Asked this on ELL but with no answer:

What makes be an intransitive verb? How do we know that the analysis of It is me as transitive by tradtional grammars is incorrect?

Take for example:

  1. I gave an [dO apple] to [iO her]
    2. It was her.

In 1, gave is a transitive verb with the direct object "an apple" . In 2, it is argued that "her" is not an object because be is an intransitive verb (?), so "her" is not a direct object in 2, like it is in 1 (indirect object).

And how does this analysis apply to other verbs, like hurt from the example below:

a. It is I.
b. It's me.

With who and whom in [11] we saw a construction where an accusative form was associated with relatively formal style. In [2], however, it is the sentence with the nominative form I that belongs to (very) formal style, while accusative me is neutral or informal (again, see Ch. 5, §16.2.1 for a fuller description of the facts). Confusing informality with ungrammaticality again, a strong prescriptivist tradition says that only [2a] is grammatical. The accusative me is claimed to be the case of the direct object, as in It hurt me, but in [2] the noun phrase after the verb is a predicative complement.

How to tell if hurt in It hurt me is a a predicative complement? "Hurt" can be replaced by other to be linking verbs (is, was etc.). Even though (is, was) are stative verbs and hurt is more of an action verb.

The following verbs are true linking verbs: any form of the verb be [am,is, are, was, were, has been, are being, might have been, etc.],become, and seem. These true linking verbs are always linking verbs.

Then you have a list of verbs with multiple personalities: appear, feel, grow, look, prove, remain, smell, sound, taste, and turn. Sometimes these verbs are linking verbs; sometimes they are action verbs.

How do you tell when they are action verbs and when they are linking verbs?

If you can substitute am, is, or are and the sentence still sounds logical, you have a linking verb on your hands.

If, after the substitution, the sentence makes no sense, you are dealing with an action verb instead.

Source: The Linking Verb: Recognize a linking verb when you find one.

Normally action verbs have direct objects, but nearly all verbs can be used as transitive and intransitive. For example the verb drive. Compare:

He drives fast


"He drives the car fast".

The first is a predicative complement, while the second is not as drives is being used transitively with its object "the car".


It was given to her

Her is an object because of the verb "given" being used transitively and is not a predicative complement.

But in,

It hurt me
It is me

Why is me automatically an object in It is me, even though verbs themselves can be transitive or intransitive: what makes be automatically intransitive? and why is me in It hurt me automatically an object when hurt can be a transitive and intransitive verb:

I am hurt (intransitive) - predicative complement
He says his tooth hurts (intransitive) - ?
[He/she] has been hurting ever since learning of her friend's betrayal (intransitive) - ?

According to above, can the verb "hurt" be a reporting verb relating the feelings of the subject like (I feel hurt) or (I am hurt) in "It hurt me", rather than an action verb?
If it is seen as an action verb, me is an object, while the other interpretation is that there is no object and hurt is being used intransitively in "It hurt me". If hurt is being used intransitively, does that mean the pronoun me is a complement? If not what is "me" in "It hurt me"?

  • 1
    Objects often have corresponding subjects in the passive, but *"I am been by it" for "It's me" is no good.
    – Greg Lee
    Jun 26, 2018 at 21:47
  • I suspect you're reading H&P's CGEL. but not understanding it, as you demonstrated in your previous question. Is that the case? Btw, in you very first example "her" is not indirect object, but complement of "gave".
    – BillJ
    Jun 27, 2018 at 7:36
  • @BillJ in the very first example, it does not rely on to her to be grammatical, they add more information, but it can be omitted and the sentence would still remain its grammaticality: I gave an apple. [To her] is an adjunct. Consider the difference between: 1) He wanted a new car and 2) He wanted a new car for his birthday; for his birthday is the adjunct. // Why is "an apple" (complement of the verb gave) more important than "her"?: ?/* I gave [her], = gave what? or I gave [an apple]. The latter is preferred over the first.
    – aesking
    Jun 27, 2018 at 11:31
  • @aesking I didn't say it did. I said that "her" is not indirect object. Read my comment again. The PP "to her" is not an adjunct, but a complement of "gave". And "her" is complement of "to".
    – BillJ
    Jun 27, 2018 at 14:12
  • @BillJ The reason why I don't think it is a complement is because, I gave an apple is preferred over I gave her, which leads me to believe the direct object of the verb give is "an apple" not "her"
    – aesking
    Jun 27, 2018 at 14:16

