What Are Object Complements?

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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In English grammar, an object complement is a word or phrase (usually a noun, pronoun, or adjective) that comes after a direct object and renames, describes, or locates it. Also called an objective complement or an object(ive) predicate.

"Generally," notes Bryan Garner, "a verb expressing a perception, judgment, or change can allow its direct object to take an object complement" (Garner's Modern American Usage, 2009).

These verbs include call, like, leave, keep, want, find, consider, declare, prefer, make, paint, name, think, get, send, turn, vote, and elect.

Examples and Observations of Object Complements

  • My brother named the pig Hugo.
  • The blanket kept the pig warm.
  • Diane calls me her buddy.
  • I prefer my coffee black.
  • "I paint the plaster walls white, except for the little nook under the sloping roof where my bed fits just perfectly. There, I paint the walls and sloping ceiling black." (Meredith Hall, Without a Map. Beacon, 2007)
  • "The widow she cried over me, and called me a poor lost lamb, and she called me a lot of other names, too." (Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 1885)
  • "In some places the process was so intense that clouds of expelled algae turned the water brown and turbid." (Stephen Harrigan, Water and Light: A Diver's Journey to a Coral Reef. Houghton Mifflin, 1992)
  • "Bheema joined Gandhi in his struggle for India's independence and called his father a traitor." (Anita Rau Badami, Tamarind Mem. Viking Penguin, 1996)
  • "While [Patricia Harris] was working at Howard, President John F. Kennedy appointed her chairperson of the National Women's Committee for Civil Rights." (Meta K. Townsend, "Patricia Roberts Harris." Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary, ed. by Susan Ware. Harvard University Press, 2004)

    Object Complements and Adverbs

    • "Be careful not to confuse sentences that look alike. Consider these two sentences:
      He called the man a liar.
      He called the man yesterday.
      Man is the direct object in both sentences. In the first sentence, liar renames the man, so it is the object complement. In the second sentence, yesterday is an adverb that tells when he called the man. This sentence does not contain an object complement." (Barbara Goldstein, Jack Waugh, and Karen Linsky, Grammar to Go: How It Works and How To Use It, 4th ed. Wadsworth, 2013)

    Verbs With Direct Objects and Object Complements

    • " Object complements characterize or specify the referent of the direct object. Only a few verbs in English (known as complex transitive verbs) can take a direct object and an object complement. In the following examples, the direct object is [in bold] and the object complements are [italicized]: I've painted the picture black; She called me a liar. Object complements are typically adjective phrases and noun phrases. Occasionally, wh-clauses function as object complements: Our childhood experiences have made us what we are." (Michael Pearce, The Routledge Dictionary of English Language Studies. Routledge, 2007)

      Functions of Object Complements

      • "The object complement characterizes the object in the same way as the subject complement characterizes the subject: it identifies, describes, or locates the object (as in We chose Bill as group leader, We consider him a fool, She laid the baby in the crib), expressing either its current state or resulting state (as in They found him in the kitchen vs She made him angry). It is not possible to delete the object complement without either radically changing the meaning of the sentence (e.g. She called him an idiotShe called him) or making the sentence ungrammatical (e.g. He locked his keys in his office ⇒ *He locked his keys). Note that BE or some other copula verb can often be inserted between the direct object and the object complement (e.g. I consider him to be a fool, We chose Bill to be group leader, They found him to be in the kitchen)." (Laurel J. Brinton and Donna M. Brinton, The Linguistic Structure of Modern English. John Benjamins, 2010)

        Agreement With Object Complements

        • "There is typically number agreement between the Direct Object and the Nominal Group realising the Object Complement, as in:
          Circumstances have made the brothers enemies
          But there are occasional exceptions, [notably with] expressions of size, shape, colour, height, etc. . . .:
          You haven't made the sleeves the same length."
          (Angela Downing and Philip Locke, A University Course in English Grammar, 2nd ed. Routledge, 2002)