Is "poor" in "he was born poor" an adverb or an adjective?

And could the answer be related to the answer to this question?
"I was born in 1961" is ‘born’ past participle or an adjective here?

  • Usually it is an adjective: "He was poor when he was born" as an antonym of "he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth". But you might find people who use it as an adverb, perhaps: "His birth was badly administered". Commented Jan 4 at 23:06
  • I would say adjective; “born” acts like a quasi-copula here. Commented Jan 4 at 23:40
  • 4
    It doesn't describe the action of being born, it describes the person. So it's an adjective.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jan 4 at 23:48
  • "born" is a verb. The adjective sense is found in phrases like "s German-born philopher" or "He's a born musician".
    – Barmar
    Commented Jan 4 at 23:52
  • Compare "born free", "died happy". I'm sure I saw a similar question recently but can't find it...
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jan 4 at 23:55

1 Answer 1


Classic mistake of mixing up part of speech and function in clause structure. While poor is a modifier in clause structure, it's still an adjective. Not everything that functions as modifier in clause structure is an adverb; though some grammars and dictionaries take that view, it falls apart under close analysis and serious grammarians have mostly abandoned it.

He was born...

poor [AdjP]

in the hospital [PP]

Monday morning [NP]

naturally [AdvP]

All of the above are modifiers, but have different part of speech classifications depending on their head word.

  • Nice choice of NP there. Before I read it I'd been expecting a simpler choice like king instead, but yours is much better since even with transitive verbs nobody could confuse it for the verb's object.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 5 at 1:49
  • Then maybe grammar books for middle school should steer away from this kind of stuff. Especially when it's contested. Thanks for your example. It's funny that in a related discussion I've been told that anything that attaches to a verb (and even an adjective) is an adverb, by which metric this seems like an adverb to me just as well. Commented Jan 6 at 3:42
  • What is the "classic mistake" to which you refer? The question section doesn't opine an answer, it merely poses the question. Are you referring to the position taken by the grammar book I mentioned in the comments? Commented Jan 6 at 3:45

You must log in to answer this question.

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