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1.9: You Did What? Verbs and Their Complements

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    In many sentences, complements are an important part of the predicate: They’re called complements because they complete the verb.

    For example, all these sentences are obviously incomplete:

    Ralph seemed. Alice gave. Norton is.

    The verbs here (seemed, gave, and is) each need another word (or more) to complete their meanings. They need complements. For example:

    Ralph seemed impatient. Alice gave him his present. Norton is their neighbor.

    The underlined words are complements—nouns, pronouns, or adjectives that complete the verb in some way and are part of the complete predicates of the sentences.

    In this chapter, we’ll examine five kinds of complements.


    Earlier we discussed two kinds of verbs: linking verbs and action verbs. We said that the relatively small number of linking verbs in English include seem, become, appear, looked, felt, and forms of the verb to be.

    Linking verbs typically have complements. In these sentences, the complements are underlined:

    Mr. Lochenhocher is irritable. The staff appears efficient.
    All of his sisters are musical.

    Each of these underlined words is an adjective that follows the verb, and each describes the subject of the sentence. Such complements are called predicate adjectives. Here are some more examples:

    This chapter looks easy.
    He seems friendly.
    They became calm and quiet.


    Predicate nominatives are nouns or pronouns that follow linking verbs and describe the subject. In these examples, the predicate nominatives are underlined:

    George became President. Helen was a teacher.
    We are also teachers.

    In each sentence, the noun phrase following the linking verb identifies the subject of the sentence. Here are more examples:

    Ralph became president of our club.
    Norton is a menace.
    The Browns are good neighbors and good citizens.

    Some grammar books call predicate nominatives predicate nouns. Still others combine predicate adjectives and predicate nominatives into a single category called subject complements.

    Notice that sometimes the verb be is followed by an adverb, especially a prepositional phrase, instead of a complement:

    Dad is at the library. The kids are in the car.


    We’ve discussed action verbs before, but here we learn a bit more about them.

    There are two kinds of action verbs, transitive and intransitive verbs. Transitive verbs have complements; intransitive verbs don’t need them. The sentences that follow contain intransitive verbs—no complement is present:

    The accountant disappeared. It rained today.
    Rain fell all day.

    Some intransitive verbs, like disappeared, typically don’t take complements in any context.

    Transitive verbs always have one or more complements, and they must have a direct object, a noun or pronoun that typically follows the verb and is the object of the verb’s action in some way:

    Susan saw the Lloyds at the mall. June addressed the audience.
    Ed baked the cake yesterday.

    Here are more examples:

    Ed wrote the article.
    The newspaper published the article and Ed’s photos. Mr. Lochenhocher wants peace and quiet.

    Many verbs can be transitive or intransitive. That is, they can be used with or without direct objects:



    I’ll run to the store. She read for two hours. He laughed.
    She sang.

    I run the store.
    She read the book.
    He laughed a hearty laugh. She sang an Irish song.

    When the direct object is a pronoun, it must be in the objective case:

    Susan saw them at the mall. Susan greeted us warmly.


    Indirect objects appear only in sentences with direct objects, and then they appear between the transitive verb and the direct object. They name a person or thing that receives the direct object in some way. In the following sentences, the indirect objects are underlined and the direct object is a note:

    Bailey wrote me a note.
    Ed wrote her a note.
    We wrote Bailey and Ed a note.

    Here are more sentences with indirect objects (underlined) followed by direct objects:

    Mr. Redden taught me history.
    Last night I read my daughter a book. We bought Ruthie an accordion.

    Notice that when pronouns are indirect objects, they are also in the objective case (as with me and her in the sentences above).

    There is a test for the indirect object. Without changing the meaning of the sentence, the indirect object can be turned into the object of a prepositional phrase beginning with the preposition to or for. The prepositional phrase then appears after the direct object:

    Mr. Redden taught history to me.
    Last night I read a book to my daughter. We bought an accordion for Ruthie.

    But please notice the important difference. This sentence has an indirect object:

    Mr. Redden taught me history.

    The next sentence has no indirect object; to me is a prepositional phrase:

    Mr. Redden taught history to me.

    Some transitive verbs can take direct objects but cannot take indirect objects, as in these sentences:

    Ned ate the cake.
    Julie wanted cake.
    Mr. Lochenhocher hates the violin.


