call me [a] liar (indefinite article)

albahaca

Senior Member
Spanish Spain
Which of the following sentences is correct "He called me liar" or "He called me a liar"? or both?
I would choose the second one but I can't explain why.
Any help?
 
  • levmac

    Senior Member
    British English
    It would be the same with to be.

    He is a liar.


    I think it might be to do with nouns and adjective.


    He called me [adjective]

    He called me selfish.
    He called me stupid.
    He called me gay.


    He called me a [noun[

    He called me a bitch.
    He called me a hardworker.
    He called me a Nazi.
     
    Last edited:

    SevenDays

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    But structurally speaking, an objective predicative complement (that is, the element modifying the direct object 'me") can be an adjective (they called me selfish), a bare noun phrase (they called me liar) or a noun phrase with a determiner (they called me a liar). The difference between "liar" and "a liar" is semantic: with the addition of the indefinite article "a," the speaker puts the person represented by "me" in the class of "liars," so that "me" represents one entity of that class. (In fact, "a" is the reduced form of "an" from Old English meaning "one.")
    Cheers
     

    The Newt

    Senior Member
    English - US
    But structurally speaking, an objective predicative complement (that is, the element modifying the direct object 'me") can be an adjective (they called me selfish), a bare noun phrase (they called me liar) or a noun phrase with a determiner (they called me a liar). The difference between "liar" and "a liar" is semantic: with the addition of the indefinite article "a," the speaker puts the person represented by "me" in the class of "liars," so that "me" represents one entity of that class. (In fact, "a" is the reduced form of "an" from Old English meaning "one.")
    Cheers
    No, I don't agree. You can't say "they called me liar" any more than you can say "I am liar." The only way you could do it would be to think of "liar" as a direct quotation:

    They called me "liar."

    Even then it's not natural.
     

    levmac

    Senior Member
    British English
    No, I don't agree. You can't say "they called me liar" any more than you can say "I am liar." The only way you could do it would be to think of "liar" as a direct quotation:

    They called me "liar."

    Even then it's not natural.
    That would be my feeling too, like you were quoting.
     

    SevenDays

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    They call me liar ~ they call me president ~ they call me spaceman; they call me suspect; all these have a bare noun properly functioning as objective predicative complement, and adding "a" makes class-member reference (a liar = member of the class of liars). I don't see how the label "incorrect" fits here, though I wouldn't argue as to what sounds natural or not. But let's not mix syntactic categories; noun phrases face certain restrictions when they function as subject complements. When noun phrases assign a characteristic to the subject, they are generally non-referential and thus indefinite, which draws in the indefinite pronoun: I am a liar. As bare nouns without a determiner, they typically need modifiers (I am liar enough). On the other hand, when noun phrases identify rather then describe the subject, they have more freedom (I am king; I am president), though modifiers can be added as well (I am king of the world).

    Cheers
     

    Serveto

    Senior Member
    USA English
    They call me liar ~ they call me president ~ they call me spaceman; they call me suspect; all these have a bare noun properly functioning as objective predicative complement, and adding "a" makes class-member reference (a liar = member of the class of liars). I don't see how the label "incorrect" fits here, though I wouldn't argue as to what sounds natural or not. But let's not mix syntactic categories; noun phrases face certain restrictions when they function as subject complements. When noun phrases assign a characteristic to the subject, they are generally non-referential and thus indefinite, which draws in the indefinite pronoun: I am a liar. As bare nouns without a determiner, they typically need modifiers (I am liar enough). On the other hand, when noun phrases identify rather then describe the subject, they have more freedom (I am king; I am president), though modifiers can be added as well (I am king of the world).

    Cheers
    No. It doesn't matter how you try to break it down grammatically: "they called me liar" doesn't work. The word liar is derived from the verb "to lie", whereas the word "king" is not derived from any infinitive source--which may explain why you can say "they called me king" (identification). I loved your explanation, by the way---(identification versus description)---but you can't extend that to everything just based on the part of speech of the words involved. The expression "a liar" means "one who is a liar", and in this case, that indefinite article is needed for the "one who is" quality to be present.
     

    The Newt

    Senior Member
    English - US
    I'll ignore "they call me suspect," because "suspect" can function as an adjective. "They call me spaceman" is on the same par as "they call me George"; that is, it's what people call me as a nickname. Calling someone "spaceman" doesn't imply that he puts on a space suit and goes into orbit; in fact it almost certainly doesn't mean that.

    "King" and "president" are categories of which there can generally only be one at any given time and in one place, so you can say "I am president" (in fact it's more likely to heard than "I am a president"). The same isn't true of "liar": you can't say "I am liar."

    I think another side issue here is that by preference we actually probably would not say "He called me 'liar'" even with the understanding that "liar" was a direct quotation. "He shouted 'liar'" etc. That is, "called me" is in the same category as, for example, "regarded me," where you wouldn't say "he regarded me as liar," but only "he regarded me as a liar." Having said that, however, it's probably likely enough that some speakers, especially children, might say "he called me 'liar'."
     
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