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 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. Robert S.K. Lamie, Sr.
    Robert S.K. Lamie, Sr.10-14-2016

    Dear sir,
    I enjoy read English so much, but sometime become confused when my instructor mention the topic paralled structure, could you please explain to me in more details. thanks for your support.

  2. fahima muraalim
    fahima muraalim10-05-2016

    i need more examples about the 5 kinds of complements

  3. Rob Whyte
    Rob Whyte08-18-2016

    Great site. I have a question about noun modifiers. Here in Asia, students learning to write have a hard time with these sentence structure. There’s not much on the web about noun modifiers. Any ideas for teaching plans?


  4. Basit Ali
    Basit Ali04-16-2016

    Hello sir, your passion to teach young people is worth praising. And this presemtation of five kinds pf complements is very informative. Easy to learn and well explained.

    Yours Trully,
    Basit Ali.

  5. Abdullahi sabiu
    Abdullahi sabiu03-25-2016

    My question is on the constructon of complex sentence. It carries main and surbodinate clause. So ,must the surbodinate claue be adverbial clause or it can be any;noun or adjectival clause?
    Sendly, is there any difference between verb phrase and phrasal verb?

  6. Usman Umar Guli
    Usman Umar Guli02-28-2016

    Good morning sir, am hire to learn from you and have correction in my grammar as i saw. thanks

  7. Abdullahi Sabiu
    Abdullahi Sabiu02-05-2016

    please I want to know the functions of a prepositional phrase because it sometimes confuses me.Again,In a statement like ‘I went to Lagos with my friend’,what is the function of ‘with my friend’ in this statement?

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko02-06-2016

      It is an adverbial phrase modifying went. Prepositional phrases function either like adverbs or like adjectives.

  8. abdullahi sabiu
    abdullahi sabiu02-05-2016

    Good morning sir!Please I want to know all the grammatical functions of prepositional phrase because it sometimes confuses me in terms of identifying its functions.My question again is on this sentence’I went to lagos with my sister’,what is the function of ‘with my sister’ in the sentence.thank you!

    • Justine Paul
      Justine Paul02-16-2016


  9. Paul

    “The clerk was busy helping the customer.”

    What function is “helping” serving?

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko01-14-2016

      That’s a tricky one. My best guess is that “helping the customer” is a gerund phrase. What’s weird is that it seems to modify the adjective “busy,” but gerunds are always nouns–how can it function as an adverb here?

      Well, I think it’s an elliptical phrase–a kind of shorthand. I think when we say this, we are leaving out the preposition “with” (The clerk was busy with helping the customer.) That would make “helping the customer” function like a noun–the object of the preposition.

      It would be the same with sentences like..

      He’s happy teaching.
      We’re okay watching TV.
      They’re bored talking to him.

  10. Loren

    This page helped my 7th grader on his semester assessment.

  11. Loren

    The Five Sentence Complements really helped my 7th grader on his semester assessment.

  12. Loren

    The Five Sentence Complements really helped my 7th grader on his semester assessment.

  13. Abdullahi sabiu
    Abdullahi sabiu01-04-2016

    Yes sir,it helped!I have now gotten it well,I will ask anytime problem arises regarding grammar,thank you!

  14. Abdullahi sabiu
    Abdullahi sabiu01-04-2016

    I have gained a lot from the above piece of grammatical items,my question is:when a gerund follows a linking verb,what is the grammatical function of the gerund as in he is playing,she is cooking and so on.

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko01-04-2016

      A gerund, by definition, is a noun formed from a verb (usually with an -ing ending). The sentences you give as examples do not contain gerunds. In “He is playing,” the verb is the phrase “is playing.” It’s simply a verb in the present progressive (continuous) tense. Same thing with “She is cooking”–the verb is “is cooking.”

      It is possible to place a gerund after a linking verb: “My favorite activity is swimming.” In a sentence like this, “swimming” is a noun serving as a predicate nominative.

      Does that help?

  15. John Diego
    John Diego07-10-2015

    wow! nice piece ,extremely valuable ..bravo! Brain!

  16. Skyla Grey
    Skyla Grey02-20-2015

    This is a good passage but it didn’t help me,but thanks for you time and effort into this.

  17. Brian Wasko
    Brian Wasko09-18-2014

    Thanks for your input, Mark.

    First, the distinction between action and linking verbs is different from that between stative and dynamic verbs. I don’t discuss the stative/dynamic distinction here. In terms of action/linking, “like” is simply an action verb, so I would dispute your first point.

    You are right about your second point, however. I had not considered adverbial complements before, but your “She is in New York” is a good example. Thanks.

  18. Mark McDowell
    Mark McDowell09-16-2014

    (I’m am reposting the previous due to excessive typos)
    Hi Brian, I just wanted to make a couple of comments. First, you and many others claim that only action or dynamic verbs can take an object. However non-linking stative verbs do take objects too, as can be seen in the simple example “I like cookies.” Secondly, there are such things as adverbial complements because there are times when adverbs are needed to complete the meaning of a sentence; such as in, “She is in New York.” True adverb complements are required, while non-essential adverbs are just modifies (as you pointed out), but this nit-picking serves little purpose in practice. The basic syntax of a sentence is subject-verb-complement, so in this broader sense, anything after the verb can be considered a complement. This is shown in the paper entitled “The Structure of the English Sentence,” by Manuel Palazon and Marian Aleson where various adverbs are shown as examples as complements; for instance, “Are you the student whose exam was lost last year?” with “last year” listed as a complement, even though the sentence is still grammatical without the “last year.” I’ve taught ESL for fifteen years and always teach subject-verb-complement syntax with the complement part just being anything at all that completes the sentence, or simply everything that is part of the predicate excluding the actual verb. This works fine and everyone understands. So, you might want to consider expanding your list of complements to include adverbs as well.

  19. 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?

  20. hannah

    tamayan yahooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

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