I'm aware of what phrasal verbs and the fact they are typically accompanied by a word like up, down, or in in order to add meaning to the verb. But, in the sentence: The subject is whom or what the sentence is about, is 'is about' a phrasal verb? I know the object pronoun whom here should be the object of the preposition about, but isn't the word 'about' here linked to the verb 'is'? If so, then shouldn't whom be changed to who? If so, are there any other examples of linking phrasal verbs?

I may be completely wrong on this, I am just a bit perplexed and curious to know. Thanks!

  • 1
    No, it's not. I see where you're coming from, but about is just a preposition, not the particle of a phrasal verb. In this case, it's the head of the predicate prepositional phrase be about X, where X is what gets turned into what or who and moved to the front of the clause by Wh-Question Formation. (The whom is only required when a preposition is pied-piped to the front along with who.) Jun 25, 2016 at 21:37
  • And as to the question in the title, the answer is no. Auxiliary verbs are just auxiliary verbs, not phrasal verbs. But they can occur with phrasal verbs (He's looking up the word), and they must occur with non-verbal predicates, like predicate nouns (He's a doctor), predicate adjectives (He's very good at this), and, as here, predicate propositional phrases (It's all about respect). Jun 25, 2016 at 21:42
  • Thanks! I do have another question though. In a prepositional phrase right after a linking verb, is that prep phrase acting like an adjective or adverb? I'm tempted to think the latter mainly because it doesn't make much sense as an adjective. However, if that is the case, then wouldn't that imply linking verbs don't really need a complement or predicate adjective? After all, an adverb is not either of those. Thus, one could argue, "He is" or the imperative "Be!" on its own is a complete sentence. Am I right on that? Jun 25, 2016 at 21:51
  • It's acting like a prepositional phrase. A predicate prepositional phrase. Also a Verb phrase, starting with the be. You seem to assume that there is a fixed and limited set of categories to which things can be assigned. Not true, alas. Any kind of word or phrase can be a predicate; only the prototype predicate -- verbs -- inflect for tense, so some appropriately inflected form of be is required for all other non-verbal predicates, including all phrases and clauses except verb phrases, which must already start with either a modal or a tensed verb. Jun 25, 2016 at 21:56
  • "Donald turned out stupid."
    – Greg Lee
    Jun 25, 2016 at 22:08

1 Answer 1


The distinguishing of some structures as verb + prepositional phrase or multi-word verb + object is notoriously difficult, and perhaps contentious. But 'be about [...]' in this sense is probably best considered insufficiently cohesive to be analysed as a MWV (though 'address', 'cover' are single-verb synonyms).

An example of a linking MWV is 'turn into [...]' (in the 'become', not the driving, sense).

  • An explanation of what you perceive the error to be? Jun 26, 2016 at 16:28

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