Adjective or Adverb: unconsciously vs unconscious



Position of Adjectives: An adjective nearly always appears immediately before the noun or noun phrase that they modify. The source is here.

But if you look at the following sentence, the adjective "unconscious" doesn't appear before a noun, why? The source of the 1st and 3rd are here. The source of the second is here.

  1. He was knocked unconscious by a fall.
  2. An injured motorcyclist is lying unconscious in the road.
  3. She was unconscious for three days after the accident.

In the 2nd sentence, why can't it be "unconsciously"? Lying is a verb, so "lying unconsciously" is valid, is itn't?


Posted 2013-09-02T21:04:46.173

Reputation: 3 602

That's not a definition of adjective, that's close to a definition of attributive function. – snailplane – 2013-09-02T21:16:07.953


Also see this answer or Wikipedia.

– snailplane – 2013-09-02T21:19:41.940

@snailboat sorry for the mistake. I meant "Position of Adjectives". I updated the question and added the source. – T2E – 2013-09-02T21:21:42.790

I'm not sure, I can post others answer. But the best answer for this question is here, answered by snailboat

– T2E – 2013-09-02T21:34:47.043

A related question: “waterway … flowed sombre” - Should Joseph Conrad have used an adverb, not an adjective?

– CowperKettle – 2015-01-12T15:47:30.953



I can't think of any context where lying unconsciously could mean anything except telling lies without knowing they are lies.

As to why it can't mean prone and unconscious, I think it's at least partly because the adverbial -ly suffix attached to an adjective xxxx normally means in an xxxx manner. You can't normally lie [prone] in an unconscious manner, but you can certainly be unconscious in that position.

Taking a different adjective, it's perfectly possible to lie quietly (or sit quietly, to choose a more common verb/adverb pairing). OP's particular example is invalid for semantic, rather than "grammatical" reasons.

FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica

Posted 2013-09-02T21:04:46.173

Reputation: 52 587


It's because it's the motorcyclist that was unconscious, not the lying.


He was tapping his finger unconsciously

Where it is the tapping that is unconscious


Unconscious, he was tapping his finger

which would mean he was tapping his finger while asleep.

Another way to think of it is that both "lying" and "unconscious" are describing the person. Then the position becomes a common one for an adjective: Noun was adjective.

Peter Flom

Posted 2013-09-02T21:04:46.173

Reputation: 2 320