KISS Level 1.3. Identifying Complements
(PA, PN, IO, DO)
| KISS Level 1.3 may be the "make
or break" point in using the KISS Approach because (unlike most pedagogical
grammars) it introduces students to procedures -- short sequences of questions
-- that they should use to identify the types of complements (predicate
adjectives, predicate nouns, indirect and direct objects). Many students
refuse to do this, but if they do not learn how to use sequences
of questions to analyze sentences, they will have major problems not only
with most of KISS Grammar, but also with math and many other subjects,
including the writing process. For more on this, see "Emphasizing
the Analytical Process," below.
for Teachers - The Grammarians' Secret
the Analytical Process
Complements, Exercises 1 (a - d)
|A Focus on Predicate Adjectives,
|A Focus on Predicate Nouns,
|A Focus on
Direct Objects, Exercise 4
|A Focus on Indirect Objects,
|A Focus on the Zero Complement,
as Subjects or Complements, Exercise 7
or Part of the Verb?, Exercise 8
Sentences with Complements, Exercise 9
Passage for Analysis, Exercise 10
for Fun - Mixed Complements, Exercise 11
for Teachers - The Grammarians' Secret
Once students can identify most subjects and
finite verbs in a sentence, the next step is to add complements.
very simply, is whatever answers the questions “Whom?” or “What?” after
a verb. As noted in the discussion of KISS differences, KISS offers
the S/V/C pattern as the basis of a sentence rather than the traditional
“subject and predicate.” (See "The Differences
between KISS and Traditional Terms" in the Background
Essays.) Traditional grammar books rarely enable students to analyze
complicated sentences because they basically ignore complements. Thus they
cannot give students an essential, invariable guideline—the complement
of one verb can never be the subject of another verb. As you will see as
you get into the analysis of complicated sentences, this guideline is extremely
Distinguishing the Types of Complements—The
Traditionally, grammarians have focused on
categorizing words, not on analyzing sentences. Because verbs are so central
to the language, the grammarians have given them a lot of attention. One
of the things they have done is to put them into three categories—transitive,
intransitive, and “linking.” Following the grammarians, the textbooks have
uselessly tortured students with definitions of “transitive” and
“intransitive,” and with lists of “linking” verbs. I say “uselessly” because
most college Freshmen cannot identify a verb in the first place, and because
even many teachers find the categories to be confusing. (I’m thinking of
the teacher on NCTE-Talk who advocated the teaching of grammar and asked
why we no longer teach “transient” and “intransient” verbs.) KISS skips
this whole problem by simply using the methods that the grammarians used
to derive the three categories in the first place.
Gerald wanted Bill to leave.
Students will clearly see that the answer to the question “Gerald wanted
what?” is “Bill to leave,” but “Bill to leave” is not a simple complement.
Thus they will be confused. Similarly, they will be confused by clauses:
Geraldine hoped that Sunday would come soon.
When they first start exploring for complements, students will be looking
for single words. The clause will confuse them.
Grammarians noted that some verbs take indirect
and/or direct objects -- Our cat brought us (IO) a mouse (DO). They
named these verbs “transitive.” They also noted that some verbs are not
followed by words that answer the questions “Whom?” or “What?” (She runs
every day.) They named these verbs “intransitive.” And they noted that
some verbs take predicate nouns or predicate adjectives. (She is a teacher
(PN). She is smart (PA).) They categorized these verbs as “linking.” Because
most grammar textbooks do not teach students to identify complements in
the first place, they cannot use this method for teaching the three categories
of verbs. But KISS does, and thus KISS can.
The three categories of verbs are more important
as vocabulary words than they are as analytical tools, so KISS basically
ignores them, opting for the sentence patterns instead. But if you do want
to teach students the differences among transitive, intransitive, and linking
verbs, begin with the normal KISS process for distinguishing complements,
and then give the students the information in the preceding paragraph.
Distinguishing the types of complements is
not really necessary in order to understand the syntactic connections in
a sentence. It is, however, very important for helping students understand
the logic of sentence structure. Most important of all is an understanding
of predicate nouns. A predicate noun in some way equals the subject. (That
is how KISS teaches it. See the instructional material.) Students, however,
often use the pattern improperly. One student, for a simple example, wrote,
“The practice room is the only time I can get away.” But a room is not
a time. Thus the primary reason for having students distinguish the types
of complements is to help them keep the logic of their writing clear.
I might note, by the way, that S/V/PN patterns
are also the expected beginning sentences of formal definitions. In upper
level courses, some students lose a lot of credit because, when asked to
define a term, they will explain what it does, where it is, why it works,
but they never give the instructor the required information regarding what
If you are working with randomly selected
texts, tell students that there are some complements that you expect them
to miss. Among these are infinitive phrases:
I would strongly suggest that you not try
to teach them infinitives, clauses, etc. at this point. If you do, you
will be following in the footsteps of most grammar textbooks—trying to
teach everything at once and effectively teaching nothing. On the other
side of the question, students should be expected to identify all of the
single-word complements in any sentence:
(DO) in the morning, tennis (DO)
in the afternoon, and soccer (DO) in
Technically, such compounding is the focus of KISS Level 1.4, but most
students should have little trouble with the underlying idea, even though
they may not remember the term "compound" at this point.
