C is for… Complements and Compliments: So What? Who Cares?
My theme for 2013: Writing PLUS Grammar You Can See
A strong knowledge of grammar helps writers produce more effective writing; more effective writing improves communication.
Each post will feature one aspect of writing with a grammar connection. Most posts will include a “So What? Who Cares?” section and a “Goals/Suggestions” section. The goals won’t be to just write more; anyone can do that. The goal will be to write better.
Along the way, I plan to throw in a cat or two. Sorry, they just have a way of sneaking into my blogs.
C is for Complements and Compliments: So What? Who Cares?
Complements and compliments often get mixed up in writing; in fact, these two words are on many common error in writing lists. This is a usage problem, not a grammar problem. Personally, I prefer compliments, but complements can be very effective in writing when used wisely.
Usage: complement and compliment
Usage is the customary way we use words in Standard Written English. Unfortunately, we sometimes switch words that sound alike but have different spellings and meanings. Complement and compliment are two of these commonly confused words. The chart below summarizes definitions, examples, and memory tricks to help avoid this mix-up.
Everyone loves compliments, but the word compliment is not a grammatical term, so we can drop that word from our discussion. Complement, on the other hand, is a much more functional term. It is a grammatical term, and it has the power to improve your writing skills.
A complement is a word or group of words that, with the verb, complete the structure and meaning in the predicate of a sentence. (Webster’s) Complements take two forms: predicate nouns and predicate adjectives. Both give more information about the subject of the sentence. Both fall in a common sentence pattern: S + LV + C.
Just as little children learn language patterns through listening and speaking without ever learning the grammatical terminology, we have learned about subject complements without having to memorize the terms.
So What? Who Cares?
You already know about complements intuitively from using our language for so many years, so why bother to review this? Why? Because complements affect style in writing, and style sets you apart from other writers.
Everyone learns about basic sentence structure in the elementary grades. Even with snow days, field trips, bomb scares, and tie-dying days thrown in to interrupt the teaching schedules, everyone seems to learn about the basic sentence types: simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex. Students and writers use these types of sentences in their writing without even thinking about the terms. Yet those writers who do know these terms and how they function learn to manipulate their sentence structure and vocabulary to have a stronger impact on their readers. Here is how you can do this, too.
1. Count your izzes and wazzes, then exchange these weak verbs for stronger ones.
Complements require the use of linking verbs, thus these verbs become very repetitive. Because they are so overused, they are weak. Count how many times you use linking verbs in your sentences, and you will discover an opportunity to sharpen your writing.
Mr. Terry hikes on the Appalachian Trail even when a blizzard swirls around him.
2. Choose more specific adjectives. Add specific detail.
“Show, don’t tell” is a common piece of advice for writers. When we replace weak adjectives with stronger verbs and add more specific detail, we strengthen our writing.
Mr. Terry is tired. He is stumbling through the deep snow.
Mr. Terry trudges through the deep snow of the Appalachian Trail, moving only a few yards before he has to rest on his walking poles.
3. Introduce word pairs and trios in place of vague adjectives and try them in different places.
Mr. Terry is tired.
Mr. Terry is stumbling through the snow, breathing heavily, and mumbling to himself. He is panicking because the storm has intensified, and he cannot see the next trail marker.
Stumbling through the snow, breathing heavily, and mumbling to himself, Mr. Terry panics when he can’t locate the next trail marker.
4. Use comparisons: similes and metaphors.
Initially students write common comparisons, but we can encourage them to use original comparisons.
Mr. Terry is as tired as an old man after working all day.
Mr. Terry feels as tired as a hiker on Mount Everest without a Sherpa to carry his overstuffed backpack.
Feeling as tired as a hiker on Mount Everest without a Sherpa to carry his overstuffed backpack, Mr. Terry falls into a deep sleep in a mountain shelter near the trail.
Half the fun of writing is manipulating words and sentences to make them more interesting. Have fun with complements. I’m sure you’ll do a good job. That’s a compliment!
The Last Meow
Writers and cats go together like chocolate and peanuts. Here’s a link to a post I wrote last year entitled, Cat-A-Log of Cat Crimes against Writers. You might enjoy reading about these crime perpetuators. https://janiceheck.wordpress.com/2012/04/03/a-to-z-c-is-for-cat-a-log-of-cat-crimes-against-writers/
Alison at alisonamazed likes kitties, too. Her post has a neat video of a cat leading a dog on a leash back to their home.