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    #1

    Is sick an adjective in 'Be sick' (= vomit)?

    I have just been asked what part of speech sick is in He was sick all over the cat. My first reaction was 'adjective', but then I started wondering. 'Sick' hardly modifies anything, and I don't think it can have comparative/superlative forms with this meaning. I have always accepted BE sick as a BrE idiom meaning vomit. It had never occurred to me to think of the two constituent parts in terms of parts of speech.

    So, I have two questions:

    1. What part of speech is sick in BE sick?
    2. Are there any other verb + adjective combinations that denote an action rather than a state?
    Last edited by Rover_KE; 01-Sep-2019 at 22:05.

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    #2

    Re: Is sick an adjective in 'Be sick' (= vomit)?

    1) I see be sick as a kind of phrasal verb. I suppose that means that the particle sick is an adverbial adjective. I don't see the point of separating the sick from the be.

    2) Well, yes, there are plenty if you want to count phrasal verbs like come clean, talk dirty, stick fast, ring true, etc. Do those qualify?

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    #3

    Re: Is sick an adjective in 'Be sick' (= vomit)?

    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    1) I see be sick as a kind of phrasal verb. I suppose that means that the particle sick is an adverbial adjective. I don't see the point of separating the sick from the be.
    I would normally agree. I don't normally worry about part-of-speech labelling in any case. However, some learners are obliged do this labelling. The original question was asked by a learner, and I would like to give an answer if there is one. Is there such a thing as an 'adverbial adjective'?

    2) Well, yes, there are plenty if you want to count phrasal verbs like come clean, talk dirty, stick fast, ring true, etc. Do those qualify?
    While there is no clear agreement on which combinations may be phrasal verbs, there is general agreement that they consist of a verb + one or more 'little words'. The little words may be labelled adverb, particle, preposition or something else. I don't think your four example fit into the phrasal verb category especially stick fast and ring true.

    stick fast - simply a verb modified by an adverb meaning 'firmly, securely'.

    ring true
    - 'true' seems to me to be an adjective complement Originally a bell-maker would strike a bell to see if the sound was 'true' - the exact sound that was required. We have extended the meaning, but the construction in Those words ring true is no more phrasal than That man sounds honest.

    talk dirty - slightly more problematic for me at the moment (my nightcap had too little tonic), but the action of talking is involved. as are dirty (obscene or erotically charged) words.

    come clean - also problematic for me. All I can say at the moment is that I think I can see a movement in 'coming' from a state of hiding something to a state of being clean/honest.

    I am not satisfied with my reasoning for the last two combinations, but I do see all four as being qualitatively different from BE sick in that BE sick (vomit) does not involve being anything; it involves doing something. People who are sick (vomit) are often sick (ill), but it is possible to vomit without being ill.
    Last edited by Rover_KE; 01-Sep-2019 at 22:07.

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    #4

    Re: Is sick an adjective in 'Be sick' (= vomit)?

    If I had to parse the original sentence, I should play it safe: subject he, copula was, predicate adjective sick, adverbial phrase of circumstance all over the cat.

    I would argue that the vomiting action is implied and understood: sick in what way? -- to the stomach, by vomiting. There may be no illness, and yet the momentary sickness is evident.

    It's surely a euphemism.
    Last edited by abaka; 01-Sep-2019 at 21:19.
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    #5

    Re: Is sick an adjective in 'Be sick' (= vomit)?

    I rather like jutfrank's phrasal verb argument. The original phrase "was sick all over the cat" is equivalent to "threw up all over the cat." Most of us would accept throw up as a phrasal verb, I think. So in this sort of context "be sick" and "throw up" are both phrasal verbs meaning vomit.
    Last edited by probus; 01-Sep-2019 at 21:41. Reason: Typo

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    #6

    Re: Is sick an adjective in 'Be sick' (= vomit)?

    The only problem with taking it as a phrasal verb is that every copula+pred.adj. combination must then be a phrasal verb. But the (syntactic) predicate and the (morphological) verb are not the same thing.

    Nor should the impossibility of being "more sick" to the stomach matter: one also can't be "more dead".

    Lastly, exact synonyms need not have identical structure.
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    #7

    Re: Is sick an adjective in 'Be sick' (= vomit)?

    Quote Originally Posted by abaka View Post
    If I had to parse the original sentence, I should play it safe: subject he, copula was, predicate adjective sick, adverbial phrase of circumstance all over the cat.

    I would argue that the vomiting action is implied and understood: sick in what way? -- to the stomach, by vomiting. There may be no illness, and yet the momentary sickness is evident.

    It's surely a euphemism.
    This all seems eminently sensible from a grammarian's point of view. You're absolutely right that there's no need to label anything as a (non-copula/dynamic) verb just because there is denotation of action.

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    #8

    Re: Is sick an adjective in 'Be sick' (= vomit)?

    As I said above, I thought your labelling it a species of phrasal verb was ingenious.

    Indeed phrasal verbs are the grammarian's morphosyntactic approach to the predicates of formal logic: they unify strings of words so that each sentence approaches SVO form, which could be denoted as a predicate with two free variables V(s,o) symbolically. Piscean's original sentence is Sick(he,cat) in this notation.

    But I can't quite picture the learner being asked to parse it that way.
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    #9

    Re: Is sick an adjective in 'Be sick' (= vomit)?

    Quote Originally Posted by abaka View Post
    I would argue that the vomiting action is implied and understood: sick in what way?
    It's not implied in straight adjectival usage where it could be substituted for ill.

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    #10

    Re: Is sick an adjective in 'Be sick' (= vomit)?

    Quote Originally Posted by Tdol View Post
    It's not implied in straight adjectival usage where it could be substituted for ill.
    I suppose the root of the argument is the extent to which meaning affects grammar.
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