The Five Sentence Complements


The Five Complements


A sentence must have a subject and a predicate/verb. Many simple sentences are made with just these two basic parts:

Birds fly.

You can add some adjectives and adverbs to modify the subject and verb:

The beautiful birds fly gracefully.

You might even toss in a modifying prepositional phrase:

The beautiful birds fly gracefully toward the horizon.

Even with all the modifiers, this is still a simple sentence composed of a subject (birds) with its modifiers (the, beautiful) and a predicate (fly) with its modifiers (gracefully, toward the horizon).

Some sentences, however, require more than just a subject and a simple predicate to complete their meaning. The following sentences, for example, are clearly missing something important:

The selfish child grabbed. (Grabbed what?)

He insulted. (Insulted whom?)

They were. (Were what?)

Words required to complete the meaning of the predicate of a sentence are known as complements. The fragments above are lacking necessary complements.

The Five Kinds of Complements

There are five kinds of complements. Three of them are used with action verbs only: direct objects, indirect objects, and object complements. Two others, called subject complements, are predicate nominatives and predicate adjectives. Subjects complements are used only with linking verbs.

Action Verb Complements

1) Direct Object:

The first two incomplete sentences above require direct objects:

The selfish child grabbed the toy.

He insulted Sarah.

A direct object is a noun or pronoun that receives the action of the verb (verbs that have a direct object are called transitive verbs). To identify the direct object of a sentence, form a question with the verb and the words whom or what. For example:

  • Q. Grabbed what?
  • A. the toy                     
  • Q. insulted whom?
  • A. Sarah
2) Indirect Object:

Sometimes sentences with direct objects also have an indirect object:

The boy gave Sarah the toy.

Sarah gave her doll a hug.

An indirect object is a noun or pronoun that names the person or thing something is done to or for. To identify the indirect object of a sentence, first be sure there is a direct object, then ask to whom or what? or for whom or what:

  • Q. Gave what?
  • A. toy
  • Q. To whom?
  • A. Sarah
  • Q. Gave what?
  • A. hug (direct object)
  • Q. To what?
  • A. doll (indirect object)

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3) Object Complement 

An object complement modifies or renames an object:

The class elected Stanley president.

I called Wayne an egghead.

Subject Complements (Only with Linking Verbs)

4) Predicate Nominative

A predicate nominative renames the subject of a linking verb. The third sentence at the beginning of the lesson could be completed with a predicate nominative:

They were experts.

Mr. Wilson is my history professor.

5) Predicate Adjective

A predicate adjective modifies the subject of a linking verb. The sentence above could also be completed with a predicate adjective.

They were hilarious.

Your outfit looks terrific!

 All sentences have subjects and predicates. Many sentences also have complements, and you just learned to spot all five of them. Piece of cake, right?


Please leave your comments and questions below!


About the Author

Brian Wasko

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

  1. K.Balasubramanian

    You have explained that there are five types of Complements in general. But, I have a small but valuable doubt. In the sentence, “He remains silently”, what type of role played by the complement “silently”?

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko07-19-2014

      In your sentence, “silently” isn’t a complement. It is an adverb modifying the verb “remains” and therefore part of the complete predicate.

      Does this allay your valuable doubt?

  2. hannah

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