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Liam is very ill. (English Syntax and Argumentation, Bas Aarts)

Traditional Grammar says ‘very ill’ as a subject complement.
And the book says ‘very ill’ as a complement for verb be.

Do I have to accept the remark as ‘Liam is’ can’t complete a sentence,
so the verb needs a complement. Or the complement modifies the verb?

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Neither. The phrase is very ill is a verb phrase. Ill is a predicate adjective, modified by the emphatic adverb very. The logic (ignoring very) is ILL (LIAM), showing the predicate adjective. The term complement adds nothing to the discussion and should be dispensed with, since it doesn't have a useful definition. –  John Lawler Mar 19 '13 at 4:06

1 Answer 1

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I believe the term "subject complement" has gone out of favor. These days, ill would be referred to as a predicate adjective, for more about which see Predicate Adjective explanation in layman's terms.

Regardless of whether "subject complement" or "predicate adjective" is the term you use, however, neither ever modifies the verb. The predicate is the subject of the sentence, and that's perhaps why the term "predicate adjective" has come to be used. Ill is an adjective describing Liam, the subject (predicate) of the sentence. Very is an adverb describing ill.

Incidentally, I believe you can have a sentence which reads simply "Liam is." For example:

John: Who is it that is very ill? Jane: Liam is.

Cheers!

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