In the sentence People’s noses grow throughout their entire lives, nothing is needed to complete the verb grow. Even though four words follow grow in the sentence, those words are not needed for sentence structure. They’re needed for the writer’s meaning, but not for completing the clause. The subject and verb (noses grow) make a certain kind of sense and give a feeling of completeness.

But there are other verbs that, by themselves, cannot make a complete structure with a subject. Consider these subject and verb combinations:

they desire

she said

the tree was

people need

Bill kissed

tourists want

These sets leave you hanging, wondering: They desire what? She said what? Bill kissed whom? In each case, the verb needs a word or words to complete its meaning. The words that do this job in the predicate of a clause are called complements and objects. We’ll look at their basic types.

1. Subject Complements

One important kind of complement is the subject complement, which follows a linking verb. A subject complement is a noun, pronoun, adjective, or adverb of place that follows a verb in a clause. Here are some sentences in which the subject complements are underlined:

Martha Aliaga is a superb math teacher.

The subject complement answers the question, “Martha Aliaga is what?”

The juniors are our representatives on the committee.

The subject complement answers the question, “The juniors are what?”

James feels wonderful.

The subject complement answers the question, “James feels how?”

2. Direct and Indirect Objects

Direct Objects Linking verbs are not the only kind of verb that needs completion. Another type of verb that needs completion is a kind of action verb called the transitive verb. This is a verb that carries or transfers action from the subject before the verb to the object after the verb.

The words that complete the meaning of transitive verbs are called direct objects. They follow action verbs and answer the question “What?” or “Whom?” A good example is I need you. You is the direct object of the verb need.

Do all sentences with action verbs have direct objects? Let’s return to the first sentence we considered: People’s noses grow throughout their entire lives. This sentence has an action verb, but it doesn’t have an object. The verb grow doesn’t need one; noses grow has a sense of completeness. Although grow shows action, here it is not a transitive verb; it’s an intransitive verb. It does not move or transport action from the subject to the object. So some action verbs are intransitive, and all linking verbs are intransitive.

So far, we’ve only looked at linking verbs, because linking verbs are the only kind that are followed by subject complements. In these next sentences, we’ll see only action verbs, because action verbs are the kind that take direct objects. We’ll label the direct object do and underline it:

The direct object answers the question, “Frank paid what?”

One way to check if a word is a direct object is to try using it as the subject of a passive version of the same sentence. If it is a direct object, it will work as the subject. For example, the active sentence We passed the collection basket becomes the passive sentence The collection basket was passed by us.

If a sentence has a linking verb and a subject complement, you won’t be able to transform it from active into passive. This transformation works only with sentences that contain direct objects.

Indirect Objects Sometimes the predicate of a clause also contains a word that is indirectly affected by the verb. This word is called the indirect object, and it comes before the direct object. The indirect object tells to whom or for whom an action is done. We’ll use IO as the abbreviation for indirect object.

Francie sent what? The money. For whom? For Eduardo.

If you are having difficulty keeping direct and indirect objects straight, reconsider the first sentence. Did we pass the boy from person to person? Or did we pass the collection basket? Which word is directly affected by the verb passed? It’s basket—the direct object. The word boy is only indirectly affected, so it’s the indirect object.

Some common verbs that are followed by both indirect and direct objects are the forms of bring, buy, give, lend, offer, sell, send, and write. Try writing a few simple sentences with these verbs, and you’ll probably automatically create clauses with both indirect and direct objects.

3. Object Complements

Some direct objects need a little something extra. They themselves need to be completed by an object complement. This word clarifies the meaning of the verb in a sentence or makes the meaning richer. The object complement always follows a direct object, and it helps to complete a direct object by identifying or modifying it.

Object complements are often found in clauses with verbs such as appoint, choose, consider, elect, make, name, and think. These verbs have one thing in common: They all roughly mean to make or consider.

We’ll use ob com as our abbreviation. Here are some examples:

Can you see how this sentence means roughly the same as “We made the town red”?

This sentence is similar to “Gerald considered his mother a saint.”

Like subject complements, object complements can be nouns or adjectives. Clauses with object complements don’t occur as often as the other types of clauses we’ve examined.