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After the long journey, the three of them went back home, hungry and tired.

As for the phrase "hungry and tired" , I can understand that it is used to modify "the three of them". But I cannot figure out its grammatical function in the sentence such as subject, complement, direct object and so on. Is it attributive modifying "the three of them"? Could you please tell me which grammar book details this phenomenon since I haven't found one?

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  • In your example, the expression "hungry and tired" might be functioning as an optional depictive predicative (similar to a predicative complement, except that it is optional).
    – F.E.
    Nov 30, 2014 at 15:25
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    (You probably don't want to get "attributive" mixed up with "attribute".) A dictionary might be helpfully here, as to a/the grammatical use of "attributive". One dictionary, New Oxford American Dictionary, has this for "attributive": "attributive: adjective - Grammar - (of an adjective or noun) preceding the word it qualifies or modifies and expressing an attribute, as old in the old dog (but not in the dog is old) and expiration in expiration date (but not in date of expiration). Often contrasted with predicative."
    – F.E.
    Dec 2, 2014 at 6:53
  • Consider: "[The three of them]/[They] were hungry and tired"; "Hungry and tired, they went back home"; "They appeared hungry and tired".
    – F.E.
    Dec 2, 2014 at 6:58
  • That phrase "hungry and tired" seems to be predicative (predicative versus attributive). Oh, you might want to take a look here: linguistics.stackexchange.com/questions/8438/…
    – F.E.
    Dec 2, 2014 at 8:12

3 Answers 3

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"Hungry" and "tired" are adjectives modifying "the three of them" (as you suspected). They describe the "the three of them" after the long journey and while they were going back home.

To see why they're adjectives, you could make them into adverbs: "The three of them went back home hungrily and tiredly." The sentence means almost the same thing, but the adverbs make the sentence a little strange since they modify the act of going back home rather than the people. That shifts the emphasis. Presumably the point of the last three words is to emphasize the state of the people, not how they went home.

Here's a similar sentence with more-reasonable adverbs: "The three of them went back home quickly and eagerly." "Quickly" naturally modifies the act of going home. "Eagerly" could also be "eager", since it indicates the people's emotion on the way home. ("Quickly and eager" would be a little weird, though, only because it violates the expected parallelism.)

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The three of them went back home, hungry and tired.

"hungry" and "tired" are adjectives. You could rephrase: They went back home and they were hungry and tired.

They are hungry and tired, not the way of their going. I don't know which terms are used in English grammars for this use of adjectives, probably more than one. I think in Latin grammar this use is called Prädikativum, at least in my Latin grammar.

I tried to find what term is used in my English grammars for this use, but it seems that it is not registered at all. I looked through

Oxford Guide to English Grammar by John Eastwood

Longman English Grammar by L. G. Alexander.

Generally speaking, there are a lot of cases where a verb is not followed by an adverb but an adjective. But this is a grammar chapter that is often neglected in grammars. Some examples:

to travel light, to speak true, to arrive safe and sound, to talk big, to get off light, passion ran high, imagination gone wild, to drop dead, A new broom sweeps clean, etc.

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  • Can "hungry and tired" be understood as "attributive " modifying "the three of them"?
    – April
    Dec 2, 2014 at 1:26
  • @rogermue The English term is an exact analog of the one from your Latin grammar: it's predicate adjective. In the example "Apples are delicious," 'delicious' is a predicate adjective; contrast this with "Delicious apples" where the same word is an attributive adjective. The examples in your last paragraph are not predicate adjectives though. I believe they may be what is referred to as 'flat adverbs.' The 'flat' part means they have the same form as the corresponding adjective instead of ending in -ly. Jun 20, 2023 at 3:05
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Terminology aside (traditional vs neo), this sentence is complicated by two things in combination: went home and hungry and tired. We have a verb of effort/motion coupled with adjectives expressing state/feeling. Words that express the way one feels when one is making an effort/moving have an adverbial sense as well as an adjectival sense; they relate both to oneself and to one's effort.

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