What Are Subject and Object Complements in Grammar?

Updated March 21, 2020
Beautiful sunrise in a cornfield
    Beautiful sunrise in a cornfield
    Used under license / Adapted from Getty Images / Hugo

A complement in grammar is a word, clause, or phrase that's needed to describe the subject or object of a sentence. Complements typically follow linking verbs, which show connection rather than action. Let's explore the different kinds of complements, as well as how to spot them in a sentence.

Subject Complements

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. You can also use pronouns as predicate nominatives when describing more about the subject. For example:

  • Every morning is a gift. (Providing more information about “every morning”)
  • 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")
  • The winner of the contest is her. (Providing more information about “the winner”)
  • The person you’re looking for is me. (Providing more information about “the person”)

Predicate Adjectives

Predicate adjectives describe or modify the subject the way an adjective would. They identify more about the subject without renaming it. Here are some examples of predicate adjectives:

  • Mary looked frustrated. (Providing more information about Mary)
  • She seemed nice. (Providing more information about "she")
  • He appears smart. (Providing more information about "he")
  • The bread smells amazing. (Providing more information about “the bread”)
  • Shiloh is talented. (Providing more information about “Shiloh”)
  • We are all generous. (Providing more information about “we”)

Subject Complements vs. Objects

Subject complements follow subjects just like objects do. However, the difference between these grammatical terms lies in the verb. Here’s how to tell which is which:

  • Action Verb: If the subject is doing something active and the next word is receiving the action, it’s an object. An object will answer the question "who" or "what" in reference to the verb.
    Example: 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."
  • Linking Verb: If the verb functions to connect the subject to a word that describes it more, it’s a subject complement. A complement will provide greater detail about the subject.
    Example: The soup tasted good.
    In this case, “the soup” is the subject of the sentence. “Tasted” is a linking verb to the adjective “good,” which describes more about the soup.

Object Complements

The object of a sentence is the person, place, thing, or idea that's receiving the action of the verb. Object complements can beef up, or complement, the object of a sentence. 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 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")

Common Linking Verbs

The English language is very nuanced, but finding linking verbs is easier than it looks. You’ll usually see the forms of to be (am, is, are, were, was, being) as linking verbs, but other verbs can function in this way as well. Here are a few examples of verbs that link nouns to their complements.

  • Seem
  • Like
  • Have
  • Look
  • Feel
  • Taste
  • Smell
  • Appear
  • Stay
  • Turn

All of these verbs are important to the meaning of a sentence. However, a reader can’t see any action taking place, and no object receives the action. You can use any of these verbs when describing more about your nouns.

Information Is Power

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!