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I saw a question on Quora recently which asked about the grammar of the following sentence:

“The British think ravens good luck”

Interestingly, most answers weren't familiar with this structure but one person explained it as ellipsis (‘the British think ravens are good luck’).

I wonder what everyone thinks of this answer. Is it ellipsis or is it perhaps an archaic usage or maybe linked to a French grammatical structure popular in past times?

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    I'm surprised that more people are not familiar with this usage. It is ellipsis ('think ravens are good luck' or 'think ravens to be good luck'). Constructions such as think it advisable to ('think that it is/would be advisable to') are not uncommon. ludwig.guru/s/i+think+it+advisable+to Apr 30 '21 at 7:22
  • @katebunting I was going to say that I thought that I would use this ellipsis with modifiers rather than nouns and that "think it advisable" followed this pattern. However while I was typing the comment I realised that "think it good advice", "think him a nice young man" (from the ballad "The House Carpenter") and many others are perfectly good. For some reason, though, I find "think ravens good luck" awkward. I wonder whether it's because the elided phrase is not, necessarily, unique. It's probably "to be" or "are" but might also be "bring" or "bringers of".
    – BoldBen
    Apr 30 '21 at 8:00
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    Does this answer your question? Omitting "is", like in "I think it strange". See also Possessive determiner followed by a stand-alone adjective?, which is a closer match to the question, but has no answers. Also Is it possible for a sentence to have a direct object and predicate adjective? Apr 30 '21 at 11:10
  • "The British think Ravens good luck” @BoldBen I agree that it does sound odd, and without hearing it said aloud, awkward to read whereas "I think it too late to leave” sounds Brontean.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 30 '21 at 11:49
  • I googled a bit and didn't find the quote anywhere...
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 30 '21 at 12:13
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The construction "VN+Adj" is well established for the verb "to think", as can be verified from OALD, 1, and so is "VN+N", although clarifications are needed about that latter.

  1. think somebody/something + adj.
    ♦ I think it highly unlikely that I'll get the job.
    ♦ She thought him kind and generous.
    ♦ It was better than I thought possible.
  2. think somebody/something + noun
    ♦ I thought it a good idea to go with him.

However, the "VN+N" construction does not appear in the 2005 paper edition, and that is an indication, I think, of a less widely generalized applicability. For instance, sentences such as "She thought them students." do not seem to have much currency; "She thought they were students." is the normal way to say that. Therefore, some of those constructs are not very idiomatic, or, in any case, do not appear to be so to the native, or perhaps, simpler still, they have little possible meaning for anyone.

thought * a student

There is then a restricted set of noun phrases that will make acceptable combinations. My personal impression (very strong) is that nouns are very rarely used. The nouns "fool", "idiot" and "dreamer" are some of those rare instances.

  • I thought him a(n) fool/idiot/dreamer.

thought * a fool, thought * an idiot, thought * a dreamer, …

The applicability becomes much wider when the noun phrases is not a plain noun but contains modifying elements, case for which there might still exist particular restrictions, but none is evident to me for the time being.

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"The British think ravens good luck"

This is a shortened form of "The British think that ravens are [associated with] good luck".

that ravens are associated with good luck is a content clause: A content clause is a noun clause that (in this case) informs you of what it is that the British think.

(In a rather awkward sentence a passive can be created:

"Ravens are thought by the British to be associated with good luck.")

It does not differ from "He reported that it was good" in which "that it was good" informs you of the content of his report. (This can also be expressed as "He said it was good" and He reported "It is good".

In many contexts, a content clause can be reduced because any listener/reader can insert the implied words:

"The British think ravens good luck"

"The British think ravens are good luck"

"The British think that ravens are good luck"

"The British think that ravens are associated with good luck."

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  • I have no qualms with "…think it good luck…” but when the pronoun is plural (them) the hairs on the back of my neck twitch. I dunno, I think it weird.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 30 '21 at 11:54
  • Kipling didn't mind plurals: "The ’appy roads that take you o’er the world/Speakin’ in general, I ’ave found them good/For such as cannot use one bed too long," Sestina of the Tramp-Royal Apr 30 '21 at 13:01

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