92. Complement-Showing “As”

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staring

Some verbs can have two following nouns: an object and an object complement. The second noun may or may not need “as” before it

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A SPECIAL USE OF “AS” AFTER VERBS

English uses as in a variety of ways. Some of these are considered elsewhere within this blog in the posts 53. “As”, “Like” and “Such As” 79. Quotation-Writing Problems and 104. Naming Data Sources with “As”. The particular use that I wish to consider here might be called the “complement-showing” one. Complements in general are nouns, pronouns or adjectives linked by a verb to an earlier noun (or equivalent) and either representing the same person/thing or describing it (though see 143. Problems Using “-self” Words). The following example comes from the post 8. Object-Dropping Errors

(a) The opposition leader became the President.

President here is a complement because it stands for the same person as the earlier noun the opposition leader and is linked by the verb became.

Complements are of two kinds. President is a “subject” complement because the previous noun that it is linked to is the subject of the linking verb. Subject complements have their own typical verbs, mostly expressing equivalence or appearance. The most common verb is BE; others include APPEAR, BECOME, EQUAL, REMAIN and SEEM.

The other kind of complement follows the object of a verb, like this:

(b) The local inhabitants see tourists (OBJECT) as a source of income (COMP).

Here there is a clear equivalence between the object of the sentence and the noun expression after it. Moreover, the verb (see) helps to make this clear. If there is no verb helping to show an equivalence between two nouns, the structure is likely instead to be one of “apposition” (see 77. Pairing of Same-Meaning Nouns). On the other hand, two nouns placed next to each other after a verb without being equivalent will be probably be an object and an indirect object (see 126. Verbs with an Indirect Object).

Like subject complements, object complements are not always nouns: they can be adjectives instead – for example lucrative in (b). When they are, they illustrate how English adjectives can sometimes go after the noun they “describe” rather than before (see 109. Placing an Adjective after its Noun).

Object complements also resemble subject ones in being associated with particular verbs. Examples besides SEE are CALL, DEFINE, FIND and CONSIDER. Many of these verbs are common in academic writing before a quotation or paraphrase – see 79. Quotation-Writing Problems and 80. How to Paraphrase. Sentences with an object complement can usually be made passive (the object becoming the subject), like this:

(c) Tourists are seen (by the local inhabitants) as a source of income.

When this happens, the object complement is converted into a subject one.

 A notable feature of (b) and (c) is the word as before the complement. Not all object complements have it. It is this use of as that the present post is about. It should be distinguished from a similar use meaning “in the role of”, like this:

(d) It is illegal to employ children as (= in the role of) factory workers.

With this meaning, the underlined words seem better treated as adverb-like rather than as a complement (see 53. “As”, “Like” and “Such As”).

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THE VARIABLE NEED FOR COMPLEMENT-SHOWING “as”

Here is a sentence where it would be incorrect to use as before an object complement:

(e) Some football injuries can leave the victims … invalids for life.

The simple determinant of whether or not to use as is the choice of the verb: SEE requires it while LEAVE forbids it. There is no logical reason why this should be so; it is just a feature of English that has to be memorised. Most of the verbs that can have an object complement are like either SEE or LEAVE, though a few allow a free choice regarding as.

Given that there are over 60 verbs able to take an object complement, it would obviously help if even a small clue could be found to whether or not as was necessary. Happily, the meaning of the verbs can sometimes provide such a clue. The next section offers a meaning-based classification of verbs that can take an object complement, in order to show a link between meaning and the need for as. The technique is similar to that discussed in the posts 4. Verbs that Don’t Have to be Passive and 21/83. Active Verbs with Non-Active Meanings 1 /2.

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CLASSIFICATION OF VERBS THAT TAKE AN OBJECT COMPLEMENT

The verbs that take an object complement seem classifiable by their meaning into four main groups. These meaning groups and their associated verbs are as follows. A * indicates the possibility of using to be before the object complement (e.g. declared the victim [to be] alive). 

