In French, a sentence has two essential syntactic parts (the subject and the predicate) and may have one or more "complément de phrase", which are optional parts.

"complément de phrase" = "sentence complement" (literal translation)

(Nuances and details could be added to that explanation in an advanced grammar and syntax context, but let's keep it simple.)

I tried looking for the equivalent in English of that syntactic function, the "sentence complement", but grammar sources I found contradict each other and don't define a specific syntactic function, but different sub-fonctions (functions held by grammatical groups within the three main syntactic groups (subject, predicate and "sentence complement"). Maybe I'm only stuck in my French grammar point of view. Therefore, I'll explain the "complément de phrase" so you can tell me what it refers to.

The "complement de phrase" syntactic function is usually held by an adverbial group, a prepositional group, a nominal group or a "subordinated sentence".

  • Adverbial gr. : Very carefully, he opened the cage.
  • prepositional gr. : With all due respect, I must refuse your offer.
  • nominal gr. : I ate cereals this morning.
  • "subordinated sentence" : While he was asleep, someone stole his ring.

Here are the characteristics of a "complément de phrase":

  1. optional/removable

    Very carefully he opened the cage. (Sentence still works = OK)

    While he was asleep someone stole his ring.(Sentence still works = OK)

    X *While he was asleep, someone stole his ring. (Sentence not OK, the predicate is incomplete, so "his ring" is not a "sentence complement", but a direct object complement of the verbe stole.)

    X While he was asleep, someone stole his ring. (Sentence not OK, the predicate is incomplete = "his ring" is not the "a sentence complement", but a direct object complement of the verbe stole.)

  2. movable within the sentence (usually before/after the subject/predicate/other "sentence complement rather than inside them")

    Very carefully, he opened the cage.

    He opened the cage very carefully.

    ? He very carefully opened the cage.

    X/? He opened very carefullly the cage.

  3. "non pronominalisable" = "cannot be replaced by a pronoun" (except for "location complements" that can be replaced by the pronoun "y", but that is probably only specific to French).

    X Very carefully It, I opened the cage. (wrong sentence = Ok, the )

    Very carefully, I opened the cage it. ("The cage" can be substituted with a pronoun, "it", since it is the direct object complement of the verb "opened".)

  4. detachable (can be isolated)

    I ate cereals and that took place this morning Someone stole his ring while he was asleep.

Now that you understand better the "complément de phrase", can you please tell me what is its English equivalent and if there are differences between the French and the English concept?

  • 1
    Most of these seem to be varied adverbials. I'd point out that 'With all due respect, I must refuse your offer.' is very different from 'With all due haste, I packed my bags.' The first uses a pragmatic marker to hedge the statement; in the second, the prepositional phrase is a true adverbial, modifying 'packed'. Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 8:59
  • I have been taught intensive English in decent schools (I am French Canadian). While in French we were taught that sentences are made of three groups (subject, verb, complement), English teachers always mentioned two obligatory groups (subject, verb) and potentially additional things like adverbial and prepositional groups. There wasn't a generic name for them. Interesting considering the English and French languages work in a very similar manner.
    – Domino
    Commented Sep 22, 2015 at 15:21

3 Answers 3


Ok, here's the best I can come up with, although it may not be a perfect match. (I'm a bit confused about your first example from characteristic 4, because English treats the first sentence as two independent clauses joined by a conjunction.)

It appears to me that English distinguishes three kinds of the "complément de phrase" without giving them a common name. The three kinds are adverbs, adverbial clauses, and adverbial phrases. The distinction between the last two is that the clause, while subordinate, has both a subject and predicate, whereas the adverbial phrase lacks at least one of these items.

Many prepositional phrases are also adverbial phrases (e.g. in the town), but I'm not sure whether all of them can be classified as such. For example, prepositional phrases that are used to indicate indirect objects or possession may not be considered adverbial. If such prepositional phrases are not considered to be adverbial, then, adverbial phrases and clauses along with adverbs seem to match the French category of "complément de phrase" pretty well.

With regard to characteristic 3, note that location adverbs and phrases can cometimes be replaced by words like "here" and "there," which function in a way that is similar to a pronoun.

  • In the syntactic theory called "X-Bar Theory" (cool name, that; unfortunately, the Bars are all closed now), these three categories would be called "extensions" of the category Adv and denoted as Advʹ (pronounced "Adverb-Bar", but spelt "Adv-Prime" because the bars were too hard to put into tree diagrams; sic transivit Theoria X-Bar.) All it means is that if it acts like an adverb, it's an adverb; as long as you don't restrict yourself to one-word constituents, that will apply to phrases and clauses too. Commented Sep 18, 2015 at 18:16

I believe they're called adjuncts in linguistics.

Here is a link to the Wikipedia article.

Prima facie, they meet your characteristics. You'll have to wade through the details to see if they match up with the French concept.

  • "Adjunct" is a good, question-begging term. They're all adverbials of one kind or another; what they have in common is an oblique noun phrase (i.e, one with no grammatical relation to the verb). "Adjunct" works, as long as you have enough examples; but note that this is neither standard French terminology nor standard syntactic terminology. Adverbs, like "adjuncts", are dispensable, movable, and vastly variegated; they've always been a wastebasket category, when nothing else would fit. Commented Sep 18, 2015 at 18:10

I am not quite sure, but, in many languages, adverb clauses are optional, movable and non pronominalisable. As it is a clause, then it can be isolated as a meaningful component about on the same level with the Subject Clause, Verb Clause, and Object Clause. The trick here for the adverb is two reasons: 'SVO' can make a sentences, and Adverb Clauses are hard to be misinterpreted as Noun Clauses or Adjective Clauses.

However, I do not know whether there is a concise word to describe all properties that the 'adverb clauses' have.

Somehow, I am not quite sure about 'and that took place this morning' in your last example. Normally it is called a Independent Clasue, but I do not why we are making Independent Clasue different from the Adverb Clause; it seems that the Independent Clause fits just the slot of the Adverb Clause in analyzing a sentence with a grammar tree.

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