Proofreading Service - Pain in the English
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September 5, 2011

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The "it" in your sentence ("Do you happen to know what time it is?") is not a predicate nominative. It is a relative pronoun in an interrogative clause. You could say that it is a predicate nominative of the interrogative clause alone, but it is not the predicate nominative of this sentence, since the interrogative clause functions altogether as an object of the main verb. Since "You" is the subject of the whole sentence, the predicate nominative must refer back to "you."

A clear example of a predicate nominative would be something like this:

"Mr. More never sacrificed his principles, and died a happy man."

Here, "a happy man" clearly refers back to "Mr. More," the subject, even though it occurs in the predicate of the sentence, after the main verbs ("sacrificed" and "died"). If this sentence were in Latin, "Mr. More" and "a happy man" would both be in the nominative, i.e., the grammatical case that indicates the subject. This predicate nominative implies a linking verb like "is" or "became" or "was made," and, as is the beauty of language, the predicate nominative here takes on an almost adverbial quality. That is, this predicate nominative describes *how* Mr. More died, simply by stating what Mr. More was at the time he died. You could unpack the sentence like this:

"Mr. More never sacrificed his principles, and he died, and he was then a happy man."

And we know, just from context and tone, as native English speakers, what is meant by all this. Namely: "Mr. More never sacrificed his principles, and he died happily because of this."

So, the predicate nominative brings up the subject again, in the predicate of the sentence. It often does this with an adverbial or adjectival quality, describing the main verb (and thus the whole predicate) by the qualities of the predicate nominative. In fact, sometimes this shows up in Greek and Latin grammar as a "predicate adjective!"

And yes, a very simple example would be: "That animal is a cow." "Cow" is a predicate nominative, but this example is so simple and devoid of illustrative possibilities, that many students can't understand a predicate adjective if only an example like this is used.