An interval in a combinatorial structure R is a set I of points that are related to every point in R∖I in the same way. A structure is simple if it has no proper intervals. Every combinatorial structure can be expressed as an inflation of a simple structure by structures of smaller sizes—this is called the substitution (or modular) decomposition. In this paper we prove several results of the following type: an arbitrary structure S of size n belonging to a class 𝒞 can be embedded into a simple structure from 𝒞 by adding at most f(n) elements. We prove such results when 𝒞 is the class of all tournaments, graphs, permutations, posets, digraphs, oriented graphs and general relational structures containing a relation of arity greater than two. The functions f(n) in these cases are 2, ⌈log 2(n+1)⌉, ⌈(n+1)/2⌉, ⌈(n+1)/2⌉, ⌈log 4(n+1)⌉, ⌈log 3(n+1)⌉ and 1, respectively. In each case these bounds are the best possible.