This lesson will help you understand different types of complements in English, their usages, and how to identify them.
What is a complement in English?
In English, a complement is a word or a group of words that completes the meaning of a part of the sentence. It is essential to the meaning of the part it complements; it is needed to render the meaning the sentence intends to give.
Types of complements
There are different types of complements in English:
- Subject complement
- Object complement
- Adjective complement
- Verb complement
- Adverbial complement
Subject complement definition: A subject complement is a word or a group of words (phrase or clause) that either renames the subject or modifies it. It comes after a linking verb and identifies the subject. When it renames the subject, we call it a predicate nominative, and when it modifies the subject, we call it a predicate adjective.
A noun renames the subject and an adjective modifies it. Click here to master a subject complement in detail.
Predicate nominative examples:
- Monu is my best friend.
(My best friend, which is a noun phrase, is functioning as the subject complement as it’s giving a new name to the subject Monu. Monu = my best friend)
- You are a lifesaver for us.
(Here, the noun phrase ‘a lisesaver’ is a subject complement. It is giving a new name to the subject and completing the sentence. You = a lifesaver)
- My sister is a classical dancer.
(A classical dancer is a subject complement in the sentence, renaming the subject ‘my sister’.)
NOTE: a predicate nominative can be a clause too. Study the following examples:
- The problem is that you don’t listen to anyone.
- A good think about you is that you respect everyone.
Here, the subject complements are noun clauses.
Predicate adjective examples:
- The movie was extremely daunting.
(Extremely daunting (an adjective phrase) is the subject complement that’s modifying the subject The movie. The movie = extremely daunting)
- Tyson looked invincible in the fight.
(The subject complement invincible is an adjective that’s modifying the subject Tyson. Looked here is a linking verb, not an action verb.Tyson = invincible)
- You look handsome in this dress.
(Handsome is the subject complement here. It is an adjective modifying the subject ‘you’. You = handsome)
NOTE: a predicate adjective can’t be a clause. It can be a word or a phrase.
Object complement definition: an object complement is a word or a group of words (phrase) that comes after a direct object, identifies it, and either renames it or modifies it (what state it has got into). Note that a noun as an object complement renames the object, and an adjective as an object complement modifies it.
Nouns as object complement
- The company just made Ron our team leader.
(In this sentence, ‘our team leader’ is the object complement (noun phrase) that’s renaming the object ‘him’. Ron = our team leader )
- The students elected him the class monitor.
(Here, the object complement ‘the class monitor’ is a noun phrase that’s modifying the object ‘him‘. Him = the class monitor)
In these examples, the object complement is either a noun or a noun phrase. But it can be a noun clause too.
- I will call you whatever I want. (You = whatever I want)
Adjectives as object complement
- Talking to Jane makes me happy.
(Here, the object complement ‘happy’ is an adjective that’s modifying the object ‘me‘. Me = happy)
- You proved us wrong again.
(‘Wrong’ is the object complement here that’s modifying the object ‘me‘. Us = wrong)
NOTE: an object complement as an adjective can’t be an adjective clause.
Click here to master an object complement in detail and the list of verbs that are followed by an object complement.
An adjective complement is a phrase or a clause that completes the meaning of an adjective by giving more information about it. The information helps the readers or listeners to understand the situation better. So, the information it provides is necessary in order to complete the meaning of the adjective.
Click here to master an adjective complement.
Points to note:
- An adjective complement is more than a word: a phrase or a clause.
- It comes right next to an adjective.
- It sits right next to an adjective.
The following 3 things can function as an adjective complement in a sentence:
- Prepositional phrase
- Infinitive phrase
- Noun clause
Prepositional phrase as an adjective complement
A prepositional phrase often functions as an adjective complement in a sentence. As an adjective complement, it sits next to an adjective and provides more information about the adjective. This piece of information it provides helps the readers or listeners to understand the context in a better way.
I am mad about your score.
Here, ‘about your score’ is a prepositional phrase that’s working as an adjective complement. It’s coming next to the adjective ‘mad’ and giving useful information about it. If we ended the sentence with the adjective happy, we wouldn’t have more clarity about the sentence. We wouldn’t know what the speaker is mad about.
- I am concerned about your health.
- We are happy about what happened last night.
- Sam is dedicated to this project.
Infinitive phrase as an adjective complement
When an infinitive phrase functions as an adjective complement, it talks about the reason for the adjective (state).
I am happy to see you again.
‘To see you again’ is an infinitive phrase that’s coming next to the adjective ‘happy’ and telling us the reason for this state of existence. It completes the meaning of the adjective by telling us why the speaker is happy.
If it weren’t there, we wouldn’t know why the speaker is happy. This completely changes the meaning of the sentence.
- They were shocked to see me alive.
- Nancy was scared to lose me.
- I was not hesitant to leave the job for my values.
- It is absolutely silly to argue with them.
Noun clause as an adjective complement
A noun clause is a dependent clause that functions as a noun in a sentence. Noun clauses often start with the following subordinating conjunctions: what, who, whom, that, where, why, when, and how.
But note that noun clauses, here, do not function as a noun; they just give information about an adjective and complete its meaning.
It is evident that she is angry with us.
