To review, the first step in understanding any sentence, at least in
the English language (and in every other language I've studied), is
to identify the verb or verbs. Ask yourself "What is happening?"
The second step is to find the subject. Ask yourself "who
or what is performing that verb?"
And we’ve seen how to add modifiers like adjective and adverbs
to these simple sentences.
The third major step is to find any verb complements and what type
of verb you have. Verb complements “complete” the
verb. You already know about helping verbs (auxiliaries). The
other three types of verbs are “intransitive,”
“linking,” and “transitive.”
They each have a different type of complement. So to figure out what
kind of verb you have, find the complement, if there is one.
To do this, ask yourself “[subject] [verb] what?”
Anything that answers that question is a verb complement of some kind.
In a diagram, verb complements go on the main line after the verb.
(a) Mr. Smith will arrive tomorrow.
(1) What is happening: WILL ARRIVE – “arrive” is
the main verb, “will” is a helping verb
(2) Who or what will arrive?: MR. SMITH – “Mr. Smith”
is the subject
(3) Mr. Smith will arrive what?: huh? that doesn’t make sense;
there is no answer to the question. So there is no verb complement.
If there is no verb complement, the main verb is an INTRANSITIVE verb.
Intransitive verbs are verbs that stand alone, with no complement.
So in example (a), the verb “arrive” is intransitive.
(b) My brother seems sad today.
(1) What is happening: SEEMS – “seems” is the verb
(2) Who or what seems?: MY BROTHER – “brother” is
the subject, “my” describes him
(3) John seems what?: SAD – “sad” is some kind of
If there is a complement, you need to figure out if the complement
describes or renames the subject. If it does, the verb is a LINKING
verb. Linking verbs “link” the subject and the verb
complement. In example (b), “sad” describes “brother,”
so the verb “seems” is a linking verb. On a diagram, we
show the link by using a line that slants back towards the subject.
“Sad” is an adjective describing the subject, but comes
after the verb (simple predicate). This type of complement is called
a predicate adjective.
(c) My best friend is a lawyer.
(1) What is happening: IS – “is” is the verb
(2) Who or what is?: FRIEND – “friend” is the subject,
“my” and “best” describes her
(3) Friend is what?: LAWYER – “lawyer” is some kind
of verb complement, “a” describes it
In example (c), “lawyer” describes or renames “friend,”
so the verb “is” is a linking verb.
Since “lawyer” is a noun instead of an adjective, it is called
a predicate noun (sometimes called predicate nominative).
Linking verbs are always followed by a predicate noun or predicate adjective.
Common linking verbs:
The most common linking verb is the verb “to be” –
and all its forms: is, am, are, was, were, etc.
Other common linking verbs are: seem, become, appears to be, and sense
verbs like: smells, looks, feels, tastes, sounds
(d) Mary ate spaghetti.
(1) What is happening: ATE – “ate” is the verb
(2) Who or what ate?: MARY – “Mary” is the subject
(3) Mary ate what?: SPAGHETTI – “spaghetti” is some
kind of verb complement
If there is a complement, but it is not linked to the subject, the verb
is TRANSITIVE. Transitive verbs transfer action to the complement.
Since the complement is not related to the subject, the line separating
it from the verb is not slanted back to the subject.
So in example (d), “ate” happened to the “spaghetti,”
and “ate” is a transitive verb. “Spaghetti” is
the object that the verb happens to, and is called the direct object.
Transitive verbs are followed by direct objects.