Sunday, June 22, 2008

Do I Feel Bad or Badly?

In considering the passive voice and how it affects writing, I appear to have overlooked something that overturns a rule much beloved by grammar snobs. Today, I discovered the copula, R-rated though that may sound.

As the wiseGEEK explained, copular verbs may look like something else entirely and can change the correct word choice for your predicate.

Take, for instance, the sentence, “I look fabulous.” I would categorize this as a “passive” sentence because the verb involves no subject acting. If I wrote, “I look fabulously,” that would change it to an active sentence in which I am looking at or for something and am doing a bang-up job of it. Fabulously modifies look, in the second example, rather than “I”, acting as an adverb.

In the first example, look acts as a copula that identifies “I” as belonging to the set of attractive or well-groomed people. Fabulous remains an adjective and the copula links me to a state of being. People (read, "I") use this form consistently without even realizing that they do or why.

I'm relieved to have found a name for such a construction, finally. It will make answering a question like that posed in the above title so much simpler. I can archly reply, “It's a copular verb.” I only hope that I don't get reported for inappropriate language.