I spotted it in a junk shop in Bridport, a roll-top desk. The man said it was early nineteenth century, and oak.

I have a doubt regarding any grammar rules as to this "be+Noun"(using as adjectives).

It was early nineteenth century my question is in which sense be is being used here. I want to know grammar rules where this types of structure i can found with proper explanation..

  • Hi. Not sure what the confusion is here. There is nothing wrong with the grammar. Why do you think it might be wrong?
    – Billy Kerr
    Jun 2, 2023 at 12:22
  • 3
    Does this answer your question? Semantically vague sentence (I think?) Jun 2, 2023 at 12:25
  • "Nineteenth century" and "oak" are not adjectives. They are noun phrases functioning as predicative complements of "be".
    – BillJ
    Jun 2, 2023 at 12:48
  • 1
    I am not sure if this is what is confusing you, but it's easy to use nouns like adjectives in English. "It is oak" (where oak means "made of oak") is exactly the same grammar as "He is tall."
    – stangdon
    Jun 2, 2023 at 16:08
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    @user477291 You'll have to give some examples of what you mean by "in which sense" or "means". The verb "be" rarely has any meaning -- it only has functions. In this sentence, the function is copula. It's also a "linking verb", if that helps.
    – gotube
    Jun 2, 2023 at 16:59

2 Answers 2


Dating an object or person:

The man says the desk is 19th century.

The man said the desk was 19th century.

was is used as reported speech. However, since the desk's date will not change it could also be: The man said the desk is 19th c. Your choice of whether to say was or is.

When something is from a time period, we don't use of. We say the date or time period: This is 2nd century pottery.

This is 20th century art. This is 20th century.

Those mean from the 20th century.


It's possible I'm misunderstanding your question, but it looks like 'be' is being used by the man simply to describe the characteristics of the desk.

The indirection between us and the speaker might be creating confusion - what the man said about the roll top desk was probably the following:

"It's nineteenth century oak."

Or, if he was a little verbose "It is a nineteenth century oak desk", or, finally, "It is a desk made in the nineteenth century out of oak."

Generally, the structure "A (is/was/were/will be) B", without an article like 'a' or 'an', means one of the following:

  • Item A has the characteristic B ('the desk is steel', 'their arrows were aflame') - in this usage, B must be an adjective. Note that 'steel' is used here in the meaning 'made out of steel', which is typical for nouns that are materials used to make other things.
  • Item A and item B are the same item ('I am Iron Man') - in this usage, A and B are used as nouns in the sentence, whatever parts of speech they normally are, because they're being discussed as words or concepts.
  • I was confused aboutit was early nineteenth century How A and B is same The roll-top desk how can be nineteenth century.
    – Sam
    Jun 2, 2023 at 17:41
  • That would be the usage in the first bullet point: the desk (item A) is nineteenth century (item B, an adjective describing when it was made) Jun 5, 2023 at 15:37

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