    The object complement is the last kind of complement we’ll discuss here, and it’s another complement used only with a transitive verb and a direct object. Here are some examples:

    We elected Bernice president.
    We named Bob the new treasurer.
    The news made Mr. Lochenhocher angry.

    Object complements are nouns or adjectives that follow the direct object and describe the direct object, in roughly the same way that a predicate adjective or predicate nominative describes the subject.

    With object complements, we don’t distinguish between the adjectives and the nouns that describe the direct object—they are all object complements if they appear after the direct object and describe it.

    Here are more examples:

    We found the request unreasonable.
    The Court declared the law unconstitutional.
    The Court’s decision renders the issue null and void.

    It’s important to distinguish object complements from other grammatical units. In the following pairs of sentences, the first sentence contains an object complement and the second sentence contains a different structure that is identified in the comment that follow:

    They found Will irritable.
    They found Will at home.
    (At home is an adverbial prepositional phrase)

    They made Bill an officer.
    They made Bill a cake.
    (In the second sentence, Bill is the indirect object; cake is a direct object.)

    In everyday conversation, we often use the verbs have and get with object complements:

    I have the car ready.
    I will get the car ready.

    Reflexive pronouns, the ones that end in –self (e.g., himself, herself, themselves) are often the direct objects that appear with object complements:

    We got ourselves ready.
    He imagined himself successful.

    We’ll discuss those pronouns in Chapter 19.
    Object complements never appear in a clause that also contains

    an indirect object. They can only appear when there are direct objects in the same clause, and only a small number of transitive verbs can take object complements.


    As we’ve said, when we use a personal pronoun as a direct object or an indirect object, it has to be in the objective case. In these sentences, the underlined direct and indirect objects are objective case pronouns:

    They gave me the job. (Me is the indirect object.)
    We will find her immediately. (Her is the direct object.) You must tell them the news. (Them is the indirect object.) She has just informed us. (Us is the direct object.)

    With predicate nominatives, which appear after linking verbs, the situation is a bit more complicated. Consider these versions of the same sentences:

    The person responsible is he. The person responsible is him.

    It is I. It is me.

    Most of us would instinctively use the second version in each pair, because we’re accustomed using objective-case pronouns after a verb.

    But the verb in these sentences, is, is a linking verb, and that makes he (and him) and I (and me) predicate nominatives. In the judgment of those writers and editors most careful about prescriptive grammar, we should use nominative case pronouns as predicate nominatives, because the pronoun is being equated with the subject: It is I. It is he. It is annoying.

    Here again, the choices you make will depend on your editor, your audience, and the formality of your tone. It’s often possible to rewrite the sentence to avoid the issue altogether.


    8a. In the following sentences, fill in the blanks with one word: always, never, or sometimes. (This is tougher than you might think. Feel free to look back at the chapter to work out the answers.)

    1. Sentences with action verbs ______ have a complement.

    2. Sentences with linking verbs _______ have a complement.

    3.Sentences with intransitive verbs _______ have a complement.

    4.Sentences with transitive verbs _______ have a complement.

    1. Sentences with transitive verbs _______ have a direct object.
    2. Sentences with transitive verbs _______ have an indirect object.
    3. Sentences with linking verbs _______ have a predicate nominative.
    4. Sentences with transitive verbs _______ have a predicate adjective.
    5. Sentences with linking verbs _______ have a predicate adjective.

    10. Sentences with transitive verbs _______ have an object complement.

    11. Sentences with linking verbs _______ have an object complement.

    12. Sentences with linking verbs _______ have a direct object.

    8b. In the sentences below, identify the complements and classify them as a direct object, an indirect object, a predicate adjective, a predicate nominative, or an object complement. These simple sentences may have as many as two complements, but never more than two.

    In some sentences, the complements are underlined. In others, there are no complements.

    1. My daughter made me proud.
    2. My aunt brought me a souvenir.
    3. My sister is late.
    4. Both my sisters are teachers.
    5. Both my sisters are arriving at noon.
    6. Six hours a day, Ruthie practices the accordion. 7. Ruthie practices for hours every day.
    8. We sent Bill and Sue a gift.
    9. They were kind and grateful.
    10. I will address that issue at another time.
    11. That fellow became our assistant.
    12. Bonnie bought Ed that painting.

    8c. Now go back through the sentences above and identify the verbs as linking, transitive, or intransitive.

    1.9: You Did What? Verbs and Their Complements is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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