Complements: the basics
Updated: Nov 15, 2022
If you read my post about subjects, verbs and objects, or are familiar with adjuncts, you’ll know that these are four of the building blocks that can be used to form clauses in written English. In fact, there are five such building blocks, and today we’re going to look at the fourth: complements.
NB Not to be confused with a compliment – although you are looking particularly good today.
Most clauses include a complement. They aid understanding and give information that is essential to the proper delivery of a written message. To use an example from my subjects, verbs and objects post:
Example: My eyes are blue.
Components: My eyes (subject) are (verb to be) blue (complement).
In the example above, our complement is an adjective, and it gives us information about our subject (my eyes). So blue, in this case, is known as a subject complement. Which means…? Yes, well done – there are object complements, too.
A subject complement, as you might imagine, is a complement that gives essential information about the subject of our clause. It is connected to the subject via a linking verb, and is always a noun, pronoun or adjective.
Example: Frank is healthy.
Components: Frank (subject) is (verb to be) healthy (subject complement – adjective).
Example: Roger became a nuisance.
Components: Roger (subject) became (verb to become) a nuisance (subject complement – noun).
Example: She felt incredibly stupid.
Components: She (subject) felt (verb to feel) incredibly stupid (subject complement – adjective phrase).
You can see that each of these examples includes a linking verb. The most common linking verb is to be, as seen in the first example, but other common linking verbs are to become, to feel, to smell, to get, to seem and to look (as in to look good - just like you do today).
Object complements, as you have probably guessed, are complements that give us essential information about the object of a clause. As with subject complements, object complements are always nouns, pronouns or adjectives. They do not need a linking verb. They specifically tell us what an object has turned into, or change its state.
Example: Autumn made the leaves brown.
Components: Autumn (subject) made (verb to make) the leaves (object) brown (object complement – adjective).
Example: We named him Fred.
Components: We (subject) named (verb to name) him (object) Fred (object complement – noun).
Example: She thinks him quite stupid.
Components: She (subject) thinks (verb to think) him (object) quite stupid (object complement – adjective phrase).
Example: The president declared the war over.
Components: The president (subject) declared (verb to declare) the war (object) over (object complement – adjective).
Unlike an adjunct, a complement is essential for a clause to make sense. Try removing it from any of the above examples and you’ll see that either what’s left doesn’t work any more as a standalone, or that the meaning has changed.
I hope this all makes sense. I sometimes think that the names of grammatical rules or constructs are more scary than what they actually describe – more often than not, you actually do know the rules, you just weren’t aware they had a name (or what that name was). If there’s something you still can’t wrap your head around, leave a comment and I’ll do my best to address it in a future post.
Want further reading? Here are a couple of books to get you going on your grammar journey.
[The links provided below are affiliate links].
Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr
Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss
Several Short Sentences about Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg
If you’re not a weirdo like me and don’t actually enjoy reading up about obscure grammatical rules, don’t worry. I can edit your fiction manuscript and take the tedious, nitty gritty work off your hands. Just have a look at the services I offer or drop me a line.