Grammatical Functions: Adjuncts


So far in this series, all the predicates that have been discussed have been types of complements, but there are also predicates that are not complements. These are known as adjuncts.

Adjuncts vs. complements

Adjuncts are like complements in that both exist within phrases outside of the subject and verb positions. The difference is that complements are very closely linked to the verbs which precede them, and adjuncts are not.

Consider the following phrase:

“We ate ice cream.”

Even though the term ice cream is not required for a full sentence, it is very closely linked to the verb ate. Now consider the sentence with different information given after the verb:

“We ate last night.”

In this sentence, the information given after the verb is less closely connected to the verb and is not as essential to the meaning of the sentence.

But why is ice cream more closely linked than last night to the verb ate? Well, notice how the base phrase, “I ate,” is changed quite drastically by the addition of the noun phrase, ice cream. It gives the reader a much more specific idea of what the verb ate is expressing than the base phrase alone. The addition of last night to the base phrase does not add that much meaning to the verb ate the reader can still easily envision that almost anything is being eaten.

Characteristics of adjuncts

There are several characteristics of adjuncts which distinguish them from complements. The most prominent are listed here.

1) Adjuncts supply inessential information.

The examples above show how an adjunct can be identified by the fact that it is not essential. Adjuncts tend to tell the reader about the ‘where,’ ‘when,’ ‘how,’ and ‘why’ of a verb, whereas complements tend to tell the reader about the more important ‘what’ (though this is not always the case).

2) Adjuncts are usually prepositional phrases or adverb phrases.

Most commonly, adjuncts are found to be prepositional phrases or adverb phrases, because these kinds of phrases tend to give inessential information.

An example of a prepositional phrase acting as an adjunct would be the underlined string of words in the following phrase:

“I went shopping with my wife.”

The underlined phrase in the next sentence is an adverb phrase acting as an adjunct:

“I reluctantly went shopping.”


3) Adjuncts can be shifted relatively freely.

Whereas the complement, shopping, used in the above examples has to come after the verb, the adjuncts can come either before or after the verb.

“With my wife, I went shopping,” and “I went shopping reluctantly,” are both examples of rearranged sentences that still make perfect sense; “I shopping went with my wife,” and “I reluctantly shopping went,” are not correct.

4) Adjuncts can be stacked relatively effortlessly.

Complements, by definition, cannot be stacked. Once you have a sentence with complete meaning, any more information given must be circumstantial and, therefore, an adjunct. You can stack extra circumstantial information onto a sentence, though.

To illustrate, let’s start with a sentence that has a subject, a verb, and a direct object:

“We ate ice cream.”

This sentence can be turned into a longer sentence via the addition of several adjuncts:

After dinner, we promptly ate ice cream at the nearby ice cream parlor.”

This sentence contains three adjuncts: two prepositional phrases (after dinner and at the nearby ice cream parlor) and an adverb phrase (promptly).

Jake Magnum, author of the Magnum Proofreading Tips blog, is dedicated to helping writers perfect their work. In addition to giving free advice on his blog, Jake helps writers by offering very affordable proofreading services at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s