You might belong in Gryffindor,
Where dwell the brave at heart,
Their daring, nerve, and chivalry
Set Gryffindors apart;
(Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

It seems somewhat awkward that we say both ‘at heart’ modifies the previous noun, and it functions as an adverbial. What does it mean, and what role does it take?


The adjunct at heart is adjectival rather than adverbial, and modifies only brave. I read brave at heart as something of a set phrase or cliché referring to those who are courageous, but as Kevin notes, “at heart” can be taken as a reference to core values, true character, or defining characteristics.


The phrase "at heart" means something like "in one's core", "one's true character" or "one's defining characteristic"

So, in this sense, we are describing those in Gryffindor as being primarily brave. They may possess other characteristics that go with other houses: Hermione is both smart(Ravenclaw) and hardworking (Hufflepuff); Harry is definitely cunning and resourceful (Slytherin) however, their bravery and chivalry is a more defining characteristic of them.

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