Copular verbs.

Slicing it thin

by Annie Wei-Yu Kan

Yes, it’s me. I hope you weren’t expecting another filth-fest from Dirk about copulation with all sorts of people, places, and things. I’m happy to say that that knuckle-dragger isn’t getting this bit of low-hanging fruit. This is a natural topic for dealing with through cooking.

As you might expect, I cook a lot. This happens to mean that I read recipes often. And one thing I see often in recipes is this:

100 g of prosciutto, thinly sliced

or this:

Thinly slice one medium onion

What I don’t see so much is this:

2 russet potatoes, sliced thin

You see the difference, right?

Well, let me state it flatly: it’s a question of whether you slice something thinly or slice something thin.

Some people object to saying slice thin, or pack flat or feel good or or or. “These are verbs,” they say. “You don’t modify a verb with an adjective.” And then they make some annoying immature sound of misguided exasperation.

It’s true that whatever you modify a verb with is an adverb. It’s also true that you use nouns or adjectives for predicates. A state of being, or the result of an action, is not an adverb.

For instance, I don’t say

I am happily.


I am irritatedly.


He is disgustingly.

The verb there is a copula: it joins the subject to another thing or to a state of being. It’s like a cooking method that takes ingredients and makes servable food out of them. We know that there is more than one way to do that: fry, bake, freeze. And the verb be is not the only copular verb.

Let me show you some verbs. You’ll see how an adverb shows how the action is done, but an adjective shows a result or effect of the action or a quality of the subject.

This wine smells good.

This wine taster smells well.

Your cat tastes cautiously.

Your chicken tastes salty.

This wine smells well.

This wine taster smells good.

Your cat tastes salty.

Your chicken tastes cautiously.

In these cases, the verb is only copular when it’s taking the adjective, not the adverb. You can see that a wine smelling good is actually a good wine being smelled, and a chicken tasting salty is actually a salty chicken being tasted. The subject and object are switched.

There are also verbs that can be copular without switching subject and object.

This basil is growing slowly.

This basil is growing big.

This basil is slowly growing big.

And there are also verbs that can join the object, not the subject, to another thing or quality:

Make the cake carefully.

Make the cake good.

Make the cake a big one.

Carefully make the cake good.

So you can clearly see that there are plenty of verbs that can take an adjective to describe a result or quality or effect. One of them is pack:

Pack your clothes flat, not rolled up or crumpled.

If you pack them flatly, that’s like stating something flatly, only you’re packing, not stating.

Another is feel:

I feel bad.

If you say I feel badly, it means you do a bad job of feeling someone or something. There’s really too much of that already, so don’t.

And of course another copular verb is slice. If you slice an onion so that the slices are thin, you are slicing it thin.

Can you say you are slicing it thinly? Is thinness a quality of the action? If you are slicing it slowly and slicing it carefully, then the action of slicing is slow and careful. Can you say the action of slicing is thin? I leave it to you whether the distinction between slice it thin and slice it thinly is a major one or is slicing the matter quite thin.

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3 thoughts on “Copular verbs.

  1. Reblogged this on Project Chiron and commented:
    Copular verbs are also called linking verbs; they link the subject to a complement. (“I feel bad.” vs. “I feel badly.”)

    Read Nasty Guide’s post on copular verbs and let us know what you think about slicing onions: Do you slice onions thinly? Or do you slice them thin?

  2. Michael G. says:

    Brilliant article – thank you! I have been saying exactly this for years, and having mental arguments with every cookbook (an the occasional cook) that gets it wrong (almost all). I slice my onions thin, and I slice them carefully.

  3. Michael says:

    Thin! Thank you for the article; I think every cookbook I own gets this wrong.

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