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How do you you parse this sentence?

Here's my attempt:

subj: It

verb: seemed

comp: to be a man (infinitive)

is the whole infinitive phrase the complement or is "a man" the complement, and "to be" an expletive?

  • Good question. The usual consensus is that (assuming It refers to a real thing, and is not a dummy it) seem is an intransitive flip perception verb that optionally takes an experiencer in a to-phrase (seems to me/him/everybody) and takes a subject complement clause, which must either undergo Extraposition (with that-complements) or Subject-Raising (with infinitive complements). E.g, *For him to be tired seems Raises to He seems to be tired, but *That he is tired seems Extraposes to It seems that he is tired. – John Lawler Aug 22 '15 at 16:55
  • @John Lawler He probably wants an answer that his teacher 'understands', not a/the proper one. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 22 '15 at 17:00
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    Well, the infinitive is the complement, or what's left of it (minus the raised It subject), and the whole infinitive phrase is the complement, right enough. At least close enough. – John Lawler Aug 22 '15 at 23:01
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'It' is not always a real subject but a grammatical construct so that a sentence which does not need a subject has one, as in "It is raining." This usage is sometimes called 'dummy subject'.

Your sentence actually does not have a subject but English grammar requires a subject. So 'it' is used in lieu of a subject. (In other languages it is common to omit the subject and have the verb conjugation hint which omitted pronoun would be the subject.)

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I finally figured this out. "Seem to" is a phrasal modal and not the main/lexical verb.

sbj: it
vrb: seemed to - be
        cmp: person
                det: a

That's all it is. This actually simplifies it.

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Particularly, in the copular/linking verbs as "appear" & "seem" we often use 'TO BE' for showing a relationship or describing a state. It is better to regard "seem to be" as verb phrase. "A man" is the complement.

Otherwise, "seem" may take a clause/ phrase as its complement.

° It seems that it would rain today.

°°I seem to have left my book at home.

In the last sentence "to have" is not the part of the verb phrase but part of an elliptical clause--"to have left my book at home".

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  • So you claim the structure of "It seemed to be a man." is different from "It seemed to run quickly." ? – Ben Voigt Sep 24 '15 at 20:35
  • @ Ben Voigt exactly. In the 1st. 'Man' is the complement and in the 2nd.'to run quickly' meaning a crammed version of "that it would run quickly"--- both functioning as complement. – Barid Baran Acharya Sep 25 '15 at 4:30

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