Complements

In grammar, complements are words, phrases, or clauses that are essential to complete the meaning of a given expression. Here, we will study them thoroughly!

"Complements" in the English Grammar

What Are Complements?

A complement (also called an argument) is a word, phrase, or clause that is essential to complete the meaning of a clause.

The Difference Between a Complement and an Adjunct

Adjuncts are optional, and add extra information.
Complements are not optional. They are essential in order to complete the meaning.
If you cannot remove an element from your sentence, it is likely to be a complement.

Johnny put the turkey in the oven.

'Put' is a verb that must have a complement. We cannot say 'Johnny put the turkey'. Without the complement, the clause would not be complete.

I usually go to camping on the weekends.

'On the weekends' is an adjunct. It is not essential to complete the verb 'go.' It just adds extra information.

Complement: Major Types

We have two major types of complements:

Exercise (subject) is good (subject complement).

Exercise makes you (object) healthy (object complement).

Subject Complements

A subject complement (also called predicate nominative or predicate adjectives) is the adjective, noun, or pronoun that follows a linking verb (e.g. be, seem, become, etc.) and adds necessary information about the subject.

Rex is a dentist.

'Rex' is the subject, 'is' is the linking verb, and the noun 'a dentist' is the subject complement. It tells us something about the subject. It completes the meaning.

Mike was feeling sad.

Mike is the subject, 'was feeling' is the linking verb, and the adjective 'sad' is the subject complement.

The subject complement is linked to the subject by a verb in this order:

subject + verb + subject complement

A subject complement can either be a predicative noun, a predicative pronoun, a predicative adjective, or a predicative prepositional phrase.

  • Predicative Nouns

predicative nouns normally rename, describe, or identify the subject after a linking verb. If the noun is accompanied by any modifiers like determiners, or prepositional phrases, the entire noun phrase acts as a predicative noun complement.

Life is a blessing.

Pinocchio looked like a real boy.

  • Predicative Pronouns

Instead of a noun, we can put a pronoun after a linking verb. This is most common in questions and responses in which the identity of the subject is not known or is being explained.

'Who is it?' 'It's me!'

  • Predicative Adjectives

Predicative adjectives are adjectives that come after a linking verb and describe or modify the subject of the clause.

You seem nice.

The book was useful.

  • Predicative Prepositional Phrase

Sometimes after the linking verbs, a prepositional phrase comes (especially the verb be).

The pen is in the backpack.

I am across the street.

Object Complement

An object complement is the adjective, noun, or pronoun that follows a direct object and adds more information about an object.

He makes me mad.

Here, 'me' is the direct object of the verb 'make', and the adjective 'mad' is the object complement that completes the meaning. The adjective 'mad' tells us something about the direct object (me). We cannot remove it, because it completes the meaning.

Tip!

Object complements are also sometimes called verb complements or prepositional complements, depending on what they complete.

using a complement in a sentence

The word order is as follows:

subject + verb + direct object + object complement

Object complements can be a noun, adjective, relative clause, infinitive, gerund, or a phrase made from any one of them.

  • Nouns and Noun Phrases

With factitive verbs, we use nouns and noun phrases as object complements.
Factitive verbs are verbs that are used to show the resulting condition or state of the direct object caused by the verb. Examples of factitive verbs are:

  • elect
  • appoint
  • make
  • choose
  • deem
  • assign
  • name
  • select
  • judge
  • designate
  • vote

We named our son Alan.

They voted him the best actor for his latest movie.

  • Adjectives and Adjective Phrases

Sometimes the direct object is described or modified by adjectives or adjective phrases. Like all object complements, adjectives must come immediately after the direct object they are describing. If they come before it, they are simply acting as attributive adjectives, which are not necessary to complete the meaning of the sentence.

I want to make my friend happy.

It got me worried sick!

  • Relative Clauses

Relative clauses can act as adjectives and provide a description for the object.

Do you know somebody who can fix my tablet?

I loved the book that you gave me for my birthday.

An infinitive or infinitive phrase can follow an object complement and describe or modify the intended or expected action of the direct object.

I don't expect you to cooperate.

They forced me to close my store.

Sometimes a present or past participle functions as an object complement and describes what the direct object of a verb is or was doing.
The difference with infinitives is that infinitives describe an action that has not yet been done.

They came across her lying facedown in her bed.

I saw a man standing near a tall tree.

The meeting left many questions unanswered.

Tip!

Complements are one of the most confusing terms in grammar because they are being used in two ways:

  1. They are one of the five main elements of clause structure (like subject, verb, object and adjunct).
  2. They are the parts that follow the preposition in a prepositional phrase.

The Difference between Subject Complements and Objects

Subject complements function very similarly to objects. However, the difference between these grammatical terms lies in the verb. In order to know the difference, first we need to discuss the action or linking verbs:

Action Verbs vs. Linking Verbs

  • With action verbs, the subject does something and the object receives the action. An object answers the question 'who' or 'what' does the action.
  • With linking verbs, the subject does not do any actions and the subject complement connects the subject to the verb. A complement gives us more information about the subject.

She ate the cake. (object)

The cake tasted fantastic. (subject complement)

Common Linking Verbs

Other than the verb 'be' and its other forms (am, is, are, were, was, being) there are some other linking verbs in the English language:

  • Seem
  • Feel
  • Taste
  • Smell
  • Appear
  • Like
  • Look
  • Stay
  • Have
  • Turn

Complements: Other Types

Other than two major types of complement mentioned earlier (i.e. subject and object complements), here are some other types of complements:

  • adjective complements
  • adverbial complements

Adjective Complements

An adjective complement (also called an adjective phrase complement) is a phrase or clause that gives us necessary detail to complete the meaning of the adjective.
Adjective complements can be prepositional phrases, infinitives, and infinitive phrases, or noun clauses.

  • Prepositional Phrases

A prepositional phrase indicates the relationship between the adjective it complements and the object of its preposition.

I am absolutely happy on my own.

Laura felt alone in the whole wide world.

  • Infinitives and Infinitive Phrases

Infinitives and infinitive phrases provide more information for the actions that result from the adjective they complement.

I am very pleased to meet you.

I am really honored to be of service.

  • Noun Clauses

Noun Clauses are a type of dependent clauses that function similarly to a noun. They link the meaning of the adjective to an action by a secondary subject.

We were a little curious why they decided to leave.

We are so excited that Martin is coming to stay with us for the summer.

Adverbial Complements

Adverbial complements are adverbs or adverbial phrases in a clause that are necessary to complete the meaning of the verb.
Adverbial complements usually describe verbs that show motions, locations, or directions. They always come after the verb they complement.
With intransitive verbs, the complement comes directly after the verb; with transitive verbs, the complement comes after the direct object.

The director sent the cast home.

Jack put the turkey in the oven.

Review

'Complements' are parts of a sentence that give more essential information. It means they cannot be removed from the sentence because it impairs the meaning. There are many types of complements that we discussed in the article.

Subject complement Predicate Nouns Predicate Pronouns Predicative Adjectives Predicate Prepositional Phrase _
Object complement Nouns and Noun Phrases Adjectives and Adjective Phrases Relative Clauses Infinitives and Infinitive Phrases Participles and Participle Phrases
Adjective complement Prepositional Phrases Infinitives and Infinitive Phrases Noun Clauses _ _
Adverbial complements Describe Motions Describe Locations Describe Directions _ _

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