A Complementary Article

Most sentences are perfectly happy with their subject/predicate relationships. But, sometimes, sentences, for a heavier meaning to push in, call for a little more cushion. 

Complement is a word or phrase added to a verb to complete the predicate of a sentence, thereby adding additional meaning. I shall begin with the least familiar.

An Adverbial Complement provides information as regards how a subject verbed something:

“She smiled at him in a Mona Lisa way.”

“They remained out of reach.”

“She spoke clearly.”

If you are thinking that an adverbial complement looks a dashed lot like an adverb or an adverbial phrase, then I think that you and I should generally get along. 

Adjectival Complements freshen things up a trifle. We now perceive the interesting subject/adjective comparison. 

“The job seemed nice and easy.”

“When the going gets tough…”

Here, we are saying something like nice and easy job or tough going, but the linking verbs (seemed and gets [the Old Norse intransitive for becomes] ) provide us with a kind of perception on the part of the subject.

An Object Compliment adds additional connotation to the object of the sentence.

“He called his brother a troglodyte.”

Here, the object complement, a troglodyte, succeeds in providing more information as regards this man’s less than well-thought-of brother. Object compliments require transitive verbs and can be nouns, pronouns, or adjectives. Comma distinctions are important, too, as a comma between “brother” and “a” would constitute this troglodyte as not a complement, rather an appositive.

If one’s inclined to ruin the fun, one may also consider direct objects and indirect objects as complements. This is hotly debated by salaried grammarians with stinkier breath than I, and, as such, I’ll leave it for them to chew over. 

But I shall save the dear reader some trouble. Indirect objects never come after “to” or “for.” For an indirect object to occur, “to” or “for” must be implied, not stated. If either of those words is stated, then you have a prepositional phrase, not an indirect object.

Now, for what is likely the most familiar: Subject Complement

There are two kinds of subject complements. 

The Predicate Adjective, which expounds upon the subject by way of adjective:

“The members of the slackline club are all unfortunate.”

“Woe is I.”

This inverted construction suggests the feeling of woe to be anthropomorphized by the subject, I. Most would write “woe is me,” which, as we shall know at the end of this article, is, by way of syntactic change, an example of an approved grammatical error.

Now for the most widely recognized Predicate Nominative:

“He died a lonely man.”

“That man over there is an animal.”

Perhaps he just shattered the gym’s bench-press record, perhaps he recently finished three rounds of sparring practice on his wife, or perhaps he’s in a room full of Darwinists. In any case, the man’s an animal. 

Now, for the interesting conundrum of subject complement concord.

Here is the arithmetic:

Singular Subject + Plural Complement OR Plural complement + Singular Subject= Verb agrees with subject.

“Hamlet is many people.” 

“These Shakespeare plays are typically a dust magnet nowadays.”

With collective nouns, verbs can be singular or plural, depending on whether the collective noun is acting as a group or as individuals.

“The platoon scrambles to new defensive positions.” 

“The platoon scramble to new defensive positions.”

And the relative pronoun what takes a singular verb.

“What I like about the countryside is…”

Pronominal Complements are a part of subject complements, but they deserve special attention due to their infamous nature.

English grammar requires that a subjective case subject match with a subjective case pronoun. However, false constructions such as “Yup, that’s me” or “Oh, it’s just him” are common fare and reign supreme over the correct oddities “Yup, that is I” or “Oh, it is just he.” 

Interestingly enough, however, the purist rules remain intact with phone greetings such as “Yes, this is he” and the case of before a relative pronoun “It was he who…” over “It was him who,” the latter of which would fall on listening ears as a barbarism.

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