I think it may not be grammatically correct but definitely semantically incorrect.

This is because the verb 'look' requires a specific adverbial or adjectival complement to be meaningful.

The subject is looking for (at, under, in, over etc.) something. (prepositions)

The subject is looking somewhere (away, up, down, north etc.). (adverbs)

The subject is looking someway (sad, lonely, happy etc). (adjectives)

But the sentence "the man is looking" seems to leave the verb hanging without complete meaning, so even though it might feel complete it cannot be interpreted.

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    Such a sentence would only make sense if it had previously been made clear what was being looked for or at. "We think the tickets may be in the desk drawer. Mary is looking."
    – Kate Bunting
    Commented Dec 19, 2017 at 9:26
  • @KateBunting Yes, I understand that. But what I'm suggesting is that "Mary is looking there" is the 'correct' way to express this - it really needs that adverb. As a teacher I really want my students to understand the importance of complementation, so we treat a lot of sentences in isolation from context, where requirements are obvious. But still, I wonder what the grammarians here would have to say about this. Commented Dec 19, 2017 at 9:33
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    Looking has an idiomatic meaning as well. That said, it is not always necessary for such gerunds to have a complement or anything. "I am waiting (for whatever)"; "You are killing (me, perhaps)" ... . BTW Try to provide the context.
    – Kris
    Commented Dec 19, 2017 at 9:57
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    I don't think you can say 'Don't look, but I think that's Fred Astaire over there.' is any less grammatical than 'Don't look now, but I think that's Fred Astaire over there.' However, I'd agree that the second (with the 'padding' afforded by the adverbial) is more idiomatic (sounds more natural). Kate's example is also idiomatic, given the (or some) acceptable prior (or possibly following) context. A bare 'Fred is looking.' is unacceptable. Commented Dec 19, 2017 at 12:30
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    I think the sentence lacks a predicate.
    – user63615
    Commented Dec 19, 2017 at 13:27

2 Answers 2


The complete sentence Look! is grammatical: an adverb (look where?) can be supplied by an outstretched hand, a nod of the head, a slight movement of the eye, specifying the intended direction. Language "very often" occurs in communicative contexts, between interlocutors, with each utterance having a function. The isolated utterance, lying, as it were, on a laboratory table, is not language.

It may depend on what you define a complete sentence to be. But for one thing, actual communication does not necessarily take place in "complete sentences".

You will have to add a bunch of "elided" components to transform


into a complete sentence.


The man is looking.

can be a meaningful utterance, said by one interlocutor to another in an actual communicative context in which each utterance has an intended function, and even if such function is not clear it can be sussed out by the hearer perceiving the speaker's intention.

Five people are watching for meteors from about 10pm to 4am on 11-12 August. The people vary in gender and age, one only of them is an adult male (or "man"), and each one of them has an assigned quadrant and schedule. One person will not be actively observing, or looking, at any given 20-minute interval. Who's looking for meteors from 0220 to 0240 in quadrant B? Is it the child Sammy who's looking? No. The man is looking.

  • I greet you. I like this answer because it is an interesting comment on what constitutes language at such higher level attributes. I should've provided the context that I asking the question from a more limited perspective that pertains primarily to formal speech and writing, not casual or perfunctory communication. Look! as you've described nicely captures the verb's need for complementation in any form. Elision is certainly an interesting aspect of acceptable constructions. (I always end up teaching the missing parts and challenge students to find them in other sentences.) Commented Dec 19, 2017 at 16:25
  • Your example is also interesting because of the context it develops before it gives the uncomplemeted verb enough of it to make the final sentence fully meaningful. The first three uses of the verb 'look' are in the gerund form as complements of other verbs. I think the only way 'look' can function grammatically as a main verb without a complement is as an answer to a question. I think there are quite a few verbs that work like this, in as much as they don't really have enough content to be fully meaningful without a complement. Thanks, this was a really interesting answer. Commented Dec 19, 2017 at 16:42

To determine if something like this is semantically [in]correct requires more than a single, isolated sentence, e.g. "No one knew where to find him. The police came looking. Then the FBI did. And I'm still looking." Coherence can be maintained despite/via ellipsis.

  • In your sentence, looking is a gerund complement.I'm asking about look as the main verb. Commented Dec 19, 2017 at 16:02
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    @UbuEnglish: I'm not seeing the grammatical difference between "I'm looking" and "the man is looking" (other than conjugation). Your example is not "The man looks.", although one can easily come with an ellipsis example for that as well.
    – Fizz
    Commented Dec 19, 2017 at 16:14
  • ... actually found one with google: "The Yo-Yo Man points to his yo-yo, the man looks, reflects, shows a pitying look, reaches in his pocket taking out some coins." Ignoring the run-on sentence issue, it's obvious what's elided in "looks".
    – Fizz
    Commented Dec 19, 2017 at 16:22
  • My bad, I missed the gist. In order for the uncomplemented form to be meaningful requires a lot of context - you used the verb as a gerund twice (the latter by ellipsis) in order to make the final form clearly interpretable. And, you use the conjunction 'And' as a discourse marker (I think that's what it's called); so the last sentence might as well be part of the previous one. Without it, the meaning is less clear. But 'still' is also providing context with referents. Bared to 'they're looking' (the original post's form) and it feels to me, I'm left hanging for meaning. Commented Dec 19, 2017 at 17:29
  • Great link, btw, thx. Commented Dec 19, 2017 at 18:26

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