Difference Between Complement and Adverbial

A Complement and an adverbial are often confused with each other due to some essential similarities. Interestingly, both Complement and Adverbial are describing words, that explain more about the object or verb in question, however, the primary difference lies in the role they play in completing a sentence.

Complement vs Adverbial

The main difference between Complement and Adverbial is that a Complement is essential to complete a sentence, while an adverbial simple provides extra information about the verb.

Complement vs Adverbial

A compliment is segment for the predicate without which a sentence is grammatically incomplete and meaningless. An Adverbial, on the other hand, is a phrase that provides extra information about the verb or the subject in question.

The presence of an adverbial may change the meaning of the sentence, nevertheless, its absence of an adverbial phrase does not render a sentence meaningless.


Comparison Table Between Complement and Adverbial (in Tabular Form)

Parameter of ComparisonComplementAdverbial
DefinitionA word or a phrase essential to provide meaning to a sentence.A major clause constituent in a sentence, providing additional details, usually expressing place time manner.
Structural ImportanceStructurally IndispensableStructurally Dispensible
RoleImpart meaning to the expressionImpact the meaning of the expression, but not always necessary
AssociationThey can be associated with both noun and linking verbsThey are usually associated with verbs, hence they are functionally adverbs.
CategoriesThere are two types of complement namely- Subject Complements and Object Complements.Adverbials can be divided into multiple classes.


What is Complement?

Etymologically, the word complement is derived from a Latin word which means to complete, which further explains its linguistic role in modern English language. In simple terms, a Complement is a word or a group of words that is or are essential in completing a sentence.

So, at anytime a word or a group of words that can be categorised as essential in imparting meaning to the predicate in a sentence are called the ‘Complement’. The absence of Complement would render a sentence meaningless, making them structurally indispensable.

Take a look at the following sentences;

  1. John is hungry
  2. The food smells great

In the above sentences, the phrases ‘Hungry’ and ‘smells great’ play a fundamental role in describing the expression. They also play an essential role in imparting complete meaning to the expression and in the absence of the complement, the sentence would become meaningless.

It is understood that the above sentences would be meaningless in the absence of the above-mentioned complements. Complements can be broadly categorised into two categories;

Object Complement and Subject Complement

  1. Object Complement– Holistically speaking, Object complement elaborates upon the transitive verb, with the primary focus on the object.

The easiest way to spot an object complement is that it will provide information pertaining to the object of the sentence. In a sentence, the object is the person, place or matter that is associated with the verb.

Example- The ballet performance rendered Srikant quite drowsy.

In this case, the phrase ‘quite drowsy’ is the complement to the object in question that is Srikant.

Object complements usually follow a linking verb, such as is, makes, feels etc. Yet, comprehensively speaking, they always describe the state of the object in question,

  1. Subject Complement – Subject complement, on the other hand, elaborate upon the subject by complementing an intransitive verb

The focal point of a sentence is the subject. It included the person, place or matter the expression is talking about.

Structurally, a subject complement can be a noun, an adjective or even a group of words that function as any of the above.

Subject complements can be identified in two broad categories;

  • Predicate Normatives– Complements that effectively replace the subject in the sentence with a noun.


  1. She is a writer.
  2.  She will be the President.
  •     Predicate Adjectives– Complements that function as an adjective, describing the subject and its qualities.


  1. He appears angry.
  2. our heels look expensive.

What is Adverbial?

The word Adverbial means something that functions as an adverb. It is a word or a group of words that modifies or elaborates the verb in a sentence. Adverbs are technically members of the group called adverbs, however, they might be a group of words or phrases performing a similar function.

Although adverbials might modify the verb, they are structurally disposable in a sentence.

For example-

  1. He ran across the field towards the batsman. (explains the verb ‘ran)
  2. The fireworks exploded with a loud bang. (explains the nature of the verb ‘explosion’)
  3. The author wrote the story very well.  (describes the verb ‘wrote’)

Adverbials are optional segments of the sentence. They usually provide extra information about the verb in the sentence like in the above-mentioned examples.

The adverbial class can be categorically divided in terms of;

  1. Manner and Degree – e.g angrily, swiftly, clumsily
  2. Temporal-  e.g. now, today, yesterday
  3. Spatial – e.g here, beyond, across
  4.  Attitudinal-e.g certainly, hopefully
  5.  Modal-e.g not, no, probably
  6. Expectation- e.g only, even, again
  7.  textual adverbials -e.g firstly, finally

Main Differences Between Complement and Adverbial

  1. The key difference between complements and adverbials is that complements are describing words essential to complete the sentence whereas adverbials are a segment of the adverb class, that elaborate the verb in the sentence.
  2. A compliment is structurally indispensable in a sentence, whereas an adverbial is structurally no important in the sentence.
  3. On one hand, a complement imparts meaning to an expression, an adverbial, on the other hand, provides additional information about the primary verb in the sentence usually without changing the essential meaning of the sentence.
  4. Complements can be associated with both nouns and linking verbs, however, adverbials usually function as adverbs, hence are only associated with the verbs.
  5. Complements are divided into two identifiable categories namely, Object complements and Subject complements. Adverbials can be divided into 3 types and further categorised into multiple classes.



Both Complememnst and adverbials are describing words that elaborate upon the predicate of a sentence, however, they perform distinct grammatical functions. One can identify complements from adverbials by checking how the absence of the said word or phrase impacts the meaning of the sentence.

In the absence of a complement, the expression is rendered meaningless, however, if the adverbial is removed, the sentence remains grammatically functional. 


  1. https://dspace.mit.edu/bitstream/handle/1721.1/12971/26082656-MIT.pdf?sequence=2
  2. https://elibrary.ru/item.asp?id=5355354
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