Here, the noun clause is giving more information about the adjective ‘evident’ and telling us what is evident. It actually shouldn’t be called a noun clause here as it’s functioning as a noun; it is functioning as a modifier: giving information about an adjective.
- It is disappointing that you are still working there.
- It is evident that she is dying.
- I am delighted that all my students have passed the exams.
- We were shocked when he came back to our team.
A verb complement is usually an object that comes after a verb and completes its meaning. Without the verb complement, the sentence stops giving the same meaning and looks incomplete.
This sentence is incomplete without mentioning the object of the verb. Reading the sentence, you are forced to think about what I need. Let’s complete the sentence using some verb complements.
Corrections (with verb complements):
- I need money.
- I need your number.
- I need some of your workers at my wedding.
- I need a glass of water.
Now, after adding the object of the verb ‘need’, the sentence makes sense. The object here is completing the meaning of the verb.
More examples of verb complements:
- Let’s pursue this course.
You just can’t pursue. You need something to pursue. Without the complement (object) of the verb ‘pursue’, the sentence doesn’t make complete sense. Here, the object ‘this course’ is a complement to the verb and completes the meaning of the verb.
- I hope that you win this competition.
Here, the noun clause coming after the verb ‘hope’ is its complement. You don’t just hope; you hope something. Here, the noun clause is the verb’s complement. Without the complement, the sentence (I hope) looks incomplete.
- We enjoyed watching this show.
You enjoy something. You need something to enjoy. This verb is incomplete without it. Here, ‘watching this show’ (gerund phrase) is the complement to the verb ‘enjoy’. Try reading it without the complement: we enjoyed. It doesn’t look complete, does it?
What can be a complement to the verb?
A verb complement as its object can be the following things:
- Noun or noun phrase
- Gerund or gerunds phrase
- Infinitive or infinitive phrase
- Noun clause
Click here to master a verb complement in English.
1. Noun or noun phrase
A noun or a noun phrase often works as the object of a verb. Here are some examples:
- Some of us are training kids to be fighters.
- I don’t have money to spend.
A pronoun can also be an object of the verb. Here are some examples:
- I have never seen him.
- Nobody has touched you inappropriately.
3. Gerund or Gerund phrase
A gerund or a gerund phrase can also receive the main verb directly. Here are some examples:
- My friend Monu loves playing with kids.
- We regret asking you for help.
4. Infinitive or infinitive phrase
An infinitive can also be an object of a verb. You can use it with all action verbs; there are some verbs that can be used only with infinitives.
- I like to sing sometimes.
- Your friends want to come to my party.
5. Noun clause
A noun clause is a dependent clause that functions as a noun. It can also act as the object of a verb. Here are some examples:
- I know that you want me to lose.
- Nobody could imagine that you would lose the fight in the first round.
An adverbial complement is an adverb or an adverbial that completes the meaning of a verb. It helps the sentence renders the meaning it intends to give. Taking an adverbial complement out of a sentence changes the core meaning of the sentence; it takes an essential part of the sentence, unlike an adjunct.
It is a type of verb complement as it helps to complete the meaning of the verb.
- I love coming here.
Here, the adverb ‘here’ is a complement to the verb ‘coming’. You don’t just come; you come to a place. So, mentioning the place is important. The place has to be combined with the verb. Taking the verb complement makes it sound incomplete (I love coming). When you look at this sentence without the adverb, the question ‘where’ organically comes to your mind.
- Don’t aim for a money fight.
‘For a money fight’ is the adverbial complement here. It is a prepositional phrase that is complementing the verb and helping it complete the correct meaning of the sentence. When used as an intransitive verb, it is followed by a prepositional phrase starting with either ‘for’ or ‘at’.
- We are aiming at the manager’s post.
When you aim at something; you plan to achieve it. Without using the prepositional phrase starting (at + object), this meaning can’t be delivered. Without the verb complement (We are aiming), the sentence is incomplete and does not render the intended meaning.
Phrasal verbs and adverbial complements
A phrasal verb is a combination of an action verb and a preposition. The preposition in the phrasal verbs changes the meaning of the verb. The phrasal verb often has a different meaning from the verb alone.
Here are some common phrasal verbs in English:
- Pass out
- Break up
- Look up to
- Get through
- Go after
Notice that the first word in these phrases is an action and the next word/s is a preposition. Let’s look at some examples using these phrasal verbs:
- You will pass out before the test.
- I can’t break up with her.
- We look up to your father.
- You will get through this problem.
- The police are going after you.
The preposition in these phrasal verbs is the adverbial complement. Try reading these sentences without the preposition. The sentences stop making sense or give a completely different meaning without the preposition.
Find all types of complements in the following sentences:
- You seem dedicated.
- I have never seen a ghost in my life.
- I am happy to see you again.
- Don’t put this on.
- The food you cooked last night tasted amazing.
- We admire your efforts.
- You can’t call me your friend.
- My parents named him Papaya.
- Don’t look up.
- I was never your enemy.
- Subject complement = dedicated
- Object complement = a ghost
- Subject complement = happy, Adjective complement = to see you again
- Adverbial complement = on
- Subject complement = amazing
- Verb complement = your efforts
- Verb complement = me, Object complement = your friend
- Verb complement = him, Object complement = Papaya
- Adverbial complement = on
- Subject complement = your enemy
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