Grammarians define a complement as, “Any word or group of words that completes the meaning of some other word or group of words” (Roberts 473). A complement may consist of a single word, or it may be an entire clause. An embedded clause is a group of words that fits into a sentence and functions as a complement. An embedded clause can complement any part of speech.
All sentences consist of a subject and a predicate. In cases where sentences begin with the word it, the subject appears within the embedded clause or complement, located at the end of the sentence (Roberts 335). The following sentence exemplifies this concept:
The clause that Clara smiled is a that-clause acting as a complement to the verb appears. The word that is a subordinating conjunction. Subordinating conjunctions join subordinate clauses to main clauses. Roberts defines a subordinate clause as “a group of words containing a subject and a verb, functioning as a noun, an adjective, or an adverb, being thus dependent on or subordinate to something else in the sentence” (528).
Interrogative words, also known as relative pronouns, can act as subordinate conjunctions as well. These include words such as who, when, where, how, how often, why, and whether (Morenberg 170). Some sentences with complements beginning with interrogative relative pronouns are:
That-clauses and relative pronoun clauses can also complement noun phrases. When a that-clause or a relative pronoun clause complements a noun phrase, we call it a complex noun phrase complement. The following sentence is an example of a complex noun phrase complement:
The that-clause within the sentence complements the noun news.
A phrase that begins with an infinitive can function as a complex noun phrase complement as well. An infinitive phrase begins with the word to, which is followed by an infinitive form of a verb (Herndon 62). The most basic definition of an infinitive is, “the simple form of [a] verb” (Roberts 499). An infinitive has no sense of tense or number. In the following sentence the infinitive phrase beginning with the infinitive to get, complements the noun phrase plans.
Gerunds, which are verbs that end with -ing, are also sometimes found in complex noun complements. However, all gerunds functioning as complements must follow a genitive. A genitive is a glorified name for a word that shows possession. The genitive functions as the noun that the gerund complements. For example in the following sentence
the word Clara’s is a genitive noun that receives the gerund singing as its complement.
When a sentence begins with a that-clause we typically rephrase the sentence so that the sentence begins with the word it and the that-clause is part of the predicate. Grammarians call this process extraposition. It is important to extrapose that-clauses because “sentences with long predicates and short subjects sound better to us than do sentences with long subjects and short predicates” (Morenberg 169). Roberts expands on this idea with the idea that it is easier for English speakers to convey more difficult or lengthy information at the end of a sentence (671). For example, the sentence
has a subject that begins with the word that and ends with the word problems. The subject is nine words long while the predicate is a measly two. However, if we extrapose the sentence it becomes:
This gives us a sentence with a subject that is only one word long, thus conveying all difficult information within the predicate. At this point it is helpful to return to our definition of a complement: “any word or group of words that completes the meaning of some other word or group of words” (Roberts 473). Therefore, even with lengthy, seemingly difficult sentences containing embedded clauses, it is important to remember to view the clause simply as acting as a complement to another word or phrase.
Celce-Murcia, Marianne, Diane Larsen-Freeman, Howard Williams. That Grammar Book: An ESL/EFL Teacher’s Course. New York: Heinle and Heinle, 1999. Print.
Herndon, Jeanne H. A Survey of Modern Grammars. New York: Holt, Rinehoart and Winston, 1970. Print.
Morenberg, Max. Doing Grammar. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. Print.
Roberts, Paul. Understanding Grammar. New York: Harper and Row, 1954. Print.