Recently I had to write an application letter, and when my teacher examined it; he marked the following sentence as incorrect (because of the supposedly wrong usage of 'supplement')

I would like to supplement my theoretical knowledge with practical knowledge, in accordance with your motto: 'learning by doing'.

I couldn't find supplement as a verb in my Dutch-English dictionairy, but various sources online say it can also be used as a verb. In this case, was I wrong? And if so, what would be the appropriate verb?


No. It is not wrong.

Supplement (verb /ˈsʌplɪˌmɛnt/)

To provide a supplement to, esp in order to remedy a deficiency

This Google NGram shows that it's use as a verb is reasonably commonplace, and has been for a while:

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To my native-English ears, "supplement my knowledge" sounds entirely valid, and indeed commonplace, particularly for use on a CV, and so I would venture to suggest that your teacher is just straightforwardly wrong.

  • 1
    Guest1337, Your sentence sounds okay to me. Perhaps your teacher thought the word supplement sounds more like diet/vitamin pills? – EnglishLearner Apr 1 '13 at 13:19
  • I don't really see the point of that NGram. Here are a few instances of [the] data supplement [our previous findings], for example, but almost all the instances contributing to your chart will in fact be using the word supplement as a noun (forming part of a compound noun phrase where it's modified by another noun data). – FumbleFingers Apr 1 '13 at 18:28
  • @FumbleFingers: That was the whole point of the NGram. The blue line shows supplement used as a verb. The red line is a base line where it is used as a noun to show that supplement used as a verb is commonplace. – Matt Apr 1 '13 at 21:34
  • @Matt: oic. It might have been better to graph supplemented,a supplement, which unambiguously shows verb and noun forms (and apparently shows that the verb form arose much later, but is now far more common than the noun usage). – FumbleFingers Apr 1 '13 at 21:43
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers: Thanks. I've altered the ngram to use your suggestion. – Matt Apr 1 '13 at 21:49

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