Subject complement: types, examples and quiz

In this lesson, we learn what a subject complement is, how to identify it, and how to use it in sentences.

What is a subject complement?

Subject complement definition: A subject complement is a word or a group of words (phrase) that either renames the subject or modifies it. It comes after a linking verb and identifies the subject. When it renames the subject, we call it a predicate nominative, and when it modifies the subject, we call it a predicate adjective.

Subject complement explanation
Subject complement explanation

NOTE: a noun renames the subject, and an adjective modifies it.

A list of linking verbs in English

TO BE
TO BE: is, am, are, was, were, may be, might be,
should be, would be, can be, could be, must be, will be, shall be,

BEING: is being, am being, are being, was being, were being, has been, have been, had been,

BEEN: may have been, must have been, could have, should have been,
will have been, shall have been, might have been
To be form of verbs
TO SEEMseem, seems, seemed
TO LOOKlook, looks, looked
TO FEELfeel, feels, felt
TO SOUNDsound, sounds, sounded
TO TASTEtaste, tastes, tasted
TO SMELLsmell, smells, smelt
TO STAYstay, stays, stayed
TO BECOMEbecome, becomes, became
TO GOgo, goes, went, gone
TO REMAINremain, remains, remained
TO TURNturn, turns, turned
TO GETget, gets, got
TO APPEARappear, appears, appeared
A list of linking verbs

Subject complement examples

  • Monu is my best friend.
    Monu = my best friend
    (My best friend, which is a noun phrase, is functioning as the subject complement as it’s giving a new name to the subject Monu.)
  • Jennifer was my love.
    Jennifer = my love
    (My love, a noun phrase, is the subject complement as it’s giving a new name to the subject Jennifer)
  • Ashish is amazing.
    Ashish = amazing
    (Amazing is the subject complement (an adjective) that’s modifying the subject Ashish.)
  • The movie was extremely daunting.
    The movie = extremely daunting
    (Extremely daunting is the subject complement (an adjective phrase) that’s modifying the subject The movie.)
  • Tyson looked invincible in the fight.
    Tyson = invincible
    (The subject complement invincible is an adjective that’s modifying the subject Tyson. Looked here is a linking verb, not an action verb.)

TIP: if something works as a subject complement, you should be able to equate it to the subject using equal sign (=) as the subject complement refers to the subject. It gives a name to the subject or tells how the subject is.

Types of subject complements

As we just learnt, a subject complement is either a noun (predicate nominative) or an adjective (predicate adjective).

  1. Predicate nominative
  2. Predicate adjective

Predicate nominative

A predicate nominative is a noun or a noun phrase that renames the subject of a sentence. Since it completes the meaning of a subject, we call it a subject complement.

Examples:-

  • She has been my support system for a long time. (She = my support system)
  • Growing up, Sachin Tendulkar was my idol. (Sachin Tendulkar = my idol)
  • Ananda Nunes is the best female fighter on this planet. (Ananda Nunes = the best female fighter on the planet)
  • He could have been your coach, but it didn’t happen because of your crazy antics. (He = your coach)
  • Jane will be an amazing mother. (Jane = an amazing mother)
  • She was never your friend. (She = your friend)

Predicate adjective

A predicate adjective is an adjective or an adjective phrase that identifies the subject and modifies it. Since it completes the meaning of the subject, we call it a subject complement.

Examples:-

  • My girlfriend is beautiful. (my girlfriend = beautiful)
  • I am extremely talented. (I = extremely talented)
  • Back in the days, Jyoti was scared of dogs. (Jyoti = scared)
  • They are generous. (They = generous)
  • The food smells awful. (The food = awful)
  • You look handsome in this dress. (You = handsome)
  • Jon stayed composed when the bear attacked. (Jon = composed)
  • Her voice sounds soothing to ears. (Her voice = soothing)
  • The test appears difficult for most students. (The test = difficult)

Subject complement vs Direct object

Sometimes, students confuse subject complements with direct objects. That’s quite a common mistake. Let’s understand how not to make this mistake.

