Writing: Subject Complement

A subject complement is an integral part of a sentence that typically follows a linking verb. It offers additional data or information about the subject. Get to know more about subject complements in this in-depth tutorial.

What is a Subject Complement?

A subject complement is a word or a group of words that follows a linking verb or any action verb that can be substituted by a form of ‘be’. The subject complement refers/names back to the subject to provide it with additional information.

For example:
In the sentence “Maggie is a doctor”, ‘a doctor’ is the subject complement that provides additional details on the subject ‘Maggie’.

Types of Subject Complements

There are two types of subject complements:

  • Adjective (also known as Predicate Adjective)
  • Noun (also known as Predicate Noun or Predicate Nominative)

1. Predicate Adjective

A predicate adjective is a subject complement that identifies or describes the subject using an adjective. Predicate adjectives are linked with the subject using a linking verb.

For example:
In the sentence “John appears happy”, ‘happy’ is a predicate adjective that describes John’s state.

2. Predicate Noun or Predicate Nominative

A predicate noun is a subject complement that identifies or refers to the subject using a noun. Predicate nouns are linked with the subject using a linking verb. They define or rename the subject.

For example:
In the sentence “Judy is my sister”, ‘my sister’ is a predicate noun that refers to Judy.

Using Subject Complements Correctly

In writing, subject complements can enrich our phrases by providing extra key insights into a subject’s features or identities. However, to use them effectively, here are some key rules to follow:

Rule 1: Choose Suitable Verbs

The subject complement follows a verb. Yet, not all verbs can connect with a subject complement. Only linking verbs, that is, verbs that link the subject and predicative expression – usually reflect a state or change of state. The most common forms are from ‘be’: am, are, is, was, will be, were, and may include seem, become, feel, etc.

For example:
“Jane became a manager” – ‘became’ as a linking verb.

Rule 2: Match Subject Complement with Subject

A subject complement should always ‘agree’ with the subject it relates to in terms of singularity or plurality. So, if your subject is singular, the subject complement should also be singular and vice versa.

For example:
“The group of students is attentive” – not “The group of students are attentive”. Here, ‘group’ is considered as a single entity and hence, requires singular subject complement ‘is attentive’.

Common Mistakes and Misunderstandings

Being cautious about common mistakes can save you from errors while using subject complements in sentences. Let’s understand some common missteps:

Mistake 1: Confusing Subject Complement with Direct Object

A direct object and a subject complement may look similar as both usually come after the verb in a sentence. However, a direct object is a part of the action of the verb in an active voice statement, while a subject complement references back to the subject and provides more info about it.

For example:
In the sentence “I read a book”, ‘a book’ is the direct object and not the subject complement as it is what ‘I’ read.

Mistake 2: Misuse of Linking Verb

The misuse of verbs sometimes can convert a subject complement into an adverbial modifier. Always remember, a subject complement follows a linking verb.

For example:
In the sentence “She looks beautifully”, ‘beautifully’ is not a subject complement but an adverb modifying the verb ‘looks’. The correct sentence using ‘beautiful’ as subject complement is “She looks beautiful”.

Practical Exercises

Here are few exercises to help you better understand the concept of subject complements.

  • Identify the types of subject complements in the sentences:
    i. He feels sad.
    ii. Tom became the team leader.
    iii. My laptop is new.
  • Write your own sentences using both types of subject complements.

In conclusion, subject complements enrich our sentences by providing additional details about the subject, thus adding depth to our communication. Mastery of subject complements is foundational to effective writing. Happy learning!

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