Hi I am English learner. Recently, I have a question.

There is a sentence:

He was selected chairman.

On this passive form, I think the word selected is a subject complement. Therefore, He is subject and was is verb and selected is complement and chairman is complement as well.

Can we have two subject complements in one sentence?

On the other hand, Some people say that He is subject and was selected is verb and chairman is complement. But I don't agree this idea. Because I think that 'Was' is only verb and 'Selected' is complement.

FYI, someone say that selected chairman is adjective phrase. What do you think that idea? I searched this information in my country web but I couldn't find the information satisfying. Please help me out. Thank you

  • 1
    Welcome to the English Language Learners StackExchange! Thank you for setting out your question clearly with your thoughts on the matter and being specific about what you are trying to understand.
    – SamBC
    Commented Feb 23, 2019 at 13:48
  • He was selected [x] is a passive construction. We selected him as the winner. He was selected the winner [by us].
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 23, 2019 at 14:50

3 Answers 3


He was selected chairman.

The verb "selected" is part of a complement.

Here, "was" is the matrix clause predicator, which has the subordinate past-participial clause "selected chairman" as its complement. Within the complement clause, "chairman" is subject complement.

Note 1: A matrix clause is a clause within which a subordinate clause is embedded, e.g. in "I think she said he was ill", the matrix clause is "She said he was ill" in which the subordinate clause "he was ill" is embedded.

Note 2. "Selected" cannot be an adjective for several reasons: (1) It can’t be modified by “very”, like most adjectives can; (2) It can’t occur as complement to complex-intransitive verbs like become (we can’t say *"It became quite selected"); (3) It can’t occur as complement to complex-transitive verbs like "find" (we can't say *"I found it quite selected").

The range of expressions that can occur as pre-head modifier to a noun is very large and varied: we don't want to call them all adjectives. "Selected" has none of the properties of indisputable adjectives and hence cannot belong in that class.

  • I think that interpretation/explanation might be more useful to someone studying English as a linguist, rather than someone trying to learn to use the language. I mean, it's fascinating, and for all I know correct, but you don't hear about matrix clauses much when you're just learning a language for practical purposes.
    – SamBC
    Commented Feb 23, 2019 at 14:47
  • 1
    @SamBC I would say that the OP is pretty much into syntax, and hence should be aware of basic terminology like "matrix clause" (a clause that contains a subordinate clause).
    – BillJ
    Commented Feb 23, 2019 at 14:51

Select is a verb. Selected is both its past participle and its simple past form. The simple past passive is formed with the past tense of to be and the simple past of the verb being passivised. Thus, the simple past passive of "X selects him as chairman" is

He was selected chairman

So, we can see that the principal verb of your example sentence can be selected. Could it also be was?

Was and were are used with other verbs to form the past progressive or the past simple passive. They are also used with adjectives and nouns to show that the adjective or noun applied in the past, and depending on emphasis or context it might or might not still apply now. Selected can be an adjective, but it's not usually applied to a person that way. However, it can be applied to a position:

The chairman of the organisation is a selected position
He is the selected chairman

So there is the possibility of selected not being a verb here. If it were an adjective, it would be modifying chairman, rather than being a complement itself. 'Selected chairman' would become a noun phrase.

However, if that were a noun phrase, chairman would not be a mass (uncountable) noun; it is countable, and so it needs a quantifier or article. Either a or the could be appropriate, depending on circumstance, but as an example:

He was the selected chairman.

Chairman is still a noun in the situation where selected is a verb, but in that case is referring to the position as an abstract, and so it does not require an article.

In neither case is selected a complement. It is either the principal verb, or it is an adjective applied to chairman.

It is possible to make the intention of selected as a verb more explicit with one or more extra words:

He was selected as chairman
He was selected for the role of chairman

Essentially, however, how to parse this depends on context. "At the meeting, he was selected chairman" clearly has selected as the principal verb. It is describing an action that took place at the specified time. In other contexts, it may be otherwise.


Names are set by social conventions. If we called dogs "cats" and cats "dogs," there would be no difference in objective reality or in our understanding of objective reality.

Language about language is a set of naming conventions.

He was selected by them


They selected him

mean exactly the same thing. We traditionally describe the difference in form by saying that the verb in the first sentence is in the passive voice and the verb in the second sentence is in the active voice. That is, the verb in the first voice is a verbal phrase consisting of some form of the verb "be" and a perfect participle.

But, in English, participles can be used as adjectives. So we could describe English without reference to the passive voice by expanding the definition of subject complements instead. There would be nothing illogical in that. It would be just like calling dogs "cats" and cats "dogs." There are, however, two points to note.

If you call dogs "cats" and cats "dogs" and no one else does, you will not be understood by others, nor will you understand others. You are ignoring the social, extra-individual aspect of language.

Furthermore, if you sometimes call dogs "cats" and cats "dogs" and sometimes call dogs "dogs" and cats "cats," you will be apt to confuse yourself and certain to confuse others.

If we chose to describe English by dispensing with the passive voice and by expanding the definition of subject complements, it would make no sense to refer to the passive form of subject complements because "passive" would have no meaning. In the traditional grammar, we analyze

He was selected chairman

as "He" is the subject, "was selected" is a passive verb, and "chairman" is a nominal predicate, a type of subject complement.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .