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Is it a subject? Also, what sort of sentence is this?

marked as duplicate by Edwin Ashworth, Mark Hubbard, jimm101, Wrzlprmft, FumbleFingers Jan 16 '17 at 15:35

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  • @EdwinAshworth If this were Latin or Greek or even German, it might be an accusative absolute. But that’s a mighty peculiar label to apply to a language like English without an accusative case, eh? :) – tchrist Jan 16 '17 at 15:26
  • @tchrist You're free to edit the title. I'd consider it beneficial in this case. I've just pointed out the duplicate thread. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 16 '17 at 15:32
  • @EdwinAshworth There’s a comment to you on my answer. – tchrist Jan 16 '17 at 16:07
  • 2
    Yes, "him" is the subject of the non-finite clause him looking into her eyes, a supplementary adjunct. It would also be possible to have the nominative "he" as subject. Such clauses belong to the absolute construction, one which is subordinate in form but with no syntactic link to the main clause. Supplements are not modifiers; they are optional loosely attached elements outside clause structure, set apart from the main clause by punctuation and a slight pause in speech. Like non-defining relative clauses, they are presented as separate units of information, parenthetical or additional. – BillJ Jan 16 '17 at 16:11
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The subject of the entire sentence is she, which is why the “finite” verb stands is in its -s inflection for the third person present singular.

However, as you have right noticed, there is also another verb in this sentence: looking. This is one of English’s non-finite verb inflections: the -ING form which we use for a variety of things. By “non-finite”, I mean uninflected for number, person, or tense. It is not bound in time, if you would.

Your Verb Phrase (VP) him looking into her eyes has its own subject, which as you have also rightly identified, is the pronoun him. The reason we use the “object” case of the pronoun even though it is the subject is because it is the subject of a untensed/non-finite verb. We normally use the “subject” case of the pronoun for tensed/finite verbs, and use the “object” case otherwise.

Different people analyse these sentences differently, but I don’t believe that anyone would consider the non-finite verb phrase to be used substantively as an appositive to an earlier substantive. In short, I don’t believe it is standing in for a Noun Phrase (NP) here.

If it’s not being used as a substantive, the only alternative is that is being used as a modifier. You should find broad agreement on that. Where analysts disagree is which syntactic constituent that modifier phrase should be considered to be modifying. Here are the likelier possibilities for an attachment point:

  1. she
  2. stands
  3. there
  4. she stands there

Older analyses sometimes favored choice 1 (“she”) or choice 2 (“stands”). However, in my judgement it makes better sense to consider your non-finite VP as modifying the entire “sentence” in choice 4, meaning that it is considered to modify the subject along with the tensed verb it governs, plus all their assorted accoutrements.

That makes

she stands there

your main Sentence (S), and it makes

him looking into her eyes

a sentence-adverbial phrase modifying that earlier sentence S.

  • @Edwin Ashworth The only problem I find is that it doesn't sound quite right - though I am sure that it is. Its idiomatic quality is more apparent if you insert a with. She stands there with him looking into her eyes. – WS2 Jan 16 '17 at 16:05

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