Subject-Verb-Object/Complement

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Sb2908

New Member
Italiano
Hi everyone!
I need to know differences between patterns of English sentences.
I have these 2 sentences:
- His eyes are brown.
- She is worried.

I am pretty sure that both sentences are SVC.
But someone told me that the second one is SVO and I really can't understand the reason of this statement.
Could someone help me to solve my doubt?
Thank you so much!
 
  • Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    You really shouldn't use these abbreviations - most English people will have no idea what you're talking about. I suppose you mean Subject-Verb-Object/Complement?

    Whether you call the end of a sentence using the verb to be its object or its complement is entirely up to you. These terms are only there to justify such theoretical constructions as "It is I"", beloved of elderly theoretical grammarians and totally unknown to 99% of native speakers. Why make life so complicated?

    Call them both "object" - I do (on the rare occasions that I ever bother to think about them - about once every 17 years).
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    Linking verbs (like be) don't have objects. I have no idea why anyone would want to call "worried" an object.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Yes, worried is an adjective. That's clearly a complement to me. Objects need to be nouns or to function as nouns.
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    I'll willingly agree with Velisarius and Natkretep, if either of them can explain what iota of grammatical difference there is in God's vast universe between the concepts object and complement. The verb to be takes a complement, not an object, we're told. So:
    I see that man = object
    I am that man = complement.​
    But what's the difference?

    "Objects need to be nouns or to function as nouns" says Nat. BUT WHY?
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    If you are going to use the term object, it makes sense to use it the way most people understand it. Otherwise, it will confuse people.

    The traditional definition of an object is something that is acted upon or affected by the action in some way or is the patient. (I know this definition is not perfect.) This means that it has to be a noun or be noun-like.

    When the bit after the verb refers to the subject, it would be strange to refer to it as the object if we accept this definition.

    I see that man. ('The man' is the patient.)
    I became that man. (I = that man.)
    I am happy. ('Happy' is an adjective. 'Happy' describes 'I'.)
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    That's a nice, theoretical explanation, but it has three flaws:
    1. It makes sense to use it the way most people understand it. Most people? I can't be the only child to have learnt at the age of 10 that these are all objects, and not to have heard the word 'complement' until I was an adult.
    2. The traditional definition of an object is something that is acted upon or affected by the action. Good physics, but not the grammar definition I learnt. And in the sentence I see that man, how is the man acted upon or affected by my eyesight?
    3. What difference does it make? In Latin, there's a difference in case-ending between to-be-sentences and other kinds of verb-sentences. But not in modern English.
    I get the feeling that this grammar rule is, like the possessive-gerund and the no-preposition-at-the-end-of-a-sentence rule, a useless leftover from the 19th century.
     

    Wilma_Sweden

    Senior Member
    Swedish (Scania)
    I'll willingly agree with Velisarius and Natkretep, if either of them can explain what iota of grammatical difference there is in God's vast universe between the concepts object and complement. The verb to be takes a complement, not an object, we're told. So:
    I see that man = object
    I am that man = complement.​
    But what's the difference?

    "Objects need to be nouns or to function as nouns" says Nat. BUT WHY?
    Keith: Language learners usually have to classify parts of a sentence in order to understand and correctly apply patterns that native speakers know instinctively.
    In "I see that man", you know instinctively that you can replace "that man" with "him", while the learner will think "male object -> lookup personal pronouns, object form". You are doing something to somebody.
    In "I am that man", the verb "am" is a linking verb. The learner will find out that linking verbs have complements, not objects: you're not doing something to somebody, you simply are something or someone. You might protest that "I am that man" could be replaced with "I am him" which is an object form, but it doesn't always work, and certainly might be completely wrong in another context or a different language!

    Edit: typo, "linking words" replaced by "linking verbs"
     
    Last edited:

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    I hear you, but again, you fall into two of Natkretep's errors.
    1. In "I see that man", you know instinctively that you can replace "that man" with "him"... In "I am that man", the verb "am" is a linking verb but you can still replace "that man" with "him". In other words, what is the difference?
    2. The fact that it "certainly might be completely wrong in another language" is irrelevant. It's indeed wrong in Latin and German; but it's right in English. This is an English-language website, not a comparative linguistics website.
    Then you add an error of your own. "The learner will find out that linking words have complements, not objects". He'll only find this out if some traditional grammarian tells him so. I've lived seventy years not believing that "linking words have complements". I've always seen them as verbs with objects and my life has not been one jot the poorer for it because (my final word unless somebody comes up with a real distinction) there is no difference.

    @ SB2908: don't lose any sleep over this.:)
     

    Wilma_Sweden

    Senior Member
    Swedish (Scania)
    I hear you, but again, you fall into two of Natkretep's errors.
    1. In "I see that man", you know instinctively that you can replace "that man" with "him"... In "I am that man", the verb "am" is a linking verb but you can still replace "that man" with "him". In other words, what is the difference?
    2. The fact that it "certainly might be completely wrong in another language" is irrelevant. It's indeed wrong in Latin and German; but it's right in English. This is an English-language website, not a comparative linguistics website.
    Then you add an error of your own. "The learner will find out that linking words have complements, not objects". He'll only find this out if some traditional grammarian tells him so. I've lived seventy years not believing that "linking words have complements". I've always seen them as verbs with objects and my life has not been one jot the poorer for it because (my final word unless somebody comes up with a real distinction) there is no difference.