 1. Name-Telling

CALL

DESIGNATE (… AS …)

DUB

LABEL

NAME

TERM

KNOW … AS …

REFER TO … AS …

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2. Effecting (= Creating Something New)

BAPTISE

CALL

CHRISTEN

CROWN

DECLARE*

DESIGNATE (… AS …)

DUB

ELECT*

KEEP

LABEL

LEAVE

MAKE

NAME

PRONOUNCE*

TERM

ACCEPT* … AS …

APPOINT* (or APPOINT* … AS …)

CHOOSE* … AS …

DESIGNATE (or DESIGNATE  … AS …_

ELECT* (or ELECT* … AS …)

ESTABLISH … AS …

NOMINATE* (or NOMINATE … AS …)

TRAIN* … AS …

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3. Describing (= Naming a Characteristic)

CONSIDER*

FIND*

ACKNOWLEDGE … AS …

CATEGORISE … AS …

CHARACTERISE … AS …

CLASS … AS …

CLASSIFY … AS …

CONDEMN … AS …

CRITICISE … AS …

DEFINE … AS …

DEMONISE … AS …

DEPICT … AS …

DESCRIBE … AS …

DISTINGUISH … AS …

EVALUATE* … AS …

EXPRESS … AS …

HIGHLIGHT … AS …

IDENTIFY* … AS …

INTERPRET* … AS …

KNOW … AS …

MENTION … AS …

PAINT* … AS …

PORTRAY … AS …

PRAISE … AS …

PRESENT … AS …

PROCLAIM

QUOTE … AS …

RECOGNISE* … AS …

REFER TO … AS …

REPRESENT … AS …

SINGLE OUT … AS …

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4. Imagining/Viewing

BELIEVE*

CONCEPTUALISE … AS …

CONSIDER … AS …

ESTIMATE* … AS …

FIND*

IMAGINE* … AS …

INTEND* … AS …

JUDGE*

PICTURE* … AS …

REGARD … AS …

SEE … AS …

TAKE* … AS …

THINK OF … AS …

TREAT … AS …

UNDERSTAND* … AS …

VIEW … AS …

VISUALISE … AS …

WANT* … AS …

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OBSERVATIONS ABOUT THE VERBS

The titles of the above groups need a little explanation. In “Name-Telling” the object complement is a previously-decided name, like this:

(f) Doctors call the tube that carries food to the stomach the oesophagus.

Most of the name-telling verbs have the alternative use of name-giving. Name-giving is choosing a new name for someone or something, as in this example:

(g) Columbus called the island he reached first San Salvador.

When the meaning is name-giving, the verb seems best classified in the second group, in which the object complement expresses a new feature of something. The use of LEAVE in (e) above is a non-naming example from this group. The variable use of name-telling verbs is thus the reason why they appear in two groups.

Another feature of the second group is that they include so-called “performative” verbs: verbs whose very use causes changes to occur, as in this marriage-ceremony example:

(h) I pronounce you husband and wife.

The third and fourth groups are about already-existing characteristics. While “describing” is mentioning an objective one of these, “imagining” is giving a subjective perception that may or may not be true, like this:

(i) Oppressed communities may see emigration as their salvation.

The verb CONSIDER is listed in both of these groups because I believe it to have both uses, the presence or absence of as helping to show the difference (see 48. Tricky Word Contrasts 1).

In general, the presence of AS next to a verb above means that it must be used before the object complement (though to be is an alternative with verbs marked *). Verbs without AS always allow nothing, but in some cases also allow to be. I have been rather subjective in identifying where to be is possible. Other analysts might disagree. Nevertheless, the possibility of to be seems quite uncommon and random.

Note especially the normal incorrectness of to be after MAKE (group 2). It is easy to think that to be is possible because verbs with similar meaning to MAKE, such as CAUSE and FORCE, do need it (see 10. Words with Unexpected Grammar 1). CAUSE and FORCE are not among the verbs listed above, the reason being that they allow only to be, which I exclude as a marker of an object complement.

The need to include as is much commoner than the need to exclude it. Perhaps this explains the common error of adding as after some verbs in the first two groups: these words could indeed be classed as error-causing exception words like MAKE. It is interesting to note that the two as-requiring verbs in the first group (KNOW, REFER TO) are the only ones there that cannot also be used for name-giving.

The verb KNOW in the third group is also in the first, reflecting another variable usage:

(j) (NAME-TELLING) English speakers know Munchen as Munich.

(k) (DESCRIBING) English people know William of Normandy as an invader.

It is also possible to use KNOW descriptively with to be, but the meaning changes subtly. In (k), the known characteristic (expressed by the complement) is subjective – it is special to the English. With to be, the known characteristic is an objective fact, also expressible with know that … :

(l) The police know the fugitive to be a dangerous killer.

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