Emphasizing the Analytical
Teaching Students How to Think Better
Many students strongly resist learning to use
an instructional sequence -- a set series of questions -- to arrive at
the answer to a problem. This has been noted by Arthur Whimbey in Blueprint
for Educational Change, by Jane Healy in Endangered Minds, and
by many others. Failure to master the very idea of using a process to figure
out the answer to a problem accounts in large part for the problems that
students have with math. (Remember how math teachers typically insist that
students "show their work"?) As Art Whimbey notes, "strong" students break
any task down into steps; "weak" students think that one either knows the
answer or one does not.
In Endangered Minds:
Why Children Don't Think--and What We Can Do About It, Jane Healy discusses
the following question (p. 189):
As the figure notes, "Only 6.4% of the 17-year-olds
could solve multi-step problems like this one."
The point here is that
simply understanding the importance of solving multi-step problems is a
foundation stone of a good education. In some cases, as in math and in
KISS Grammar, students can actually be given the specific series of steps.
Note that in the math problem above, however, that students have to figure
it out for themselves. By giving students the specific steps, and by forcing
students to learn and use those steps, KISS can both make such problems
easier and help students understand the importance of using steps to solve
In the teaching of writing, "the writing process"
has been a major focus for the last two decades. Most weak writers believe
that writing a paper is a one-shot deal. One simple sits down and writes
it. Good writers, however, know that good writing requires a process --
brainstorming, tentative outlining, drafting, revising, perhaps more brainstorming,
revising again, and finally editing. It is, however, one thing to "teach"
the process; getting students to use it is something entirely different.
Some of my college Freshmen have explained
that resistance to process results from laziness, irresponsibility, or
the distraction of too many college parties. Some educators have argued
that our educational system itself reinforces the belief in facts -- the
"right" answers. Perhaps many students logically use this focus on facts
to justify their resistance to learning a process. After all, if the answers
are what are important, why waste time and effort learning a process? A
process is not an answer.
I have belabored this point because in KISS
Level 1.2, students should be encouraged to learn the first of several
processes (sets of steps) that make grammar much easier to understand.
If, in other words, you can convince students to learn and use these steps,
you may be able to convince them that other processes (in math, writing,
etc.) can also be very useful. In still other words, you may be able to
teach students how to think better.
As noted above, KISS Level 1.3 is the
first of many KISS Levels that really depend on students learning how to
use a multi-step approach to getting the "right" answer. In fact, this
level includes two steps, the second of which itself is a series of steps.
The first step is to identify complements as complements. To identify complements,
students need to memorize and learn to use the following:
To find a complement of a verb, ask the question "whom
or what?" after the verb.
Note that the question must be "whom or what?" Other questions, such as
"how?" "when?" "where?" or "why?" will identify adverbs, but not complements.
The second step is to identify the types of
the complements. The instructional material for students includes some
examples, but the sequence itself is:
1. If nothing answers the question "Verb + whom or what?",
the pattern is S/V. [STOP: You have your answer.]
Remember that "complement" is simply one word which can be used instead
of repeating the five possibilities: Zero Complement, Predicate Adjective,
Predicate Noun, Indirect and/or Direct Object. Note too that the sequence
is an exercise in Boolean logic that can also be illustrated as a flow
2. If the word that answers the question describes the subject, the
pattern is S/V/PA. [STOP: You have your answer.]
3. If the word that answers the question is a noun (or pronoun) that
renames the subject and the verb implies an equality or identity between
subject and complement, the pattern is S/V/PN. [STOP:
You have your answer.]
4. If a word or construction answers the question is not a predicate
noun or predicate adjective, it has to be an indirect or direct object.
An indirect object indicates the person "for" or "to" whom something is
done. [STOP: You have your answer.]
5. Any other complement has to be a direct object.
Ideally students should start by studying the
instructional materials for both identifying complements and for identifying
their type. Personally, I would not ask students to memorize the instructional
material before they start doing exercises. Simply let them use the instructional
material as they do the first few exercises -- most students will probably
absorb the sequence in this way. At some point, however, you may
want to give a quiz to see if they have it. The answers to such a quiz
can be "short-hand" -- "describes subject = PA" etc.
Because some students have trouble both with
multi-step procedures and with limiting the question for a complement to
"whom or what?" you may want to separate instruction into two parts.
Thus, you can have the students simply label complements as "C" in a few
exercises. Once students are fairly comfortable with identifying complements
as complements, give them the sequence for identifying the types of complements.
