1. Is it a strictly grammatical clause, or an idiomatic but ungrammatical short for 'If I die when I am young'?

  2. If it is grammatical, is 'young' used as adverb, or 'die' used as copula, or a valid case of 'verb+adjective'?

  3. Is similar structure common in real life conversations? Can you give me some more examples?

  • 3
    I don't see any copula or adverb here. Young is an adjective functioning as a depictive secondary predicate. In fact, this is pretty much a textbook example. Someone should make a canonical question about this stuff since it comes up so often, and people keep calling them adverbs.
    – user230
    May 6, 2015 at 8:25
  • I see a complement in "young".
    – IS4
    May 6, 2015 at 9:39
  • 1
    Grammatical how? As a complete sentence? Or as a clause?
    – J.R.
    May 6, 2015 at 15:13
  • @snailboat Looked up secondary predicate. That also sounds like a reasonable interpretation. Is there any reason 'die' couldn't be acting as a copula, with 'young' as a secondary predicate? I'm really not that familiar with this grammatical structure in a formal sense.
    – DCShannon
    May 6, 2015 at 18:44
  • @J.R. Good point. I don't really have trouble with sentence, clause, phrase or sentence fragment. Question updated.
    – NS.X.
    May 6, 2015 at 18:59

2 Answers 2

  1. Yes, it is grammatical, and yes it means "if I die when I am young". "If I die young" is not a sentence by itself, but would normally be the dependent clause in a conditional statement.

  2. Die is used as a copula in the sense that it is the primary verb linking the subject and predicate, but that's a pretty simplistic sense.

    'Copula' usually refers to an existential 'linking' verb like 'be' rather than an active verb like 'die'. However, if you look at this answer, you'll see that although 'die' is not normally a copula, 'die' in "I die young" fulfills many of the criteria, particularly B and E. I'm not familiar enough with copulas to say for sure whether it is or isn't, but it looks close enough to me.

    'Young' could be considered an adverb describing the way you would die, or as an adjective describing yourself at the time of death. I can see arguments both ways. 'Young' is normally an adjective, but [noun][verb][adverb] is the more common pattern. If I had to choose, I would call it a predicate adjective modifying 'I', as in the sentence "I am young" (where 'am' is a copula).

  3. Yes.

    • "If I seem nice..."
    • "If I go loud..."
    • "If I run fast..."
    • "If I learn quick..."
    • "If I am fat..."
    • "If I die handsome..." (the person was handsome at death)
    • "If I die handsomely..." (the way in which the person died was handsome)
    • "If I [almost any verb phrase you want]"
  • How does this not pass copula criterion E: "It cannot be passivized". What would be the passive form of "If I die young"? May 6, 2015 at 16:26
  • @JeremyNottingham Y'know what, you're right. I got my thinking turned around there. The phrase I'm considering in that section is "I die young". This would be equivalent to "They prefer small" in the other answer. Turning this around, you have "Young is died by me", corresponding to "small is preferred by them". This doesn't make sense, so it cannot be passivized, so it actually passes that criteria.
    – DCShannon
    May 6, 2015 at 18:34
  • Good answer. And I am not downvoting. I am just being somewhat a tiny bit unorthodox (well not really in my mind): If I die young expresses a complete thought, which to some is what makes a sentence. Joe, do ya wanna be cremated? Joe: If, I die young. Yeah, you can talk about ellipsis, but still it's a sentence. Okay, that's all for today.
    – user6951
    May 6, 2015 at 20:53
  • @pazzo I agree that in your example "If I die young" is a complete thought, but only because of the ellipsis you mentioned. Specifically, it's answer ellipsis. That's because information from the question is added, and this extra information makes it a complete thought. Just by itself though, without anything else to add through ellipsis, there is not a complete thought, and therefore no sentence. If a random person walks up and says "If I die young", then what have they told you?
    – DCShannon
    May 6, 2015 at 21:19

"young" in "to die young" is a normal adjective.The way someone can die can be peacefully or painfully, but the way of dying can't be young. "young" stands for "to die in young age" or "when someone is young". One does not think of the manner of dying but of the age of someone who died.

The school rule that after a verb follows an adverb is an oversimplification. There are a lot of verbs followed by an adjective where we clearly don't think of manner but of something else. But, of course, for beginners it is difficult to feel the difference and the grammar point verb + adjective is not a point in course books. It is advanced grammar.

Some examples

  • to buy sth cheap (at a cheap price, not in a cheap manner)

  • to break free - He tried to break free (to get free)

  • to fly high - (at a high level or to a high point)

  • to ring true (that rings like sth that is true)

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