Direct object

A direct object comes after an action verb and receives the action directly. A direct object is always a noun or a pronoun. If it is a noun or a noun phrase, it can’t refer to the subject. The subject and the direct object are two different entities.

Subject complement

A subject complement comes after a linking verb and identifies the subject of a sentence. It can only be a noun or an adjective. A linking verb doesn’t show any action; it only links the subject to its complement (noun or adjective). It works like a bridge between the subject and the subject complement.

  • He beat a professional fighter. (A professional fighter is a direct object that’s receiving the action; it’s not referring to the subject. The subject and the object are two different people.)
  • He is a professional fighter. (Here, a professional fighter is a subject complement that’s referring to the subject. The subject and the subject complement are the same person.)

  • He tasted the food. (The food is the direct object. It is receiving the action. The subject ‘he’ and the direct object ‘the food‘ are not the same. He = food ❌)
  • The food tasted amazing. (Amazing is not the direct object here; it is a subject complement. It’s modifying the subject the food. Here, tasted is a linking verb; it’s not showing any action.)

NOTE: There are some verbs in English that can function as both a linking verb and an action verb.

A list of verbs that can be both a linking verb and an action verb.

  • Taste
  • Look
  • Stay
  • Smell
  • Appear
  • Feel
  • Turn
  • Grow

When these verbs function as an action verb, they are followed by a noun or a preposition phrase (preposition + noun). But when these verbs function as linking verbs, they are followed by an adjective.

  • I tasted the food. (Action verb)
  • The food tasted delicious. (Linking verb)
  • Jon looked at the car. (Action verb)
  • Jon looked smart. (Linking verb)
  • We are staying in a hotel. (Action verb)
  • We will stay faithful towards the organization. (Linking verb)
  • Why does he smell people? (Action verb)
  • Why does he smell so nice? (Linking verb)
  • They appeared before the court yesterday. (Action verb)
  • They appeared skillful to me. (Linking verb)
  • I felt his pain. (Action verb)
  • I felt bad for him. (Linking verb)
  • Max just turned the car. (Action verb)
  • Max just turned red after seeing her. (Linking verb)
  • Tom has grown all the plants. (Action)
  • We have grown old together. (Linking)

Subject complement as a pronoun

When a subject complement renames the subject, it’s usually a noun, but it can also be a pronoun. When a subject complement is a pronoun, some people use a subjective pronoun, and some use an objective pronoun.

  • It was me who saved her.
  • It was I who saved her.

Now, which one is correct to use?

A subject complement refers back to the subject, which can only be a noun or a subjective pronoun. So with this logic, we should use I. But people have been using an objective pronoun in this case for so long that it has almost become acceptable. So, there’s no loser; everyone wins.

Subjective pronoun: I, we, you, he, she, it, they
Objective pronoun: me, us, you, him, her, it, us

Don’t confuse a linking verb with an action verb and use an adverb after it!

Students often make the mistake of using an adverb in place of an adjective after the linking verb.

  • It tasted strongly. ❌
  • It tasted strong. ✔️
  • You smell nicely. ❌
  • You smell nice. ✔️

Exercise set!

Choose if the underlined word/words is a subject complement or an object.

  1. I love you.
  2. He looked tired in the game.
  3. Nobody smells nice here.
  4. Everyone is a winner in my team.
  5. Why did you look at her?
  6. Ashish might be right about the new policy.
  7. Jane could have been the manager of this team.
  8. His father was extremely nice to me.
  9. Let him taste the food.
  10. The cake tastes yummy.

Answers:

  1. Object
  2. Subject complement (adjective)
  3. Subject complement (adjective)
  4. Subject complement (noun)
  5. Object
  6. Subject complement (adjective)
  7. Subject complement (noun)
  8. Subject complement (adjective)
  9. Object
  10. Subject complement (adjective)

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