot be an adjective, it is not an adverb, nor is it a subject complement (as there is no linking verb)... right?

Please help me resolve this conundrum.

  • 3
    Why isn't it an adjective? He was really unconscious
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 24 at 19:27
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA In your example, is it not an adjective in its usual sense either, I believe. It's a predicate adjective following the linking verb "be", so it's a subject complement. In my example, however, there is no linking verb, so there can be no complement. And that's what's bothering me so much. It may be that I am just completely clueless about my terminology, though. May 24 at 19:32
  • 1
    If he lay dead, wouldn't 'dead' be an adjective? Or if he ran wild, or looked angry, wouldn't those be adjectives too? May 24 at 20:33
  • I don't know how this adjective works here (it is an adjective), but FWIW, there's more ways to have a complement than just following a be-verb. For instance, the noun that follows a preposition is a complement.
    – gotube
    May 25 at 1:42

1 Answer 1


It is an adjective. It has resulted from the reduction of a clause, perhaps a participle to a single word:

He lay (being) unconscious.

Unconscious describes "him" and not the manner that he lies.

Thoughtco quotes another example:

'Early days,' Kathy said, evasive. (Barry Maitland, The Chalon Heads, quoted by Barry J. Blake, All About Language.)

"evasive" is again an adjective. It describes Kathy, not the manner of her speech.

  • 1
    I'm not fully convinced that unconscious does not grammatically modify "lay" (though the distinction is for most part academic, as the use case/ultimate meaning is the same regardless). Compare "lay awake", which to me at least is different than simply being awake. As opposed to, say, "lay asleep/sleeping", which is equivalent to the original.
    – sharur
    May 24 at 19:58
  • @JamesK Nice! I was about to post that 'unconscious' is an adjective because the word lay is being used as a linking verb in that sentence, even though it isn't normally one. Your answer seems like a more nuanced explanation though. May 24 at 23:44

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