At the age of 80 my mother had her last bad fall, and after that her mind wandered free through time.'' With this graceful yet unsettling sentence, Russell Baker, the humorist and New York Times columnist, opens his memoir, "Growing Up."

  1. Her mind wandered free through time.
  2. Her mind wandered freely through time.

First, in sentence #1, is free adjective or adverb?

Second, is #2 possible? For a native speaker, is #2 also natural? (In our language #2 is more natural (but we are not native speaker), we have been discussing this sentence in here.) If not, why is 'freely' impossible?

Third, in dictionary 'free' is both adjective and adverb. So, what is difference free (the adverb) and freely?

  • From my AmE point of view, freely is the better choice.
    – Catija
    Mar 4, 2015 at 9:25
  • Adjective. A synonym might be: Her mind wandered unleashed through time.
    – user6951
    Mar 4, 2015 at 16:21

2 Answers 2


Both the adjective and the adverb are acceptable; they imply slightly different meanings.

  • Freely is an adverb. It is parsed as a modifier of the verb, describing the quality or manner: the mind wanders wherever it wants in time.

  • Free in some senses may be employed as an adverb, but here it is an adjective. It is parsed here as a complement of the verb and plays a role sometimes called a 'secondary predicate'. Secondary predicates are usually attributed to the subject if the verb is intransitive or to the object if the verb is transitive:

    They served my coffee black. ... black is attributed to my coffee.
    Greek athletes competed naked. ... naked is attributed to Greek athletes

    In some cases such a complement is obligatory.

    The mob stormed the jail and set the prisoners free.

Russell Baker thus very gracefully implies that his mother's fall was a sort of liberation: her mind was released from its everyday constraints and set free to wander where it wanted.


Redkey88, freely would be the grammatical choice, however both are acceptable depending on the context in which the sentence is indeed to be used. Although you are correct that free has an adverb equivalent, its use in your sentence depends on what you intend to have the characteristic of "free".

There are four basic types of writing: descriptive, narration, expository, and persuasive. The rules of grammar are traditionally held in expository and persuasive writing. If you were writing: an essay, research paper, or news paper article (expository); or a movie review evaluation, recommendation letter, or your resume (persuasive); then the "best choice" would be freely.

However, in all the other modes, you may use free even if it is not grammatical. This would include its use in a short story, a journal entry, a novel, dialog prose, poetry, etc.

However, it all comes down to some things that are not related to language, yet nonetheless affect it. I (and most of the people I know) would only use (in both writing and speech) "free" as an adverb in a sentence example that you gave only in specific and limited circumstances.

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