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)

Check Out Today!

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. John Diego
    John Diego07-10-2015

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

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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?

  6. hannah

    tamayan yahooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

Leave a Reply

If you like a post, please take a second to click "like," and comment as often as you like.
We promise not to correct your grammar!