Hello all,

I have ESL students doing a writing exercise wherein they must replicate various sentence structures by subbing in their own words. One sentence is "She kept silent." However, its opposite, "She kept noisy", sounds distinctly off to me. I cannot think of a reason why some adjectives seem to OK to use after "keep", but others do not.

E.g. "kept busy", or "kept fresh", but not "kept blue", or "kept asleep". Instead we would use "stayed".

Is there a rule I'm unaware of that dictates which adjectives are acceptable, or are some grammatical but just awkward because we don't typically phrase them that way? Any thoughts would be appreciated.

gcorkeryIs there a rule I'm unaware of

If there is a rule, it's probably not worth the trouble to work out what it is. In general, however, it seems to me that for the relatively few adjectives that are regularly used with 'keep' (less than 50 I'd guess), the trend is to use only those adjectives that represent a state that is the opposite of the state which will come about naturally if nothing is done to prevent it.

Some of the following may ring true; others maybe not so much.

keep fresh — if you do nothing to prevent it, it will become stale or rotten
keep silent/quiet — if you do nothing to prevent it, people will naturally talk
keep afloat — ... or else you drown
keep clean — ... or else it will just naturally get dirty
keep awake — (for tired people) ... or else you'll fall asleep
keep secret/confidential — if no effort is made to prevent it, everybody will blab
keep busy — otherwise, if no effort is made, you'll be idle or lazy

In contrast 'keep blue' makes no sense because blue has no tendency, for example, to become another color, so no effort is needed to prevent this from happening.

Some of the adjectives most frequently seen with 'keep' are these:

alive, constant, quiet, separate, busy, open, secret, clean, close, free, warm, silent, clear, clean, cold, cool, confidential, fresh, tight, afloat, vacant, empty, full, still, awake



Interesting observation!