Complements

Aw shucks, you’re just saying that. No, wait, we’re talking about complEments, not compliments. But hey, I still think you’re gorgeous.

A complement is just an adverbial, but even more special. An adverbial becomes a complement if it is necessary in order to make the verb – and the sentence as a whole – make sense. You can figure out whether or not an adverbial is a complement by taking it out of the sentence and seeing whether the basic meaning is still there. For example:

Ich backe heute morgen einen leckeren Kuchen.

‘Heute morgen’ isn’t a complement here because either way, ‘Ich backe einen Kuchen’ makes sense and you’re baking that cake today either which way, so we won’t notice much about when you do it as long as we can stuff our faces at teatime.

Ich singe in der Dusche.

‘In der Dusche’ is a complement, because saying ‘I sing’ is very different in meaning to ‘I sing in the shower.’ Maybe you never sing unless you’re in the shower. ‘I sing’ doesn’t give us that kind of deep psychological insight.

Ich gehe gerne in den Bergen wandern.

Here, we have two adverbials, ‘gerne’ and ‘in den Bergen’. ‘Gerne’ is not a complement because it just adds colour to the sentence ‘I (like to) go hiking in the mountains’ but it’s not necessary for us to make sense of the sentence. ‘In den Bergen’ is a complement because it’s an important part of the whole sentence’s meaning; if you take it away, the sentence suggests that you like going hiking anywhere, maybe even in car parks or the depths of Mordor.

Let’s face it, this is all rather vague and it’s often impossible to determine beyond doubt whether or not an adverbial counts as a complement or not. Usually, it’s also not that important, as it only makes a difference in certain word order issues. Just keep an eye out, because we’ll talk about this in a later, more advanced lesson.

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