Grammar Subject Complements: Usage and Examples |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Subject Complements: Usage and Examples

The word complement in English means “something that completes or makes perfect; either of two parts or things needed to complete the whole.”

A subject complement in English describes or renames a sentence subject and completes the sense of the verb by means of an adjective, a noun, a pronoun, a possessive noun or pronoun, or an adverb of time or place. A subject complement can be a word or words, a phrase, or a clause.

Because they relate to the subject and not the object of a sentence, subject complements follow linking verbs, also known as intransitive verbs, which do not take a direct object. Some examples of linking verbs include:

appear grow seem
be look smell
become remain stay
feel resemble taste

Examples: Linking Verbs with Subject Complements

The carpet on sale is a bargain. (noun renaming carpet)

This coat feels warm. (adjective describing coat)

The harmonica you found is mine. (possessive pronoun renaming harmonica)

The day of the big race is today. (adverb of time describing the occurrence of day)

As you may recognize, the basic structure of each sentence is subject > linking verb > subject complement.

If the sentences above included transitive verbs—those that take a direct object—they would not have subject complements but rather include object complements.

Sentence Examples: Transitive Verbs

We purchased the carpet [direct object] on sale.

I like this coat [direct object] that feels warm.

You found the harmonica [direct object] that is mine.

They scheduled the big race [direct object] to start today.

Each underlined modifier relates to the object and not to the subject.

Depending on a writer’s preference and style, the word order of constructions with subject complements can vary as well, including in interjections:

Today is the day of the big race.

How tall the corn stalk has grown!

What a bargain the carpet is!

For good measure, let’s review more examples of subject complements according to their parts of speech.

Subject Complement Examples: Adjectives

The horse is fast. (subject complement word describing horse)

The corn stalk grows tall. (subject complement word describing corn stalk)

Sarah looks ready for work. (subject complement phrase describing Sarah)

This burrito tastes as if it was made from a family recipe. (subject complement clause describing burrito)

Subject Complement Examples: Nouns and Pronouns

Over time a child becomes a grown-up. (subject complement noun renaming child)

His opinion stays the same. (subject complement pronoun renaming opinion)

The winner will be the person who receives the most votes. (subject complement noun phrase renaming winner)

The scent of that perfume is certainly hers. (subject complement possessive pronoun renaming scent)

Note that today’s informal usage often allows for an expression such as “It is me” in place of “It is I,” which would be more precise in daily formal writing. The informal use might also on occasion carry over to formal contexts. The writer’s choice will depend on the communication’s degree of formality and its familiarity with the audience.

Subject Complement Examples: Adverbs (Time and Place)

The time for the truth is now. (subject complement adverb describing time)

The best place to be on a winter morning is under my blanket. (subject complement adverbial prepositional phrase describing the best place)

The deadline for the rebate was last month. (subject complement adverbial phrase describing the deadline)

The mortgage closing will be wherever the loan agent schedules it. (subject complement adverbial clause describing the mortgage closing)

Careful writers will remain aware of when adverbs might slip incorrectly into the role of subject complement. This can often happen when an -ly adverb is used to complete a linking verb:

Wilhelm feels badly about dropping the glass.

The sandwich meat you used tastes poorly.

Rina’s hair smells wonderfully when she uses that conditioner.

In these examples, the underlined adverb is modifying the action as opposed to the subject as a complement. The context of each sentence with its linking verb calls for a subject complement adjective rather than an adverb:

Wilhelm feels bad about dropping the glass.

The sandwich meat you used tastes poor.

Rina’s hair smells wonderful when she uses that conditioner.

Pop Quiz

Identify the subject complement in each sentence.

1. The remote control is over there.

2. This pizza tastes like cardboard.

3. The ghost always seems glad to be in the attic.

4. The final negotiated amount will be whatever she says it is.

5. The village’s decades-old statute on littering remains relevant today.

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1. The remote control is over there.

2. This pizza tastes like cardboard.

3. The ghost always seems glad to be in the attic.

4. The final negotiated amount will be whatever she says it is.

5. The village’s decades-old statute on littering remains relevant today.

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2 responses to “Subject Complements: Usage and Examples”

  1. Dorothy says:

    “This burrito tastes as if it was made from a family recipe.” (subject complement clause describing burrito)

    Could the subject complement clause be considered adverbial, given that it is describing how the burrito tastes? (For some reason, I have a lot of trouble with adverbial elements in sentences.)

    Also, could “as if it was made” be replaced by “as if it were made”? To my ears, the subjunctive would sound better here, but perhaps the indicative mood is being used because there is a chance that the burrito was indeed made from a family recipe, whereas using the subjunctive would imply that the burrito was definitely not made from a family recipe—a contrary-to-fact statement that would require the subjunctive. Does that make sense?

    “The winner will be the person who receives the most votes.” (subject complement noun phrase renaming winner)

    Wouldn’t “the person who receives the most votes” be a subject complement noun clause rather than phrase, given that it includes a subject (the restrictive relative pronoun “who”) and finite verb (“receives”)? Please advise.

    • GrammarBook.com says:

      Since the burrito is not actively tasting, the subject complement would not be considered adverbial. “As if it were made” is grammatically correct; however, it implies an impossible or highly unlikely scenario. Because the scenario in the clause is plausible, it would tend to apply “was” instead of “were.”

      In the example “The winner will be person who receives the most votes,” the leading subject complement noun is “person,” which is then further modified by the dependent relative clause “who receives the most votes.” Technically, although vague and incomplete, the sentence could be written as “The winner will be the person.” Because there is a clear subject complement noun that is then modified, we have a phrase as opposed to a clause (the noun is the main component).

      An example of a noun clause as a subject complement would be “The winner will be *whoever receives the most votes*.” In this context, the clause fully occupies the subject complement position.

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