What Is a Complement in Grammar?

What is a complement in grammar? It's a word, clause, or phrase that's needed to complete a given expression.

For example, "Every morning is a gift." In this sentence, "every morning" is the subject, "is" is the linking verb, and "a gift" is the complement. It completes the idea. Without it, we wouldn't understand what every morning is.

Another example would be, "The air smells beautiful." In this sentence, "the air" is the subject, "smells" is the linking verb, and "beautiful" is the complement. Let's explore the different kinds of complements, as well as how to spot them in a sentence.

Types of Complements

There are two main types of complements: subject and object complements. You won't be surprised to learn subject complements have to do with the subject of a sentence and object complements deal with the object.

Subject Complements

The subject of a sentence is the person, place, thing, or idea that the sentence is about. Subject complements follow linking verbs only (and not action verbs). Linking verbs are forms of the verb "to be." Some of the most popular linking verbs include am, is, are, was, and were. While "to be" verbs are always linking verbs, you also have verbs that can act as action verbs or linking verbs, depending on the sentence. Popular examples include appear, feel, grow, look, sound, smell, and taste.

Subject complements can be a noun, an adjective, a single word, or a group of words that act like a noun or adjective. Subject complements can be further broken down into predicate nominatives and predicate adjectives.

Predicate Nominatives

Predicate nominatives effectively "rename" the subject in the sentence, answering who they are in the form of another noun.

  • I am a writer. (Providing more information about "I")

  • Brenna is a gifted singer. (Providing more information about Brenna)

  • They were employees there. (Providing more information about "they")

Predicate Adjectives

Whereas predicate nominatives rename the subject, predicate adjectives describe or modify the subject the way an adjective would.

  • Mary looked frustrated. (Providing more information about Mary)

  • She seemed nice. (Providing more information about "she")

  • He appears smart. (Providing more information about "he")

Subject Complements vs. Objects

At this point, you may be wondering, "What's the difference between an object and a subject complement?"

Linking verbs have subject complements. Action verbs have direct objects. An object will answer the question "who" or "what" in reference to the verb. A complement will provide greater detail about the subject.

In the sentence, "She ate the soup," "the soup" is an object. It's answering the question "who" or "what" is being eaten. As such, it's following an action verb and receiving the action of the verb "ate."

In the sentence, "She ran fast," "fast" is a subject complement. It's not answering the question "who" or "what" and it's not receiving the action of the verb "ran." Rather, it's providing more detail about the subject "she." Now we know she's a fast runner.

Object Complements

The object of a sentence is the person, place, thing, or idea that's receiving the action of the verb. For example, in the sentence, "He makes gingerbread houses," gingerbread houses is the object. It's receiving the action of the linking verb "makes." It answers the question "who" or "what."

Object complements follow linking verbs as well. However, they provide more information about the object. So, while the object of the sentence receives the action of the verb, object complements can beef up, or complement, those objects. Object complements can also be a noun, an adjective, a single word, or a group of words that act like a noun or adjective.

  • He makes me very sad. (Providing more information about the object "me")

  • A wool scarf will keep your neck very warm in the winter. (Providing more information about the object "your neck")

  • We appointed Barry treasurer. (Providing more information about the object "Barry")

  • The gentle music rendered Janine quite drowsy. (Providing more information about the object "Janine")

  • Darren found his son fast asleep under his blanket. (Providing more information about the object "son")

Information Is Power

That's what they say, right? Although complements seem fairly technical in nature, they're really here to add further information to our lines of text. We can describe a central character in greater detail or develop a scene with color and vibrancy. For more on that, enjoy these character trait examples. Perhaps some of them will fall into your future subject complements!

What Is a Complement in Grammar?What Is a Complement in Grammar?

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