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One asks “how does x taste,” implying that they’d like an adverb describing the way it tastes. But one answers with an adjective, “it tastes good” instead of “it tastes well,” which would imply that x is tasting something else. What’s the reason for this discrepancy?

  • "It tastes good" means that "it" has a flavor that is considered "good". "It tastes well" means that (as meaningless as it may be) the tasting of "it" can be accomplished in a satisfying fashion (regardless of the flavor of "it"). – Hot Licks Apr 21 '19 at 1:02
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    Exactly. The question implies the latter, but receives the former. – Alec Alameddine Apr 21 '19 at 1:14
  • No, sense verbs take adjectives. It sounds good, not well. – tchrist Apr 21 '19 at 13:03
  • @tchrist Precisely why how (which is adverbial, not adjectival) can be seen as rather incongruous here. Not that there’s much choice in the matter: English doesn’t have an interrogative adjectival pronoun to substitute. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 21 '19 at 13:09
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Hence all the jokes that run along the lines of: “How do dogs taste?” “Why, with their tongues, of course!” – tchrist Apr 21 '19 at 15:29
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Is it good? Or do you feel sick?

It’s pretty easy to think of other verbs like this, so there’s no discrepancy. These are linking verbs and the adjective is the subject compliment.

A subject complement is the adjective, noun, or pronoun that follows a linking 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 that can be linking or action: appear, feel, grow, look, prove, remain, smell, sound, taste, and turn. If you can substitute any of the verbs on this second list with an equal sign [=] and the sentence still makes sense, the verb is almost always linking.

Grammar Bytes — The Subject Complement: Recognize a subject complement when you see one.

  • This doesn’t appear to answer the question. The fact that sense verbs take adjectives rather than adverbs is not in question here. The discrepancy is between the adjectival complement in the answer and the adverbial complement in the question. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 21 '19 at 13:13
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    @JanusBahsJacquet I think it does - the corollary is that how asks for an expression of manner, which will be an adverb for most verbs, but an adjective in the case of a verb that takes a predicative complement. If a question with how seems to call for an adverb, it's only because most verbs do not take predicative complements, so the answer will generally be an adverb. – user339660 Apr 21 '19 at 14:43

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