Adjective Complements

Adjective phrases

I read about both of them, but what's the basic difference between them? It's too confusing.

Edit:I have completely understood prepositional phrases:adjective phrase and adverb phrase. In adjective complement, an eg - of spiders, seems to me that it is indeed an adverb phrase.

  • 1
    I think it would help respondents if you include a summary of what you understood about each one, or what you think you understood.
    – Em.
    Commented Jul 31, 2016 at 8:31
  • A minor edit only for you
    – Anubhav
    Commented Jul 31, 2016 at 8:35
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    @AnubhavSingh - Try providing an example sentence which you have difficulty in analyzing. I know it is confusing, especially when you also see mention of the adjective complement phrase! Commented Jul 31, 2016 at 8:35
  • If you mean the "Are you afraid of spiders?" example (link #1), "of spiders" is a prepositional phrase modifying the adjective "afraid". No confusion about the two at all: the first describes a noun or pronoun and the second modifies an adjective or adds to the meaning of the adjective. The answer is where the links lead -- quite clearly explained.
    – Victor B.
    Commented Jul 31, 2016 at 9:33
  • It's hard to be sure without more context, but I think that "adjective complement" and "adjective phrase" do not contrast with each other. "Adjective complement" is one particular case (use) of an "adjective phrase".
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jul 31, 2016 at 9:51

2 Answers 2


The difference between adjective complements and adjective phrases depends on the difference between the parts of a clause and the parts of speech. 

We use the phrase "parts of speech" to refer to the nature of words.  Parts of speech include things like nouns, prepositions, adverbs and adjectives.  We can apply the same labels to units that are larger than a single word -- meaning that noun phrases, prepositional phrases*, adverb phrases and adjective phrases are all labels that refer to collections of words that act as a single grammatical unit and that fulfill the same functions as the individual words.  An adjective phrase is a phrase that contains an adjective and that can do the same job as an adjective on its own. 

We use the phrase "parts of a clause" (or, more traditionally, "parts of a sentence") to refer to the ways that words and phrases relate to each other -- to the jobs that words and phrases have.  Parts of a clause include things like subjects, direct & indirect objects, and complements. 

An adjective complement is an adjective (or an adjective phrase) that fulfills the job of a complement. 

Consider the following: 

He is a very happy man. 
That man is very happy
His hobbies make him very happy

In every one of the sentences above, the phrase "very happy" is an adjective phrase.  The adverb "very" modifies the adjective "happy", and the two words together can do the same jobs that the adjective "happy" can do on its own. 

In the first sentence, "very happy" directly modifies the noun "man", and it is part of the noun phrase "a very happy man".  In turn, "a very happy man" is a part of the clause, specifically a predicate nominative subject complement. 

In the second sentence, "very happy" has a different job. Instead of being a part of a noun phrase, it is the part of the clause that we call a predicate adjective subject complement. 

In the third sentence, we can see another example of an adjective complement.  This time, "very happy" serves as a predicate adjective object complement. 

The label "adjective complement" applies to both predicate adjective subject complements and predicate adjective object complements.  It applies to both one-word adjectives and to adjective phrases -- no matter how long or involved the adjective phrase may be. 

When we talk about adjective phrases, we're talking about the nature of the phrase or the way the phrase is built.  When we talk about complements, we're talking about the way that something fits into its clause or the job that some word or phrase satisfies. 

When we talk about adjective complements, we're mentioning both the nature of the word or phrase and the kind of job it performs. 



* Prepositional phrases are a special case.  Prepositional phrases consist of prepositions and their arguments.  Unless we expand this discussion to include intransitive prepositions, it doesn't make much sense to say that prepositional phrases do the same jobs as prepositions on their own.  For a similar reason, we can avoid the complexities and confusion of the label "verb phrase".


Although this question has an accepted answer, I believe it deserves a better one.

When Gary mentions "predicate adjective subject complement" (quite a mouthful!), he is referring to what the article on yourdictionary.com simply calls a subject complement. It is given in that article as an example of other kinds of complements. The main point of the article is something different.

An adjective phrase is a phrase governed by an adjective. An adjective complement, as the article describes it is a phrase or clause that complements the adjective. So actually an adjective complement lives inside of an adjective phrase.

Here is an attempt at a diagram to show the structure, although some people might organize some things a little differently.

|                  adjective phrase                  |
|[ optional adverb ][adjective [optional complement]]|

That is supposed to show how the adjective phrase encompasses everything while the adjective complement is nestled in there as a "child" of the adjective itself.

English examples:

I am [[very] [happy [about this news]]].

They were [[unusually] [rude [to him]]].

The largest bracketed section is functioning as a subject complement, yes. It's nature, as Gary put it, is that it is an adjective phrase. The smallest bracketed region is the adjective complement — the complement to the adjective, in other words. That is its function. By nature these two example use prepositional phrases, which is very often the case, though you could also have things such as complement clauses, as in "I wasn't aware [that you were coming]."

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