In grammar, a modifier (or qualifier) is an optional element in phrase structure or clause structure; the removal of the modifier typically doesn’t affect the grammaticality of the construction. Modifiers can be a word, a phrase or an entire clause. Semantically, modifiers describe and provide more accurate definitional meaning for another element.
In English, adverbs and adjectives prototypically function as modifiers, but they also have other functions. Moreover, other constituents can function as modifiers as the following examples show (the modifiers are in bold):
- [Put it gently in the drawer]. (adverb in verb phrase)
- She set it down [very gently]. (adverb in adverb phrase)
- He was [very gentle]. (adverb in adjective phrase)
- [Even more] people were there. (adverb in determiner phrase)
- It ran [right up the tree]. (adverb in prepositional phrase)
- It was [a nice house]. (adjective in noun phrase)
- His desk was in [the faculty office]. (noun in noun phrase)
- [The swiftly flowing waters] carried it away. (verb phrase in noun phrase)
- I saw [the man whom we met yesterday]. (clause in noun phrase)
- She’s [the woman with the hat]. (preposition phrase in noun phrase)
- It’s not [that important]. (determiner in adjective phrase)
- [A few more] workers are needed. (determiner in determiner phrase)
- We’ve already [gone twelve miles]. (noun phrase in verb phrase)
- She’s [two inches taller than I]. (noun phrase in verb adjective phrase)
A premodifier is a modifier placed before the head (the modified component). A postmodifier is a modifier placed after the head, for example:
- land mines (pre-modifier)
- mines in wartime (post-modifier)
- time immemorial (post-modifier)
A few adjectives, borrowed from French, may be postmodifiers, generally with a change in meaning from their premodifier use. An example isproper:
- They live in a proper town (in a real town)
- They live in the proper town (in the town that’s right for them)
- They live in the town proper (in the town itself)
THEN, WHAT’S COMPLEMENTS?
Both complements and modifiers add to the meaning of a sentence. However, a complement is necessary to complete a sentence; a modifier is not. For example, “Put the bread on the table” needs “on the table” to make it complete. In most dialects of English, you cannot merely put something; you need to put it somewhere. In this context, the phrase “on the table” is a complement. By contrast, “The bread on the table is fresh.” does not require “on the table” to be complete, so here, the phrase “on the table” is a modifier. A modifier, unlike a complement, is an optional element of a sentence.
In linguistics, complement refers only to the predicative complement. A predicative complement is the complement that is predicated by a predicate. A predicate is the completer of a sentence; a predicator (verb) + complement. The term predicate complement refers to the fact that the predication depends on the attribution of a subject and its predicator (a verb, verb string, or compound verb). The predicative complement consists of few contrasting varieties:
- Object complement (common complement)
- Predicative nominal (noun,nominal,pronominal; common in SUB or OBJ complement)
- Predicative adjective (or adjectival, common in subject complement)
- Predicative adverb (or adverbial, common in intransitive predication)
- Predicative adjunct (optional complement)….
A subject complement tells more about the subject by means of the verb. In the examples below the sentence elements are (SUBJECT + VERB + COMPLEMENT)
Mr. Johnson is a management consultant. (a predicative nominative)
She looks ill. (a predicative adjective)
Objective predicative complements
An object complement tells us more about the object by means of the verb. In the examples below the sentence elements are (SUBJECT + VERB + OBJECT + COMPLEMENT). Object complements can often be removed leaving a well-formed sentence, thus the use of the term complement is slightly illogical.
We elected him chairman. (a predicative nominal)
We painted the house red. (a predicative adjective)
An object complement can be a noun, pronoun, or adjective that follows and modifies a direct object. It can describe, clarify, re-name, or show completion of a process. It is most often used with verbs involving judgement, nomination, or creation.
My son painted his room blue. (Blue modifies the direct object room.)
The class elected the smallest boy President. (President modifies boy and shows the result of the election.)
The clown made the children very excited. (The participle excited describes children.)
It can be confused with subject complements (predicate nominatives or predicate adjectives).
- For example:
The waitress seems grumpy. (Grumpy is a subject complement modifying the subject, waitress.)
I consider the waitress grumpy. (Grumpy modifies the direct object, waitress.)
Adverbials as complements
Adverbials, central to the meaning of a sentence, are usually adjuncts (i.e. they can be removed and a well-formed sentence remains). If, however, an adverbial is a necessary sentence element, then it is an adverbial complement. Adverbial complements often occur with a form of the copula be acting as a clause’s main verb. The structure of the sentence below is (SUBJECT + VERB + ADVERBIAL COMPLEMENT)
John is in the garden.
Unlike a relative clause, which is only part of an argument, a complement clause is itself an argument, i.e. a subject (S/A) or an object (O/E). There are several criteria to distinguish between relative and complement clauses, for example passivization, topicalization, coordination and interrogation.
An example of a complement clause is “that she is beautiful” in the following sentence, that acting as a complementizer:
I know that she is beautiful.[2