I have never seen look is used as a transitive verb. This is from the book Harry Potter. I don't quite get "Harry didn't look it, but he was very fast."

Here is an excerpt for more context.

Exactly why Dudley wanted a racing bike was a mystery to Harry, as Dudley was very fat and hated exercise -- unless of course it involved punching somebody. Dudley's favorite punching bag was Harry, but he couldn't often catch him. Harry didn't look it, but he was very fast. -- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling

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    It's actually a predicative complement (traditionally called a subject complement) and not an object; look is intransitive in your example. See sense 5 in Macmillan: macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/look_1
    – user230
    May 8, 2018 at 14:00
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    This is not a transitive use of look. I'd understand it as ellipsis of BE: Harry did not look [to be] it, but he was fast, where it refers cataphorically to fast. To look it = "to seem (to be) so".
    – TimR
    May 8, 2018 at 18:01
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    Compare: "You'd never know he was 72. -- You're right, he certainly doesn't look it. I wonder what he eats." There, it's anaphora.
    – TimR
    May 8, 2018 at 18:07
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    @dan: it there works like so. so refers to an idea expressed elsewhere in the immediate context, either preceding or following. He was very fast but because he had a long stride, he did not seem so. That is, he did not seem [very fast]. That is how it is functioning. He was very fast...but he did not look it. He did not seem so, because he had a long stride, but he was very fast. He did not look it, but he was very fast.
    – TimR
    May 9, 2018 at 10:59
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    @dan: He did not look it, but I knew he was in great pain. There it refers to he was in great pain. That is, the reference is to the idea-content, that which is predicated. In the original example, the content is he was very fast.
    – TimR
    May 9, 2018 at 11:05

1 Answer 1


This is a common usage, at least in US/NYC. It can be read as “Harry didn’t look like he was very fast, but he was very fast.”

In general, “So-and-so didn’t look it, but he was [descriptive].” indicates that So-and-so’s appearance would not lead you to believe that the [descriptive] was accurate, even though the [descriptive] is, in fact, accurate.

  • Thanks! I could not find this usage in my dictionary originally. Good to know it!
    – dan
    May 8, 2018 at 13:01
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    The order can be reversed. Joe was very clever, although he didn't look it. May 8, 2018 at 13:11
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    @dan - Check out the related idiom look the part.
    – J.R.
    May 8, 2018 at 13:50
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    @JeffZeitlin Sure, but I'd hazard that the book itself is sufficient "documentation" :)
    – Andrew
    May 8, 2018 at 15:09
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    @Lambie I couldn't confidently say that this is common in BrE. To me, "enough speech from both sides of the pond" to confidently say that something is applicable in both is a lot. I definitely have not heard enough BrE to think "If this were not common, then I would have noted it not being used before now". Statements that a difference does exist are somewhat easier, because that ends up as "something unusual" that sticks out and I remember it, but identifying distinctly that they are the same is much more difficult. May 8, 2018 at 19:18

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