Complements seem to be a popular topic among learners on my forum lately. One question already led to a new Student Stumper post here on my blog. Now another one is guiding my own study of what forms complements can take and how they function in a sentence.
A learner asked if nouns can behave like adverbs and posted, “We could have parted friends.” Obviously, part is not a transitive verb in this example, so what function does friends serve? I hope you’ll agree that could have parted is linking the subject and its complement. I don’t see the noun as an adverb, as the learner assumed, but instead friends identifies we. Correct? The verb part is not as common as become or remain, but all three verbs can function in the same position for the same basic purpose.
I found it helpful to review the presentation of copular (linking) verbs given by Biber, Conrad, and Leech (141). They conveniently identify “current” and “result” copular verbs, breaking it down further into verbs that express a state of existence, verbs used for sensory perception, and verbs that identify a result. With these functions clearly in mind, it becomes easier to understand sentences, such as, “We parted friends.” In that example, I see the friendship as a result of some experience or process. I can then identify friends as a subject complement.
Perhaps your students will find it helpful to approach copular verbs and complements through their function as well. To make it even easier, I’ve created a context for all three kinds of copular verbs. Please take a look at my Chain of Events_handout, and see how this reading activity familiarizes learners with the functions of copular verbs and the kinds of complements they can appear with. This simple story about a woman finding a lost kitten is written in the style of those choose-your-own-adventure books many of us read as kids. Enjoy!
Biber D. et al. (2002). Longman student grammar of spoken and written English. Essex: Pearson Education Limited.