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What type of verb is 'seems' in the following sentence?:

It seems that the traffic will be heavy during rush hour.

2 Answers 2

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It's a raising-to-subject verb, though the structure is disguised in your example.

Subject Raising: Do You Happen To Know? Jeremy Day:

Subject raising is my all-time favourite English grammar structure. It’s one of the craziest things you can do in English, and yet it’s hardly ever mentioned in course books. For most teachers and learners, it’s invisible; all you see is a bunch of idiomatic expressions and weird exceptions. But once you start noticing the patterns, subject raising is everywhere.

As the name suggests, subject raising involves raising the subject from a lower part of a sentence (in other words, a subordinate clause) to become the subject of a higher part of the sentence, usually the main clause. Here’s a simple example:

  1. It seems [that you’re worried].
  2. You seem [to be worried].

The subject of sentence 1 is ‘it’, [which] simply fills the role of subject in a sentence, which can’t usually be left empty in English.... However, the that-clause in [1] has a real subject, ‘you’, which certainly has meaning.

Sentence 2 means the same as sentence 1. The only difference is that the subject of the sentence is now ‘you’. It’s almost as if the subject from the that-clause has been lifted up to become subject of the whole sentence. In the process of losing its subject, the that-clause has been reduced to a mere to-infinitive. This process is called subject raising (or, more precisely, subject-to-subject raising), and the subject of sentence 2 is called a raised subject.

........                With specific regard to the original sentence:

The dummy 'it' is a dummy rather than a raised subject.

........                With specific regard to whether 'seem' is a link verb in the original sentence:

I'd not use the term for this.

Examples where there is an adjective or noun complement:

  • He is nice [link verb]

  • She seems nice [raising verb]

  • He's a fine fellow [link verb]

  • She seems a nice lady [raising verb].

Note the to-be deletion in the examples with 'seems'.

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  • 3
    To be clear, are you saying that in 1. "it" is a raised subject?
    – BillJ
    Apr 22 at 10:53
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Your example is of the impersonal construction.

Linking constructions have a subject with an actual referent, and an ascriptive or specifying predicative complement on the other side of the verb. In the impersonal construciton however, the subject it is semantically empty having no referent, and the content clause (that...) is the only argument.

Note that in contrast to linking constructions with extraposition, the content clause (that...) cannot be moved back to subject position.

The possibility of substituting as if/as though/like is one of the features that differentiates impersonal from linking constructions.

Linking Construction with Extraposed Subject

It seems likely that they will have to leave their house.

That they will have to leave their house seems likely.

*It seems likely as though/like/as if they will have to leave their house.

Impersonal Construction

It seems that they will have to leave their house.

*That they will have to leave their house seems.

It seems as though/like/as if they will have to leave their house.

On a side note, I'd say it's preferable to refer to the construction and not the verb, as a single verb might allow a number of different constructions: seem can be used in catenative, complex-intransitive (your linking), and impersonal constructions.

This avoids confusion as, though seem is commonly referred to as a raising verb, there is in fact no raising going on in your example. Raising as defined in the Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar:

raising

The displacement of a noun phrase from a position within an embedded clause to a position in a higher clause.

There are two kinds of raising: subject-to-subject raising (or simply subject raising; abbreviated as SSR) and subject-to-object raising (or simply object raising; abbreviated as SOR).

With SSR we have a grammatical subject that carries a semantic role that is associated with a verb in a lower clause. Thus in

Henriette seems [ _ to like Paul]

the subject of the matrix clause (Henriette) is said to have been raised out of the bracketed clause (from the position indicated by ‘_’), and its semantic role, that of experiencer, is linked with the verb like, not with the verb seem (the meaning is ‘It seems that Henriette likes Paul’). The displaced subject is called a raised subject, and the verb seem is called a raising verb (other examples are appear, continue, happen, prove).

With SOR we have a grammatical object that carries a semantic role that is associated with a verb in a lower clause. Thus in

Jill believes Henriette [ _ to like Paul]

the object of the matrix clause (Henriette) is said to have been raised out of the bracketed clause (from the position indicated by ‘_’), and its semantic role, that of experiencer, is linked with the verb like, not the verb believe (the meaning is ‘Jill believes that Henriette likes Paul’).

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  • But raised subjects are only found with non-finite complements, meaning that in the OP's example "it" is not a raised subject but an 'ordinary' dummy subject.
    – BillJ
    Apr 22 at 11:04
  • @BillJ Sounds right. Did I claim otherwise in my answer?
    – DW256
    Apr 22 at 11:15
  • I'm not entirely certain what you're claiming since subject raising has no relevance to the OP's example.
    – BillJ
    Apr 22 at 11:29
  • @BillJ The other answer claims that it is subject raising, so I thought I’d clear up what subject raising is. Too much?
    – DW256
    Apr 22 at 11:34
  • Got it! Not sure the OP will understand it all, though.
    – BillJ
    Apr 22 at 11:37

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