The quote is usually attributed to him.

In the following sentence, does 'is...attributed' count as a verb phrase, or is 'attributed' simply a subject complement (as in '[t]he quote is usually attributed'), with 'to him' simply acting as a prepositional phrase?

I'm a little stuck!

Thanks in advance for any answers!

  • 3
    If folks usually attribute the quote to him, your sentence says about the same in the passive form. If that's true, is attributed is your verb. Apr 22, 2021 at 20:37
  • What is the difference between the two? And what are the tests that distinguish them? They're your terms, so you should have the definitions right at hand, no? And who does the counting? Apr 22, 2021 at 20:44
  • @JohnLawler I believe many grammarians use the terms 'verb phrase' and 'subject complement'. I can normally distinguish the two, but I struggled a little with this sentence. I think Yosef Baskin has given me my answer though.
    – Tolga
    Apr 22, 2021 at 22:17
  • Adjectives can be predicates, with auxiliary be to form a verb phrase. Pretty much every sentence in English has a verb phrase. The sentence you give can be analyzed as either a passive verb phrase (with attribute as the passivized verb and auxiliary be for the passive), or as a predicate adjective verb phrase. Either way, though, it's a verb phrase. Since everybody makes up their own grammar, that means that some people will analyze it one way and others will analyze it the other way -- there is no standard that describes a billion people's individual grammar analyses. Apr 22, 2021 at 22:31

2 Answers 2


The quote is usually attributed to him.

No: there's no subject complement. The verb phrase is the passive "is usually attributed to him", consisting of the verb "is" followed by the past-participial clause "attributed to him", functioning as complement of "is".

Note that this is called a 'short' passive due to the absence of a by phrase.


"The quote is usually attributed to him."

The citation above that you use contains a verb phrase in the passive voice, not a predicate adjective complement, meaning it is not adjectivally saying "the usually-attributed-to-him quote" but is conveying an action that unnamed subjects usually perform, namely the action of attributing the quote to him. For the sake of illustration, if we were to add "by people" to the end so that the performer of the action is no longer unnamed, then the active voice version of the sentence would be "People usually attribute this quote to him."

Citation from KissGrammar.org:

Having studied the passive voice, you may have wondered if some of the sentences can be considered simply as S/V/PA [Subject/Verb/Predicate Adjective] patterns. Sometimes, they can be. Consider:

  1. He was worried about the game.
  2. The Eagles were defeated by the Patriots.

In (1), "worried" describes the emotional state of "He" more than it denotes any particular action. But in (2), "were defeated" denotes a specific action performed by the Patriots. Thus some grammarians would consider "worried" a predicate adjective, whereas "were defeated" should be considered as passive voice. In effect, the two constructions, S/V/PA and passive voice, slide into each other, and thus how you should explain it may depend on how you interpret the sentence.

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.