As far as I know, we use "look" with adjectives and "look like" with nouns, but I came across this sentence in Oxford Dictionaries:

That looks an interesting book.

Well, I was told that when we want to modify a noun with an adjective, use must use "look like", but this doesn't happen here. I don't know why. Maybe both "look" and "look like" can be used when an adjective modifies a noun.

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    Here, "to be" (not "like") has been dropped as it can be easily understood by the reader. It's not a case of adjectives but one of ellipsis. – Kris Oct 1 '13 at 13:37
  • In that case, can this sentence be used too? "She looks a princess" instead of "She looks like a princess". In this case I believe it is the same as "She looks to be a princess". – user36663 Oct 1 '13 at 13:52
  • Yes, it can. It is stilted and archaic, but it does exist. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 1 '13 at 15:01

I did follow your link to the Oxford English Learner's Dictionary, and I did note that the sentence that looks an interesting book; however, that is a very odd usage that, to my American ear, sounds incorrect.

Look is being used as an linking verb in that sentence meaning to appear or to seem. When used that way, look is an intransitive verb and therefore should not take an object.

Ordinarily a preposition such as like or an infinitive such as to be follows linking verbs such as seems, appears, looks, etc.

It should be more like these examples:

That looks like an interesting book.
That appears to be an interesting book.

If you want to omit the preposition like, you would need to change the syntax. With a linking verb, you can use an adjective in the predicate. Note the following example:

That book looks interesting.

Interesting is still modifying book. It does not need to precede the noun when a linking verb is used. This is called a predicate adjective.

The only other way that I could write that in the same way would be to use the verb to be, but that would change the meaning. Take this for example:

That *is* an interesting book.

That is grammatically correct, but it significantly changes the meaning of the sentence though


That looks an interesting book and That looks like an interesting book are both grammatical. What you can’t do is drop like when there is no adjective. You can say That looks like a book, but you can’t say * That looks a book. You have to say That looks as if it’s a book.

Picking up the point in your comment, She looks to be a princess doesn’t quite mean She looks like a princess. It means She seems to be a princess. It can also mean She wants to be a princess.

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    I've never heard to look used that way without like or to be. Is this specific to BrE? – Giambattista Oct 1 '13 at 14:46
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    In the sense ‘To have the appearance of being; to seem to the sight’, and construed with a predicative noun or adjective, the OED has supporting citations spanning nearly four centuries. From Dryden: ‘All pale he lies, and looks a lovely Flow'r.’ From Pope: ‘She moves a Goddess, and she looks a Queen!’ From the late nineteenth century: ‘Kitty did not look the lady she was not.’ I would not hesitate to use it now, as in ‘You look a terrible sight’ or ‘She looked a complete mess.’ – Barrie England Oct 1 '13 at 14:57
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    The example “that looks a book” does not work, it is too awkward. But in other cases, even forms without adjectives work fine—for example your Pope quote. Or the somewhat common phrase (on both sides of the Atlantic) ‘looking the part’: “Wow, that’s a great outfit you’ve found there. You really look the part!”. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 1 '13 at 15:03
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    @BarrieEngland Indeed I agree with Janus Bahs Jacquet that the American idiom is She looked like a millon dollars/bucks. – Giambattista Oct 1 '13 at 15:25
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    @BarrieEngland Hands Across the Sea, Barrie! I've heard and read plenty of Englishpersons using that construction; I've used it myself (but I was raised by English professors). Over here, though, it's rare--my impression is that it's literary rather than formal, except in fixed phrases like looks every inch an X or, on your side of the Atlantic, looks a right X. – StoneyB Oct 1 '13 at 15:34

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