    @ SB2908: don't lose any sleep over this.:)
    I'm not going to lose any sleep either. The op asked about the adjectives in "She is worried", "His eyes are brown", and in these cases you couldn't possibly replace what comes after the verbs is/are with me/it/them or whatever pronoun and still make sense, can you?
    "The learner will find out that linking words have complements, not objects" This is a typo, should be linking verbs. Not only grammarians, dictionaries(*) also describe be as a linking verb in this context. It doesn't matter to you, but it may matter to a learner of English. I only brought up other languages because a learner of English as a foreign language presumably has a first language other than English, and it may be helpful to them to compare certain English grammar rules with those of their own language. To a learner, knowing what type of verb you're dealing with gives you a pattern to help you construct correct sentences.

    To you as a native English speaker, it doesn't matter, you don't need grammar rules because you learned it as a kid, by repetition. If you're about 12 or older, you can no longer learn a foreign language effectively without grammar rules to guide you. Since the OP mentioned SVO/SVC (=Subject, Verb, Object, Complement) in two similar sentences, I drew the conclusion that they are perhaps ruled by teachers who listened to those grammarians and will mark exams accordingly. Therefore:

    She is worried = SVC
    His eyes are brown = SVC

    (*) See "be" #2 here: be | meaning of be in Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English | LDOCE
     

    Vovan

    Senior Member
    Russian
    But someone told me that the second one is SVO and I really can't understand the reason of this statement.
    The only difference between the two sentences would exist if only the second had "worried" as a verb. Otherwise, they are grammatically identical.

    In reality (as opposed to most EFL tests, exercises, etc.), "worried" in such a sentence can be a verb - as in "We're not too much worried by these results." But it will be a shortened sentence in a dialogue.

    Edited by Vovan.
     
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    SevenDays

    Senior Member
    Spanish/AE
    The terms "object," "complement", etc. are really syntactic terms, and these terms begin to make sense when we consider the syntactic structure of a sentence (how the elements in it relate to each other). For example, "He knows that I told him the truth when I spoke to him on the phone" has two types of complements, a "that-clause" (that I told him the truth) and a "wh-clause" (when I spoke to him on the phone). These two types of sentences, however, are not on equal footing; we can drop the "wh-phrase" and still maintain the intended meaning (He knows that I told him the truth) but dropping the "that-clause" leaves a sentence that has no relation to the original meaning (He knows when I spoke to him on the phone). What that tells us is that one of the two clauses (the "that-clause") has a closer syntactic relation with the verb, and that's all that the term "direct object" signals; that it is directly related to what is a transitive verb. (Semantically, in that close syntactic relation, the "that-clause" completes the basic meaning of the verb "knows;" some use fancier language: that the "that-clause" fills the valency of the verb "knows.") Saying that a direct object is a noun phrase, or that the direct object is acted upon by the verb doesn't fully explain what's going on at a syntactic level. Now, "complement" is an all-encompassing term (anything that "completes" the meaning of something else is called "complement"). In that sense, what "I see that man" and "I am that man" have in common is that both sentences are constructed with the same complement (the noun phrase "that man") but the complement "that man" behaves differently, and that's what the terms "direct object" and "subject complement" allude to. "Direct object" signals a relation between the complement and the verb; "subject complement," a relation between the complement and the subject. (More to the point, the verb "to be" is empty of lexical meaning; it conveys grammatical notions of tense, mood, person, etc., and it is through those grammatical notions that the "subject" is related to the "complement;" or, using traditional grammar language, the subject complement renames the subject.) Does all this matter? Does it matter that we call something a "direct object" and something else "subject complement"? Well, I suppose that's debatable, but such terms do help us form and identify well-structured sentences. And the difficulty for a non-native speakers of English (apart from mastering terminology, if that is needed at all) is knowing which verbs take what sort of complements (direct object, that-clause, wh-clause, prepositional complement, etc.), something that a native perhaps knows intuitively.
     

    Vronsky

    Senior Member
    Russian - Russia
    Last edited:

    Vovan

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Okay, let's make up our own:
    Their opinions don't worry us.==>We're not worried by their opinions.
    Dialogue:
    "Are you worried by their opinions?"
    "No, we're not worried."

    I really skipped "very" when I was reading the example.
    It should have been "very much" to go with "worry" as a verb.
    Sorry for that.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    ... Natkretep's errors.
    I was merely pointing out the difference between O and C if you have a system that makes that distinction. I am not going to argue with you.

    I am aware of alternative systems. In systemic functional grammar, object isn't used at all, and complements are used for both what I called objects and complements.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    I've often seen learners struggle with sentences that refuse to behave themselves and turn into passives. They may have been taught something like this:
    To make a passive sentence you need to start with object first and then use the be form of the verb (depending on the tense) and then add a past participle:


    It's easier to explain to a learner why a sentence like "He became a doctor" cannot be transformed into a passive sentence *A doctor was become by him when the learner has grasped the concept of "linking verbs" and "complements" that are not objects. The alternative is to give them a list of verbs that can't be made passive, but I think it's better that they should understand what's different about those verbs, and why they don't behave like other active verbs.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    It's easier to explain to a learner why a sentence like "He became a doctor" cannot be transformed into a passive sentence *A doctor was become by him when the learner has grasped the concept of "linking verbs" and "complements" that are not objects.
    :thumbsup::thumbsup: Thank you, veli. You've convinced me.
     

    Wilma_Sweden

    Senior Member
    Swedish (Scania)
    The terms "object," "complement", etc. ... intuitively.
    :thumbsup:!
    I was merely pointing out the difference between O and C if you have a system that makes that distinction. I am not going to argue with you.

    I am aware of alternative systems. In systemic functional grammar, object isn't used at all, and complements are used for both what I called objects and complements.
    :thumbsup:!
    Edit:
    :thumbsup:! to Velisarius (post #16) also.
     
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