When I read the novel Breakfast at Tiffany's, I came across the sentence as below.

Then he was standing in front of her, hangdog and shy.


I could hear Doc Golightly’s footsteps climbing the stairs. His head appeared above the banisters, and Holly backed away from him, not as though she were frightened, but as though she were retreating into a shell of disappointment. Then he was standing in front of her, hangdog and shy. “Gosh, Lulamae,” he began, and hesitated, for Holly was gazing at him vacantly, as though she couldn’t place him. “Gee, honey,” he said, “don’t they feed you up here? You’re so skinny. Like when I first saw you. All wild around the eye.”

I'm not sure whether the phrase 'hangdog and shy' is adverbial or subject complement. To me, it seems that the phrase modify subject "He" and also it's a adjective phrase, so in some ways I think its the subject complement. But according to the explanation on Grammar-Monster, It seems that it is not a subject complement at all. Grammar-Monster explanation is as below.

A subject complement is a word or phrase which follows a linking verb (e.g., to be, to become, to appear, to feel, to look, to smell, to taste) and describes or identifies the subject. A subject complement is either an adjective, a noun, or a pronoun. For example (subject complements shaded): He will be fine. (The linking verb is will be (i.e., the verb to be). The subject complement describes the subject He. It is an adjective.) Ben is a policeman. (The linking verb is is (i.e., the verb to be). The subject complement identifies the subject Ben. It is a noun.) I am he. (The linking verb is am (i.e., the verb to be). The subject complement identifies the subject I. It is a pronoun.) That pie looks burnt to a cinder. (The linking verb is looks. The subject complement describes the subject That pie. It is an adjective. Don't forget adjectives (just like nouns) also come in the form of phrases.)

And I was totally confused by this sentence.

Capote, Truman. Breakfast at Tiffany's (Vintage International) (pp. 71-72). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

  • 3
    The adjectives "hangdog" and "shy" are predicative in that they relate to the subject "he".
    – BillJ
    Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 8:12
  • 1
    @Henry What do you mean by "adverbial"? Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 8:17
  • 1
    A predicative complement can relate to the subject (a subjective PC) or in transitive clauses to the object (an objective PC). An example of the latter is "I consider Jim highly untrustworthy" where the adjective "untrustworthy" relates to the object "Jim" and is thus a predicative objective complement.
    – BillJ
    Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 9:05
  • 1
    No, because predicatives are not adverbial but (usually) adjectives or nouns and sometimes clauses. An adverbial modifier would be something like "Then he was standing attentively in front of her", where the adverb "attentively" is modifying the verb "standing". Adjectives denote the properties of objects, persons, places etc.
    – BillJ
    Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 9:42
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    "Predicand" is what a predicative complement or adjunct relates to (link) "Hangdog and shy" is a predicative adjunct: predicative because it relates to a predicand, which is the subject "he", and adjunct because it is an optional element, a loosely attached supplement. Check out the link I just gave you, it has a similar structure to your example with a loosely attached adjective. "Hangdog and shy" does not describe the "the situation" of the subject. It ascribes the properties of being "hangdog and shy" to the subject (the predicand).
    – BillJ
    Commented Sep 7, 2016 at 7:48

3 Answers 3


You are absolutely right. It is a subjective complement. In a literary writing, after using a "," an elliptical clause may occur which may seem incorrect or waylay onto an incorrect interpretation as it is missing essential sentence element. But such expression is elegant, efficient, useful and correct. "Hangdog and shy" is used to describe the subject. Let's look at it the other way around.

Hangdog = sad and depressed. With 'shy' it can form a compound adjective even without hifen if used predictively as complement after subject of reference when the verb is a linking one. Take this example from Hollyworld, a fiction by Michael Hollister.

" He looks taller without his stoop, holding his head up carrying her grip, hangdog shy and yet proud too"

As 'look' is a linking verb, so is 'stand' as well when it means to be or to stay in a particular condition in literal or metaphorical sense. As

  • Stand prepared.

  • He stood dejected.

  • Stand united.

Do not the the above mentioned adjectives go to describe somewhere a stander or a person 's state lika a copula? Now a days we do not stop short of making imperfect use of linking verbs too. So to sum up, " Then he was standing in front of her, hangdog and shy", has in it the complementary adjectival phrase in whatsoever way we choose to look at that : He was upstanding, hangdog and shy.

  • +1 for "...'stand' [is a linking verb]... when it means to be or to stay in a particular condition..."
    – TimR
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 20:18

Then he was standing in front of her, hangdog and shy.

The phrase "hangdog and shy" describes him-as-he-stands —it complements the predicate "he was standing" and can be understood as adjectival-cum-adverbial, describing his nature as it is reflected or manifested in the way he stands.

The phrase is more than a subject complement; it complements subject-doing or subject-being. standing is in a realm between being and doing.

  • your last paragraph is excellent— how elegant yet that simple, artlessly artistic!! Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 2:57

I can see why this sentence is confusing. Per the rules of English, it is poorly written. And although we can't officially rewrite Capote's already-published version (as quoted from the novel "Breakfast At Tiffany's"), it is possible for the sake of learning to provide a hypothetical edit that could have been applied to the original manuscript. Here are two edits of the same sentence with the adjectives placed so that they more clearly modify the intended subject (Doc Golightly). Personally I prefer the first example because it is more in line with the author's casually stilted voice and it conveys what to me sounds like a jittery, nervous encounter. However, the second example also is grammatically correct (and yes, quite possibly the most frustrating thing about the English language is that with SO many ways to say one thing, it can become overwhelming... But it gets easier with more reading and writing, so hang in there!). Anyway, to get back to the answer, because the suggested edits (hopefully) make the sentence less awkward, it therefore becomes less confusing. My tactic for sentence clarity is to place adjectives as close as possible to the subject (or verb, in the case of adverbs) being modified. Hope it helps:

"Then, hangdog and shy, he was standing in front of her." OR "Hangdog and shy, he then was standing in front of her."

  • I am real tempted to give this a -1, but I haven't (yet). I don't think there's much confusion to the native speaker as to what hangdog and shy refers to. Yes, putting them closer to he might make it clearer to the learner, but to insist that this makes it a better sentence or better writing is a different matter. Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 15:56
  • I went ahead and downvoted this answer because I don't agree with the main tenet "Per the rules of English, it is poorly written." See also by comment above. Commented Oct 23, 2016 at 17:35

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