1 Answer 1


Here is a useful link regarding subject movement and case theory. Particularly, the Specifier-head agreement section:

Note: We discuss the grammatical counterpart of (13b), He claims to be a rock star, in Chapter 7: Nonfinite clausal complementation.

enter image description here

Since the subordinate verb is a form of the same verb (namely, be) in both examples, the grammaticality contrast in (13) would remain mysterious if it were the verb that bears a nominative case feature. The obvious alternative is that nominative case is instead a feature of I—specifically, of finite I.

Without more information:

It hurt me

I am hurt or I feel hurt

poses the same problem as example (13). The pronoun me in both cases is known as the oblique form.

The answer is that the grammar of English requires subjects and objects to appear in a specific case form:

enter image description here


enter image description here

As is evident, both of the subjects in (2) are oblique forms, and both of the objects are nominative forms. Each of the sentences in (2) therefore contradicts the case requirement just stated in two ways.

In general, subjects appear in the nominative, and objects appear in the oblique.

Morphological case

As the leftward-pointing arrows in the table in (3) indicate, not all pronouns have distinct forms for the nominative and the oblique case. Full noun phrases in English also show no morphological distinction between nominative and oblique forms, as shown in (4).

enter image description here

In traditional grammar, the concept of case is apt to be equated with morphological case. But generative grammar is less interested in the case forms themselves than in their structural licensing conditions (that is, the conditions under which it is grammatical for them to appear). Consider (1), repeated here as (10), and (11).

enter image description here

As is evident, they and she exhibit distinct forms in the nominative and oblique, whereas you doesn't. But in generative grammar, the focus is not on this morphological difference, but instead on the fact that the form you appears in the same structural position as they and she in (11a), but as them and her in (11b). Contrary to superficial appearances, the two instances of you in (11) are therefore treated not as tokens of a single type, but rather as two grammatically distinct forms that happen to be homonymous.

Besides failing to express its case distinctions in a robust manner, English also exhibits a comparatively limited range of case forms: the nominative and the oblique just discussed, and the possessive. Other languages have more grammatical cases.

With simple transitive verbs, the situation is more complex. Such verbs are said to govern the case of their object. That is, depending on the verb, the object appears in the accusative, in the dative, or (rarely) in the genitive.


Charlie bit me!


Kim passed me the pancakes.
Kim passed the pancakes to me.


ib. [the man opposite me’s] facial expression

iia. [my friend’s] father

iib. [a friend of mine’s] father

In (iia) and (iib), we have 2 genitives: in (iia) one is again realised as my and the other as friend’s, whereas in (iib) they combine in the single word mine’s. Both me’s and mine’s thus have double-case marking, an inner case and an outer case. In me’s the inner case is accusative, required because the pronoun is object of the preposition opposite, while in (iib) the inner case is genitive because the pronoun is functioning in the oblique genitive construction. The phrasal genitive is the outer case, morphologically added to the form that realise the inner case. In examples like [the King of England’s] daughter, the inner case of England is the plain case, which has no morphological marking, but the principle is the same: the outer genitive is added to form required by England within the inner NP “the king of England”.

pg 479-480 of CaGEL

Prepositions, too, idiosyncratically govern the dative, the accusative, or (rarely) the genitive.

That picture of me was blurry.
(cf. That picture of mine was stolen.)

English does not have distinct prepositional forms of pronouns. The same set of object pronouns are used after verbs and prepositions (e.g. watch him, look at him).

  • This does not answer the question you asked. Aug 22, 2019 at 5:58

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.