What Are Complements (with Examples)

Complement is the term used for a word (or words) which are needed to complete the meaning of an expression.

Most phrases and clauses will include a complement of some kind. If you can't remove it from your sentence, then it's likely to be a complement. This is how complements differ from adjuncts. Adjuncts are optional as they are usually just descriptive. Complements are not optional. They are essential to ensure understanding.

Examples of Complements

Here are some examples of complements (complements shaded): In the examples above, the shaded complements complement either a subject or an object; i.e. they sit alongside either a subject or an object to complete it. So, as you'd expect, a complement that completes a subject is called a subject complement, and one that completes an object is called an object complement. That seems pretty straightforward.

However, it gets more complicated. The term object complement is also widely used for a complement which is an object, and – although less common – the term subject complement is used a complement which is a subject. Look at these examples: Read more about subject complements.
Read more about object complements.

More Examples of Complements

A complement can also be the word(s) that follow a preposition. For example: Read more about the object of a preposition.

A complement can be the word(s) that form part of phrasal verb. For example:

You Can Have Several Complements

In summary, a complement is just the word(s) needed to complete an expression's meaning. Therefore, a sentence will often have several complements. Look at these examples: Here are some more examples:

There is some confusion surrounding the term complement. This confusion is largely caused by the way the different types of complements are classified. For example, the term object complement is used for: Look at this example: So, in this example, the object complement (the slate) has its own object complement (clean).

Do not think of the term complement as meaning something specific in grammar. It's just the name for word(s) which are essential to complete the meaning of an expression.

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See Also

What is an object complement? What is a subject complement? What is the object of a preposition? What are phrases? What are clauses? What are adjuncts? What are adjectives? What is a noun phrase? What is a subject? What is a direct object? What are gerunds? Glossary of grammatical terms