I called after him, worried that I might have sounded ungrateful.

Unlike 'It sounds [Adjective].', if a person subject comes instead of 'it', what does the verb 'sound' mean? I'm not sure for the above sentence, but it looks to me as if 'worried that I might have made words that he could have mistaken as ungrateful.' or 'worried that the words what I made might have sounded ungrateful to him.'.

1 Answer 1


This is an interesting question. It illustrates the sometimes perplexing flexibility of English. Oxford Dictionaries online provides a host of example of this usage. I have used most of them, so that the usage can settle in.

The pattern is for the verb (used intransitively) to be followed by an adjectival complement.

Convey a specified impression when heard. with complement

  • ‘My heart sank when I heard how happy she sounded.’
  • ‘This time she said it louder, sounding genuinely confused.’
  • ‘I thought entirely out loud and probably sounded quite crazy.’
  • ‘I record phrases that I use often and playback to hear how I may sound to others when I say them.’
  • ‘She didn't sound that pleased to hear from him.’
  • ‘I had some difficulty deciding on a starter as they all sounded so tempting.’
  • ‘I like that he always sounds happy to hear from me, even for a short call about nothing.’

This type of usage is common with verbs of sensation:

To look: The house looks dirty/stylish; Your draft proposal looks strong

To feel: Your way of saying this feels a bit weak

To smell: Their offer smells fishy to me.

You could call the formulation as in a sense metaphorical: using expressions of sensation to represent our understanding of what is said or written.

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