In my recently concluded test, I was asked to identify the sentence pattern of this sentence:

It stands tall

I split it as:

It | stands | tall

S      V       A

For me, "tall" is an additional information and if removed, the sentence still makes sense to me.

However, my teacher marked it wrong and said that it should instead be C (complement)

Can anyone help me out? Was I wrong or was she?

Also please be simple as I don't know many technical terms except the basic ones. I say this because I went through the link that StoneyB provided, and wasn't able to understand terms like "secondary complement", "sentence-constituent". I know I may be the noobest person around here, so please explain those terms if you use it.

  • Welcome to ELL, Amit Joki. I believe you will find an answer at this question (note particularly the English Language & Usage answer linked in the comment there; but I am not suggesting this question be closed, because your terminology is somewhat different than either the question or the answer there. Commented Jun 21, 2014 at 15:23
  • @StoneyB check out my edit
    – Amit Joki
    Commented Jun 21, 2014 at 15:31

1 Answer 1


You are both right, and you are both wrong!

  • You are right in that the word tall does not play a syntactic role which cannot be omitted. It stands is a complete sentence; stand does not require a following adjective or adjectival to complete its meaning, which is what the grammatical term complement ordinarily means.

  • Your teacher is right in that the word tall is not used either as an attributive adjective directly modifying it or as an adverb modifying stand, which are the traditional roles played by adjuncts: it is a predicate adjective describing the subject, exactly as in the sentence It is tall. Grammarians therefore often find it useful to describe uses of this sort as secondary predication or secondary complementation, as if the verb were behaving like a linking verb like BE or BECOME.

  • You are both wrong in that the collocation stand tall is an idiom: it has, or can have, a meaning which is not entirely understandable as the sum of its components. Stand tall in many contexts has the figurative meaning “to exhibit pride or defiance”; for instance, in this headline from The Guardian:

    On the day of his release, Nelson Mandela stood tall ... and the story goes on to speak of the “iconic image of that moment – a lean, beaming Mandela in a dark suit emerging from Victor Verster prison holding hands with Winnie, both raising triumphant clenched fist salutes”.

    From this perspective stand tall is a single entity which cannot be analyzed into different parts with different roles.

The lesson to be drawn from this is not that you guys are wrong and I am right; it is that all of us are right.

  • You have brought a sophisticated understanding of the term adjunct to the discussion—perhaps more sophisticated than your teacher expected!
  • Your teacher, on the other hand, is concerned that you gain a more sophisticated understanding of the term complement, and is trying to ascertain whether you have mastered that.
  • And I am bringing an entirely different perspective into the discussion with the term idiom, for the sake of completeness.

The point is that grammatical terms like adjunct and complement and idiom are not real “things” but tools for talking about language and understanding how it works. Which tool you use depends on what you want to talk about, just as you use a screwdriver for some jobs and a chisel for others.

  • @AmitJoki Is this clear? If you have any trouble with it, please say so and I will rewrite. Commented Jun 21, 2014 at 16:14
  • yeah this is crystal clear! BTW, we aren't native speakers of English and usually don't go deep to the level of idioms ;)
    – Amit Joki
    Commented Jun 21, 2014 at 16:23
  • @AmitJoki As we say, "You have to walk before you can run". By the way, you are fortunate; few US students have teachers who work with such sophisticated grammar. Commented Jun 21, 2014 at 16:28
  • 1
    @AmitJoki That's what we're here for! ... But please, don't fight with your teacher ... if the teacher is good, you should collaborate, and if the teacher is bad you always lose. And in any case, the teacher is trying to get you through the exams, which is not always the same thing as understanding the language. Commented Jun 21, 2014 at 16:32
  • 1
    This is an excellent answer.
    – BobRodes
    Commented Jun 22, 2014 at 4:46

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