In a construction such as, "John is disappointed with Alice", what part of speech is disappointed with? It appears to me that the "am" is a linking verb.

Similarly, "Jessica is sad", it seems to me that "sad" is the same part of speech as disappointed with.

One paper I'm reading claims that these are adverbs, but I am pretty sure this isn't the case, as "disappointed" doesn't describe "is". They feel like adjectives, but yet it's not assembled like a typical adjective would be ("Sad Jessica").

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    Sorry, I initially had "I am", then decided to change it to a third-person form and forgot to change the verb. Yes, it is a real question. It has been edited.
    – Irwin
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 23:14
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    Put down that paper, Irwin! It's dangerous. Disappointed and sad are indeed adjectives, predicate adjectives: adjectives which serve as complements of a copular verb. Commented May 5, 2013 at 0:30
  • I need to review this paper and want to indicate the mistake along with the correction! Hence my question!
    – Irwin
    Commented May 5, 2013 at 14:53

2 Answers 2


People write papers about parts of speech? Good heavens.

First, yes, be is always an auxiliary verb. Even if it's the only verb in the clause; the lexical item following be in that case is the real predicate.

(Not a "linking verb", btw; that's grade school stuff, like "5 take away 2")

And disappointed is indeed an adjective -- a predicate adjective since it takes an auxiliary be. It's what's called a "psych predicate", because it refers to a mental state of the subject. Like angry, scared, frightened, mad, surprised, etc.

Since almost all predicate adjectives are intransitive, they can't take objects. However, they can be transitivized with prepositions. The prepositional phrase indicates the stimulus that has caused the mental state to the subject. But the prepositions vary; they're determined by the predicate, as usual.

  • I'm disappointed. ~ I'm disappointed at Max. ~ I'm disappointed with Max.
  • I'm angry. ~ I'm angry at Max. ~ I'm angry with Max. ~ *I'm angry of Max.
  • I'm mad. ~ I'm mad at Max. ~ *I'm mad with Max. ~ *I'm mad of Max.
  • I'm scared. ~ *I'm scared at Max. ~ *I'm scared with Max. ~ I'm scared of Max.
  • I'm surprised ~ I'm surprised at Max. ~ *I'm surprised with Max. ~ *I'm surprised of Max.

Psych predicates are also called "Flip predicates" in the literature because they invert the usual roles of the subject as agent and the object as patient (Bill hit Max), instead flipping the subject to patient role, with the prepositional object functioning as cause, if not always agent.

Psych predicates are often formed from past participles (like disappointed and scared) so they have the same form as passive, but they have to be distinguished from them because they don't allow agent by-phrases and they don't refer to an event, but rather a state. I.e, the two sentences below don't mean the same thing.

  • Bill was scared by Max. (an event; passive verb)
  • Bill was scared of Max. (a mental state; psych predicate adjective)
  • "Be is always an auxiliary verb" - this bit of prescriptivism does not reflect the way people actually talk, including lots of academics, even linguists. Unless you didn't mean what I thought you meant. Commented May 5, 2013 at 15:25
  • It's not prescriptive; it's just a fact. Be behaves exactly like an auxiliary verb in every sentence it occurs in: it's totally irregular in inflection, it inverts with the subject in questions and negatives, it contracts with the subject, it requires a lexical predicate following it. It never behaves like a lexical predicate; it always behaves like a piece of grammar; i.e, it's an auxiliary. If you want to call it something else for doctrinal reasons, that would be prescriptive. Commented May 5, 2013 at 15:57
  • Prescriptiveness is when you try to make people use a word in a way that is different from how they actually use it. You may be doing that. Secondly, you claim that the word is used in a certain way by most people or whatever, while in fact it is not. Lastly, there are no "facts" in linguistics: only models and definitions. It so happens that, to most people, an auxiliary verb is by definition one that supports another verb, like a participle. I presume you would even call "have you any kids?" an auxiliary, which I assure you is not considered one by the (very) large majority. Commented May 5, 2013 at 17:33
  • Have you any kids? is not American English. We'd understand it (we all watch the BBC and read English novels :-), but it would be unusual to hear it in an American mouth. What's happened is that the auxiliary have behaves like an auxiliary, natch, while the lexical 'possess' have takes Do-support (Do you have?) and doesn't contract (*I've three). Commented May 5, 2013 at 17:47
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    Don't get me wrong, I think grouping all verbs that have the characteristics you mentioned together under one name is a good idea. But choosing a different word instead of "auxiliary" would appear to be neither more nor less complex. (Using a word differently from the way most people use it may create a different kind of complexity, if readers are unaware of this terminology.) Commented May 6, 2013 at 5:16

well, "sad" and "disappointed" do not describe the subject. they describe the action of feeling, sad or disappointed. a person feels sad he does not have a quality that is sadness. sadness comes and goes.

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