In grammar the term complement is used with different meanings. The primary meaning is a word, phrase or clause which is necessary in a sentence to complete its meaning. We find complements which function as an argument (i.e. of equal status to subjects and objects) and complements which exist within arguments.

Both complements and modifiers add to the meaning of a sentence. However, a complement is necessary to complete a sentence; a modifier is not. For example, "Put the bread on the table" needs "on the table" to make it complete. In most dialects of English, you cannot merely put something; you need to put it somewhere. In this context, the phrase "on the table" is a complement. By contrast, "The bread on the table is fresh." does not require "on the table" to be complete, so here, the phrase "on the table" is a modifier. A modifier, unlike a complement, is an optional element of a sentence.

Predicative complements

In linguistics, complement refers only to the predicative complement. A predicative complement is the complement that is predicated by a predicate. A predicate is the completer of a sentence; a predicator (verb) + complement. The term predicate complement refers to the fact that the predication depends on the attribution of a subject and its predicator (a verb, verb string, or compound verb).[1] The predicative complement consists of few contrasting varieties:

  • Object complement (common complement)
  • Predicative nominal (noun,nominal,pronominal; common in SUB or OBJ complement)
  • Predicative adjective (or adjectival, common in subject complement)
  • Predicative adverb (or adverbial, common in intransitive predication)
  • Predicative adjunct (optional complement).

Subject complements

A subject complement tells more about the subject by means of the verb. In the examples below the sentence elements are (SUBJECT + VERB + COMPLEMENT)

Mr. Johnson is a management consultant. (a predicative nominative)

She looks ill. (a predicative adjective)

Objective predicative complements

An object complement tells us more about the object by means of the verb. In the examples below the sentence elements are (SUBJECT + VERB + OBJECT + COMPLEMENT). Object complements can often be removed leaving a well-formed sentence, thus the use of the term complement is slightly illogical.

We elected him chairman. (a predicative nominal)

We painted the house red. (a predicative adjective)

An object complement can be a noun, pronoun, or adjective that follows and modifies a direct object. It can describe, clarify, re-name, or show completion of a process. It is most often used with verbs involving judgement, nomination, or creation.

  • Examples:

My son painted his room blue. (Blue modifies the direct object room.)

The class elected the smallest boy President. (President modifies boy and shows the result of the election.)

The clown made the children very excited. (The participle excited describes children.)

It can be confused with subject complements (predicate nominatives or predicate adjectives).

  • For example:

The waitress seems grumpy. (Grumpy is a subject complement modifying the subject, waitress.)

I consider the waitress grumpy. (Grumpy modifies the direct object, waitress.)

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