I've been struggling to analyse this sentence in terms of its clause elements.

That doesn't sound like him.

What I mean by the clause elements are the following: verb, subject, object, subject complement, object complement, adverbial and postmodification.

I'm particularly concerned about what words of the sentence are included in the element Verb. Is it just "doesn't sound" or is it "doesn't sound like"? I've read something about the prepositional copular/linking verbs, but unfortunately, it's still not clear to me, especially when I come across a sentence like this one.

  • 2
    It may help to separate lexical form and grammatical function. The sentence is one clause with subject (the pronoun "that") and predicate. The predicate consists of a verb ("does sound"), the negative particle ("not" disguised in the contraction "n't"), and a prepositional phrase ("like him") serving as an adverbial adjunct modifying the verb. The prepositional phrase consists of a preposition ("like") and its object (the pronoun "him").
    – user105719
    Feb 2, 2020 at 0:10
  • There are two clauses: the sentence as a whole, called the matrix clause, which has "doesn't" as its verb, and the embedded infinitival clause "sound like him" which has "sound" as its verb. "Sound" has a similar meaning here to "seem".
    – BillJ
    Feb 2, 2020 at 9:54
  • [correction: What clause elements does this sentence have?]
    – Lambie
    Apr 2, 2021 at 15:22
  • English sense verbs: sound, feel, smell, taste, looks followed by "like [person or object]. The subject is that and suggests someone was speaking. that is a deictic pronoun here.
    – Lambie
    Apr 2, 2021 at 15:27

2 Answers 2


That doesn't sound like him.

This is a negative clause with verbal negation, i.e. there is negative inflection on the verb: "doesn't".

There are two clauses involved: a matrix, or main, clause (the sentence as a whole) and an embedded clause ("sound like him").

Matrix (main) clause:

Subject: "that" (a noun phrase)

Predicate: "doesn't sound like him" (verb phrase)

Within the predicate:

Predicator (verb): "doesn't"

Embedded clause ("sound like him")

Embedded (subordinate) clause:

Predicate: "sound like him".

Within the predicate:

Predicator (verb): "sound"

Adjective phrase: "like him", functioning as complement of "sound"

The adjective "like" is head of the AdjP, with "him" as its complement.

(Note that "sound like him" is an infinitival clause, i.e. it's non-finite, and most non-finite clauses have no overt subject, though we understand them as if they did -- in your example the understood subject is "that".)


"That doesn't sound like him."

ONE PARSE: That/doesn't sound/like him

Subject: that

A deictic pronoun.

It refers to: Discourse Deixis
Definition: Discourse deixis is deictic reference to a portion of a discourse relative to the speaker's current “location” in the discourse.

The speaker is in effect "pointing with his/her utterance to something outside of it. It refers to something heard.

discourse deixis

verbs of perception in English: look, sound, feel, taste, etc.

to sound=verb of perception

In English grammar, a verb of perception is a verb that conveys the experience of one of the physical senses. A few examples would be see, watch, look, hear, listen, feel, and taste. A verb of perception is also called a perception verb or perceptual verb. Distinctions can be drawn between subject-oriented and object-oriented verbs of perception.

verbs of perception

doesn't sound like him = is the sentence's predicate.

If the sentence stated: "He sounded angry." "sounded angry" would be a subject complement.

Predicate means "The part of a sentence or clause containing a verb and stating something about the subject (e.g. went home in John went home)."


like is used to compare two things:

This cake tastes like your cake.

Like as a preposition meaning ‘similar to’ [bolding mine] Like means ‘similar to’. We often use it with verbs of the senses such as look, sound, feel, taste, seem**: [bolding mine] use of like in English: Cambridge Dictionary

like him is used to compare the deictic subject that with the person referred to by the pronoun him. "like him" is a prepositional phrase.

When like is used as a comparison, it is the first term of a prepositional phrase: like him, like them, like your brothers, for example. Like is not an adjective here as the dictionary shows. It is used to show comparison.

the verb is: to sound, the negative third person singular is /doesn't sound/.

Clause: In language, a clause is a part of the sentence that constitutes or comprises a predicate. A typical clause consists of a subject and a predicate, the latter typically a verb phrase, a verb with any objects and other modifiers.Clause defined in Wikipedia

SECOND PARSE: That/doesn't sound like him.

That is a single clause sentence consisting of a subject, predicate and prepositional phrase that describes what he sounds (doesn't sound like here) like and is therefore adverbial.

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