English Grammar

Subjective Complements:

Predicate Nominatives and Predicate Adjectives

by Eugene R. Moutoux

1. A subjective complement is a noun or an adjective (or the equivalent of either) that completes a linking verb. Such substantives are called predicate nominatives; such adjectives and equivalent expressions are called predicate adjectives. Subjective complements can also follow certain intransitive verbs as well as passive-voice forms of factitive verbs (explained below).

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2. These sentences contain predicate nominatives:

- The woman in the blue dress is my sister. The predicate nominative is the noun sister, which follows a form of the verb be.

- It is I. The predicate nominative is the personal pronoun I.

- Have you ever been a lifeguard? The predicate nominative is lifeguard. The verb have been is a present-perfect form of the verb be.

- This could be an important clue. As you would probably expect, modal forms of the verb be (such as may be, should be, could have been, and must have been) can take subjective complements.

- She was elected president. President, a predicate nominative, follows a passive-voice form of the factitive verb elect. Factitive verbs, such as make, choose, appoint, and designate, are used to make someone something. Predicate nominatives can also be preceded by the expletive as, e.g., He was chosen as leader of the small delegation.

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3. These sentences contain predicate adjectives:

- I had been sick for a week. Sick is a predicate adjective. Had been is a past-perfect form of the verb be.

- She felt sad. Sad is a predicate adjective. In addition to feel, the verbs seem, become, look, remain, taste, and other similar verbs can be followed by predicate adjectives. You can test them with the adjective good: it seems good, he is becoming good, you look good, we want to remain good, the water tastes good.

- Blackberries grow wild along the south edge of the woods. Wild is a predicate adjective. The verb grow is intransitive; that is, it does not take a direct object in the sense in which it is used in this sentence ("to thrive; to become larger"). Grow is a transitive verb when it means "to cause to grow" (She likes to grow green beans and tomatoes).

- They left angry but arrived happy. Angry and happy are predicate adjectives; each follows an intransitive verb. Arrive is always intransitive, while leave is often transitive, as in Most customers and employees have already left the building.

- Tom was made livid by the derogatory remark about his daughter. The predicate adjective livid follows a passive forms of the factitive verb make.

Prepositional phrases can also be used as predicate adjectives (cf. "Prepositions and Prepositional Phrases" in my English Grammar" index). 

- from the teacher's enlarged edition of my book Diagramming Step by Step: One Hundred and Fifty-one Steps to Diagramming Excellence

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