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In this sentence "They agreed unanimously that John looked like an extremely happy man", what gives case to 'man'? Is it 'like'? I know the preposition can assign case and I think the adjacency requirement is violated in this sentence because of 'extremely happy', but it is a grammatical sentence.why?

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    Man is caseless.
    – user230
    Sep 25, 2015 at 11:21
  • @snailboat mmm ... In this case man is unmarked for case. It may be marked for genitive case. Sep 25, 2015 at 11:48
  • What adjacency requirement do you have in mind here? Sep 25, 2015 at 11:51
  • If English were still marked for case, 'man' would be in the nominative, since "look like" is a predicate. A modifying phrase between the determiner and the noun does not affect the case of the noun; the adjectives in the phrase would typically be inflected to agree with the case of the noun.
    – TimR
    Sep 25, 2015 at 12:23
  • "like", originally an adjective (The son is like his father), is seen today as a preposition and prepositions are followed by an object case and not by a subject case.
    – rogermue
    Sep 25, 2015 at 16:09

1 Answer 1

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Nouns in English are not marked for any case except the genitive. Only pronouns (and only some of them) are marked for a distinction between subject and object case.

If you recast this predicate with a pronoun you will find that the complement of like is always cast in object case when the distinction is discernible:

... looked like me
... looked like him
... looked like her
... looked like us
... looked like them

ADDED:
tchrist points out that you may encounter constructions with a “genitive”:

... looked like {mine / yours / his / hers / its / ours / theirs}

These are all cases where the genitive pronoun has ‘fused’ with the head noun to which it stands as a determiner; note that in five of the seven this fusion is morphologically marked. Note that the example does not speak of a likeness to the possessor, but a likeness to the thing possessed. These pronouns are properly described as “genitive” only internally, with respect to their determinative function; exernally, with respect to their syntactic role in the utterance, they have the case of their deleted head, which is unmarked for the subject/object distinction.


I'm not going to get involved in the question of whether like is a preposition taking an object or an adjective taking a complement.

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  • Pronouns also have a genitive case: looked like mine.
    – tchrist
    Sep 25, 2015 at 12:09
  • @tchrist Thanks for the cogent observation; I have now addressed it. Sep 25, 2015 at 13:04

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