I’m an ESL teacher without much formal training (at this stage). I have however Googled grammar questions many times and been redirected here, so this time I'm actually posting. I’m trying to explain to students what follows “to be” when it acts a main verb, but I’m stuck on one point.

I know that predicate adjectives and predicate nominatives can be subject complements as they describe the subject.

I also know that sometimes prepositions act as adverbs after “to be”, eg. “She’s not up yet”), and that position words can act as adverbial phrases after “to be”, eg. “I’m not there yet”).

As these prepositions and adverbial phrases are describing the position or state of the subject, and not any action, would these also be considered subject complements? If so, is there a special name for them?

Also, would a prepositional phrase such as the one in “He’s in the kitchen” also count as a subject complement as it describes the position of the subject and not an action?

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    Yes, but their distribution is fairly limited. Almost all predicatives in PP structure occur with "as", for example "That counts as excellent." / "She served as treasurer." The complements of "as" are analysed as predicative obliques, and the as phrases themselves (as excellent etc.) as 'marked predicative complements'. In "He is in the kitchen", and your other two examples, the PPs are not predicatives, but locative complements. – BillJ Nov 1 '17 at 14:46
  • Thank you BillJ. Would that mean that any adverb or prepositional phrase following "to be" which denotes position would be classified as a "locative complement"? Is this a type of subject complement or a verb complement? – Jane Doe Nov 1 '17 at 23:57
  • That depends on what you think "subject complement" and "verb complement" mean, and what the difference is between them. There is no simple distinction. – John Lawler Nov 2 '17 at 1:29
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    @JaneDoe Yes, that's right. Locatives and predicatives are always complements of the verb, not the subject. They are only called 'subject(ive)' complements because they refer to the subject. Note that locatives and predicatives can also refer to the object: "I kept it in the drawer" ~ I kept it handy". Here, they are called object(ive) complements, but just like the subject complements they are complements of the verb, not the object. – BillJ Nov 2 '17 at 6:54
  • You have to decide whether you will say "locative complements", for example, or a "prepositional phrase used to describe a location". I guess it depends on the level of English teaching. – Lambie Apr 24 '18 at 17:32

Prepositional phrases, because they're a type of phrase where a verb, or adjective, is used to alter an adverb or noun, they count as subject complements. Subject complements, words or phrases that modify, describe, or complete the grammatical subject of a clause, are then technically similar in function to prepositional phrases.

"He's in the kitchen", with that being said, this phrase can technically count as both a prepositional phrase, and a subject complement

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I like to think of that problem this way.

She's not up yet.

This seems to be elliptical for the following:

She has not woken up yet.

I think of the 'up' in this instance as a particle and not a preposition, though the distinction may be a bit arbitrary.

It could also be said:

She has not woken, yet. (no need for the particle or preposition--if you prefer).

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  • The problem with calling it an ellipsis is that the s stands for is, not has: "She is not up yet". Using has in this sentence would be ungrammatical. – Laurel Mar 24 '18 at 21:10
  • What I mean is that: She 's not up--typically means: She has not woken up. 'Woken' is omitted by ellipsis. – P VV Mar 24 '18 at 21:24
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    I don't think that is right, p-vv. After all, we say she is not up yet all the time, but we simply never say *she has not up yet. If you were correct, one would expect that *she has not up yet would be acceptable by virtue of ellipsis... but it is not. Moreover, dictionaries include the relevant meaning of up. For example, the OED has it as 'out of bed; risen', and gives the following example of usage: One of the young ladies who attended..to the dairy w͟a͟s͟ already u͟p͟. – linguisticturn Apr 8 '18 at 20:15
  • I appreciate your difference of opinion. Ellipsis is used frequently in both writing and speaking. If I ask my son, for example--Are you up? I think my meaning is Have you woken up. Context should tell whether it is an ellipsis or not. If he was climbing up a latter and I said: "Are you up" it would imply: Are you near the top of the ladder. A typical example in conversation: "Going to the movie tonight." Meaning "Are you going to the movie tonight.' The question word and the subject are omitted. There is nothing wrong with ellipsis in most cases. It is typical and common in English. – P VV Apr 14 '18 at 14:35

This question focuses on 'to be'. To be is the root of; is, am, are, was, were, and been. “The verb 'to be' is the most irregular verb in the English language. It is normally a linking verb showing existence or the condition of the subject. It can also be used as an auxiliary verb when forming the passive voice.”^ This is a complete sentence, “I am that you were.”, even though it appears ungrammatical, awkward and devoid of context. You can’t teach that because it needs too much explaining and it is not worth your time. ^^http://englishplus.com/grammar/00000040.htm

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  • I am so you were, yes. – Lambie Apr 24 '18 at 17:34

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