Understanding clauses

All about clauses


This next snippet has three prepositional phrases.

Two of these we have highlighted as modifiers, and one we've highlighted as a complement. What do you think the difference is?

(Tip: try removing each prepositional phrase from the sentence one at a time.)

In cold winters the Queen does revert to knitted woollen hose for warmth.

Shakespeare's London on 5 Groats a DayRichard TamesSource

You probably found that you could take out the modifiers no problem. But what happened when you tried taking out the complement"to knitted woollen hose"?

In cold winters the Queen does revert for warmth.

It sounds incomplete. Revert... how?

Some verbs require extra elements in order to make sense. In this snippet, the verb "revert" requires a thing to revert to.

Your turn

This is the main difference between complements and modifiers:

  • Complements are essential to the meaning of an event.
  • Modifiers are add-ons, giving more information and context, but not needed for an event to feel complete.

So how do we know if an element is "essential"?

We can start by looking at the verb.

For example, we now know that if something is "reverting", it has to be reverting "to something". So the verb 'to revert' requires a prepositional phrase starting with 'to' as a complement.

Here is a snippet with some more verbs that require complements:

In the morning, Corinne unwrapped her father’s bandage and found a soft red scab covering her wound.

The JumbiesTracey BaptisteSource

We have 3 verbs in this snippet, and all 3 of them have a complement, and all 3 complements are noun groups:

  • The verb 'to unwrap' has the thing being unwrapped.
  • The verb 'to find' has the thing being found.
  • The verb 'to cover' has the thing being covered.

Remove any of those complements and the sentence stops making sense. (On the flip side, you can remove the modifier, "in the morning", with no issue.)

Your turn
Complements as 'Objects'
Terminology: Transitive vs intransitive verbs

Here is another example that is a bit sneaky.

In this snippet, there are 2 complements. Can you tell what they are?

I put out my hand, palm down.

Rocket BoysHomer HickmanSource

The verb 'to put' has 2 complements:

  • the 'thing' being put ("my hand"), and
  • the 'place' it is being put ("out").

Remove either of them and the sentence doesn't work.

Tip: Recognising adverb and prepositional phrase complements
Your turn
Advanced: The passive voice

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