I am a Korean English teacher. I have encountered a strange sentence like the following. In the first sentence, you can see “looking” instead of “looking like” even though the word “look” is an intransitive verb. Please help me to teach correct English, will you? If it is grammatically correct or incorrect, would you explain why?

But when I came downstairs, he was dressed, sitting by the fire, looking a very sick and miserable boy of nine years. When I put my hand on his forehead, I knew he had a fever.

  • 5
    Short answer: it’s fine as it is. Though more restricted to British English than other dialects. Longer answer is you should ask such questions on our sister site, English Language Learners.
    – Dan Bron
    Oct 17, 2018 at 13:15
  • 7
    In general, when you encounter a sentence by a native speaker that violates the rules you have been taught, you should mistrust the rules rather than the speaker. What this shows is that the rules tell you what "should be", in someone's opinion, instead of what actually is correct. The question to ask is not "shouldn't it be changed?", but "how does this sentence change the rule?" Most grammar textbooks (and many grammar teachers) are not really reliable, and need to be checked constantly. Oct 17, 2018 at 13:22
  • Could you please tell us where this writing comes from? Who is the author of the novel or short story? Thank you. [look can mean: seem]. See Merriam-Webster entry 2.
    – Lambie
    Oct 17, 2018 at 14:20
  • I would say there's a certain 'literary license' taken here, since if you left out the modifying 'very sick and miserable', it does sound off: ... looking a boy of nine years. On the other hand it would be perfectly standard to write: ... he was dressed, sitting by the fire, looking very sick and miserable (without 'boy of nine years').
    – S Conroy
    Oct 17, 2018 at 15:48
  • The quotation is from "A Day's Wait," by Ernest Hemingway.
    – Sven Yargs
    Oct 18, 2018 at 2:54

1 Answer 1


One way to consider 'look like' is that it makes a comparison. So people tell me that I look like my father: but I am not my father.

In comparison, 'look' is used to express qualities. So someone may tell me that I look good, or that I look sick.

In your example the boy has the qualities: nine-year old boy, sick, miserable.

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