In either case, you will probably find that
all students will learn faster if you review two or three exercises in
class. Indeed, some students will not learn to use the procedure unless
you use it to review some exercises in class. Many students also like to
use the KISS Grammar Game. (See "An Overview
of the Types of KISS Exercises," in the Background
Impress upon students the importance
of working systematically. Systematic thinking is another skill that many
students lack. Students should first find the verb, then the subject(s)
of that verb, then any complements for that verb. Then they should check
for any other verbs in the sentence. If there is one, they should underline
it, find its subject(s) and its complement(s). If there are none, they
should go on to the next sentence. (Once they add prepositional phrases
to their analytical toolboxes, students should begin by finding all the
prepositional phrases in a sentence first, and then the verb/subject/complement
A systematic approach to one’s task is a key
characteristic of good thinking. It will also make it much easier to understand
sentence structure. If you do not emphasize systematic thinking, you will
find that many students will underline a verb here, a subject three sentences
further into the text, etc. In essence, they will be looking to identify
individual words rather than patterns. Pattern recognition is another major
skill of good thinkers. Don't forget to remind the students that there
are mistakes that they are expected to make at this level.
Another Problem — Predicate Adjective or Part
of the Verb Phrase?
If you have students analyze randomly selected
texts, including samples of their own writing, you will run into another
problem that is rarely, if ever, discussed in grammar textbooks. Consider
the following two sentences:
1. He was worried about the game.
In (1), “worried” describes the emotional state of “He” more than it denotes
any particular action. But in (2), “were defeated” denotes a specific action
performed by the Patriots. Thus some grammarians would consider “worried”
a predicate adjective, whereas “were defeated” should be considered as
a finite verb in the passive voice.
2. The Eagles were defeated by the Patriots.
In effect, the two constructions, S/V/PA and
passive voice slide into each other, and thus how you should explain it
depends on how you interpret the sentence. Passive voice is, I should note,
an “advanced” question (KISS Level 5.7).
But at Level 1.2, the problem is that some students will mark both “worried”
and “defeated” as predicate adjectives. At this level, therefore, I would
gently nudge students toward considering these predicate adjectives that
are based on verbs to all be part of the finite verb. Once students learn
about passive voice, they can begin to deal with the “passive voice or
predicate adjective” problem. (This is, you may have noted, another application
of Jerome Bruner's concept of the "spiral curriculum.")
The Sequence of the Exercises
in KISS Level 1.3
Exercise One (a-d) present students
with sentences that have a mix of complements. If you can get students
to remember and use the analytical process, you should be able to skip
two through six, each of which focuses on a specific type of complement.
Exercise seven ("Verbs as Subjects
or Complements") introduces students to relatively simple sentences such
as "Swimming is good exercise." or "They like hiking." Technically, "Swimming"
and "hiking" are verbals (verbs that function as nouns, adjectives, or
adverbs), but students do not need to know that yet. (Distinguishing finite
verbs from verbals is the focus of KISS
Level 2.1.6.) But even very young students, if they analyze their own
writing, will run across sentences in which a verbal functions as a subject
or a complement. Thus the purpose of this exercise is to introduce the
idea. In sentences such as "Swimming is good exercise," most students will
automatically guess that "Swimming" is the subject. Thus this exercise
simply confirms that they are right.
Exercise eight is on the "predicate
adjective or part of the verb" problem. Nine invites students to
write sentences using various types of complements. Ten presents
a passage for analysis (as opposed to isolated sentences). Eleven
is a "Just for Fun" practice exercise.
Remember that the on-line section for this
KISS Level includes additional exercises (most of which are used in other
grade-level books). Another excellent way of teaching students is to have
them make similar exercises for their classmates, preferably based on what
they are reading. Finally, to end this KISS Level, have students analyze
a short passage of their own writing.
the Analytical Process
[For teachers and parents]
| The following exercises include detailed,
lengthy, and very repetitive analysis keys. These keys illustrate that
the very repetitiveness of the process should make it automatic for students.
These exercises take the analysis through clauses so that teachers can
see, and explain to their students, how the identification of the words
in S/V/C patterns makes the identification of clauses much easier.
||From "The Fishhawk,"
|Identifying Complements as Just Complements
|Identifying the Types of Complements
2 - A Focus on Predicate Adjectives
3 - A Focus on Predicate Nouns
4 - A Focus on Direct Objects
5 - A Focus on Indirect Objects
6 - A Focus on the Zero Complement
| This exercise is here because some of my students
don't realize that a zero compplement still creates an S/V/C "pattern."
8 - Predicate Adjective or Part of the Verb?
9 - Writing Sentences with Complements
|Right now, the same exercise is in every grade level.
10 - A Passage for Analysis
11 - Just for Fun - Mixed Complements