That cake looks good.

In formal proper grammar, may good (adjective) get used as an adverb? Or, may you read it as, That cake (noun phrase, nominal[?], argument[?]), looks (verb, predicate[?]), good (subject compliment[?].? How may I discern this, grammatically?

5 Answers 5


There are a couple verbs in English that are allowed to take adjectives in some circumstances. These are called copulae: words that link a subject to the predicate. (Though in a linguistic context it often means some word corresponding to English "be".)

These include:

  • "be"
  • a couple verbs relating to what we sense (look, feel, smell, taste, sound)
  • "seem" words (seem, appear, act,)
  • "become" words (become, get, come, grow)
  • "remain" words (remain, keep, stay)
  • "turn out" words ("prove", "end up", but not "turn out")

Beware that copulae are lots of times used non-copulatively, and often cannot take adjectives elsewhere.

I slowly turned the wheel.


I got angry.


Carefully prove this theorem.


Lawrence's jargon proved incomprehensible to outsiders.


The puppet came alive!


He came into the room.


  • So, may you call looks an intransitive copular verb? So, that means good, a subject complement, modifies that noun phrase, nominal[?] the cake, and so stands as an adjective? And, may you get to, grammatically properly, use it like this The cake looks., as looks seems intransitive? I don’t think a cake can look, can it? What if, we use get. I got angry. How do I make sense of I got angry (adjective)? I don’t think I get how one may get (hold) angry.
    – saySay
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 3:38
  • I may not get why, I got anger seems to make sense to me. I think you may write, and, or, say I feel anger, not I feel angry?
    – saySay
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 3:40
  • "Get" can mean "hold", but it can also mean "become". "I got angry" is essentially the same as saying "I became angry". One could make a case why "I got anger" makes sense, but no one says that.
    – Jay
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 6:27
  • Both "I feel anger" and "I feel angry" are things fluent English speakers say, but "I feel angry" is more common.
    – Jay
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 6:28

That cake looks good.

The word good in the sentence presented by the OP is an adjective, not an adverb.

The adjective good can be used in an attributive or predicative position. In attributive position, it's followed by a noun/noun phrase it modifies, for examples, he has a good car, you have done good work. In predicative position, it modifies the subject and comes after a linking/copular verb (be, seem, look, etc.)

In the sentence, the adjective good is linked with the subject 'that cake' by the linking verb look.

However, the 'good' is used in very informal English as an adverb. You do so where the verb it follows isn't a linking/popular verb as follows:

The business is doing good.

Listen to me good!


I believe Nihilist_Frost's answer is correct, but I'm not sure it's clear. Let me word it another way.

You can say [subject] [verb] [adjective] when the verb is a word that means something is, becomes, appears to be, or similar meanings. That is, verbs that indicate a state of being.

Sally is happy.

Sally became happy.

Sally looked happy.

Sally smelled delightful.

Some of these examples can be tricky because the verb can have a very different meaning if used without an adjective.

"Sally looked happy" means that Sally appeared to be happy. Someone else looking at Sally would conclude she was happy. But "Sally looked carefully" means that Sally examined something with great care. Or simply, "Sally looked", means that Sally directed her attention to something.

Simililary: "I got angry" means that I became angry. But "I got a pencil" means that I obtained a pencil. If you think of it in a certain way the meanings of "got" are related: "I got angry": I acquired the attribute of anger. "I got a pencil": I acquired the object of a pencil. But if that doesn't help you understand it, just think of it as two different meanings of "got".

  • I think that made me get it more. I thank you, Jay. So, I got anger could maybe make sense, and maybe seem grammatically proper? I may think these words, as state words, or like status words, and I may think of these maybe as copular verbs more than intransitive . . . that seems strange, and I think I get it, like that — not thinking of them as a doing, rather a state, or maybe status. Some of these words seem, I guess, strange, to me.
    – saySay
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 7:37
  • I got angry seems to make sense, to me, how you worded it. And, like how you worded it, I feel anger makes sense — I feel a thing, anger. I think I can get how you may feel a thing, anger. I guess I don’t get a difference, or how you may sense a difference of anger from angry, in meaning.
    – saySay
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 7:43

The verb group see,sound,smell,taste,feel + adjective is treated as variants of to be. That's why these verbs are followed by an adjective.

If you say of some song "That sounds good" you mean the sound is good, not the way of sounding.

  • If I read it like a subject complement, I think I read it like Good (Adj, S[?]) sounds (copular verb[?])(?).
    – saySay
    Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 6:24

The grammar is fine but there may be a touch of ambiguity for exactly the reasons you mentioned.

Good works as an adverb in this context because it is describing the observerved evaluation of the cake rather than the cake directly.

The difference is that it "looks good"(adjective) rather than it "is good"(adverb).

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