There was a debate among some teachers on Facebook last night about the sentence “I am too tired.” The initial question was why is ‘too’ considered an adverb? But this quickly turned into a debate about the word ‘tired’.
Usually if I disagree with what others are saying I’ll offer my opinion and then step back. Life is too short to spend it arguing with people I have never met when I could be spending the time with people I love. This time I can’t do that because I’m worried by the number of people teaching their classes that ‘tired’ is a verb in this sentence. It isn’t. It’s an adjective.
There seems to be two main reasons for the misconception. One is that people were confusing the adjective ‘tired’ with the past participle of the verb ‘to tire’, which is also ‘tired’. The other is that many people believe that adverbs only modify verbs.
The second is easy to sort out. Check out any English grammar book, or just Google ‘adverb’, and you will discover it’s a word which can modify a verb, an adjective or another adverb. And the first? Well, as languages are my passion, let’s look at some foreign languages first, and then let me take you on to a journey into the unknown.
If you want to say ‘I am tired’ in French, as a man you would say, “je suis fatigué” and as a woman you would say, “je suis fatiguée”. The extra ‘e’ is because the word for tired is an adjective and in French adjectives have to agree with the gender of the noun. It’s the same in Spanish with estoy cansado / estoy cansada, where the final letter changes depending on whether you are a man or a woman – because it’s an adjective, and adjectives have to agree with the gender of the noun. If I want to use ‘fatigué’ as a past participle, eg I tired my dog (by walking him too far) I don’t even use ‘suis’ (am) as the auxiliary verb, I used ‘ai’ (have): ‘j’ai fatigue mon chien…..’
Ok, French and Spanish are romance languages and English is Germanic, so let’s look at German too.
I am tired: “Ich bin müde.”
I tired him out: “Ich habe ihn ermüdet.”
They use ‘habe’ (have) not ‘bin’ (am) as the auxiliary verb and adjective ‘müde’ and past participle ‘ermüdet’ don’t even have the same form. Hopefully this helps to explain that even though in English ‘tired’ can be both an adjective and the past participle of ‘to tire’, context is everything!
If you’re still not convinced, then come on that journey I promised you – a journey to the land of the subject complement.
A subject complement is the noun, adjective, pronoun or preposition that follows a ‘linking verb’, ie the verb that links two things together. Examples of linking verbs are ‘to be’, ‘to seem’, ‘to become’ and ‘to feel’.
In the sentence “I am tired”, ‘I’ is the subject, ‘am’ is the linking verb and ‘tired’ is the subject complement – in this case an adjective. If the example sentence had been ‘I am here’ or ‘I am a girl’, I doubt that anyone would be arguing that ‘here’ or ‘a girl’ were verbs. Imagine the example had used a different adjective, eg “He is angry.” “She is sweet.” I would be surprised if people had argued that ‘angry’ or ‘sweet’ were verbs.
Let’s try putting that ‘too’ back into the sentence as that seems to be the word that caused the confusion. “I am too angry to listen to you.” “She is too sweet for her own good.” “That shade of red is too gaudy for my taste.” It’s quite clear in these sentences that ‘angry’, ‘sweet’ and ‘gaudy’ are not verbs.
“I am too tired to continue this argument.”
‘I’ is the subject,
‘am’ is the linking verb,
‘too tired to continue this argument’ is the subject complement, which is also an adjectival phrase
Since ‘too’ tells us more about the adjective ‘tired’ it’s an adverb.
I hope this has helped and that you now feel more confident to teach your classes. Oh and be happy that ‘subject complement’ isn’t (yet) a grammatical term that Year 6 need to know 🙂