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In these two sentences there's a noun phrase being used with different intents in each one, but how do you tell when it is a subject complement and when it is the object of the verb? Because to me it seems like in both cases it could be answering the question "what?" to the verb (?

"It was a rich hot smell which seemed like an emanation from his early childhood" (subject complement)

"His nostrils detected a rich hot smell which seemed like an emanation from his early childhood" (object of the verb "detected")

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The answer is the same if you simplify it:

It was a smell... was is a copulative (linking) verb, so smell is a complement.

He detected a smell... detected is a transitive verb, so smell is its object.

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    Okay, that's quite helpful, thanks :) Jan 15, 2023 at 1:17
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    Precisely. All the extra words apart from smell are a syntactically irrelevant distraction in the context of this specific question. And that shoud be the main takeaway from this answer: When trying to understand syntactic relationships, remove all syntactically irrelevant text from the utterance under consideration. Jan 15, 2023 at 12:09

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