Subject & Predicate

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Subject and Predicate: Plain Definition and Examples

In English, every complete sentence has two parts: a subjectOpens in new window and a predicateOpens in new window.

The subject is what or whom the sentence is about, while the predicate tells something about the subject, usually what the subject does or what the subject is.

Practical Examples

The following sentences contain subject and predicate; the subject is marked in bold, the predicate underlined.

  • Gretchen swims.
  • Gretchen swims in the swimming pool every Saturday afternoon.

To determine the subject of a sentence, you should first separate the verb from the sentence, and then make a question by placing “who?” or “what?” (is or does what) before it. Hopefully the answer is the subject.

Take, for example, the sentence below:
  • The audience littered the theatre floor with torn wrappings and spilled popcorn.

The verb in the sentence is “littered”. Who or what littered?—the answer here, is the audience. “The audience” is the subject of the sentence. The predicate, which always contains the verb, goes on to relate something about the subject: what about the audience? It “littered the theatre floor with torn wrappings and spilled popcorn.”

Unusual Sentences

Imperative sentences— Sentences that give a command or an order; differ from normal sentences in that their subject, which is always “you,” is understood (implied) rather than expressed. Observe carefully, the sentence below:

Stand on your head. (In this sentence, “You” is understood before “stand.”)

Pay close attention to sentences that begin with “there” Opens in new window plus a form of the verb “to be.” In such sentences, “there” is not the subject; it merely signals that the true subject will soon follow:

  • There were three stray kittens cowering under our porch steps this morning.

In assessing this sentence, if you ask “who?” or “what?” before the verb (“were cowering”), the answer is “three stray kittens,” the correct subject.

Simple Subject and Simple Predicate

In English grammar, every subject is built around one noun or pronoun (sometimes more) that, when stripped of all the words that modify it, is known as the simple subject.

Consider the example below:
  • A piece of pepperoni pizza would satisfy his hunger.

The subject is built around the noun “piece,” with the other words of the subject —“a” and “of pepperoni pizza” — modifying the noun. “Piece” is the simple subject.

Likewise, a predicate has at its centre a simple predicate, which is always the verb or verbs that link up with the subject. In the example we just observed, the simple predicate is “would satisfy”, in other words, the verb of the sentence.

Sometimes, a sentence may have a compound subjecta simple subject containing more than one noun or pronoun— as in the following:

  • Team pennants, rock posters and family photographs covered the boy’s bedroom walls.
  • Her uncle and she walked slowly through the Inuit art gallery and admired the powerful sculptures exhibited there.

The second sentence above features a compound predicate, a predicate that includes more than one verb pertaining to the same subject (in this case, “walked” and “admired”).

Objects and Complements

Objects — A verb may be followed by an object that completes the verb’s meaning. There are two sorts of objects: direct objects and indirect objects. To determine if a verb has a direct objectOpens in new window, separate the verb and make it into a question by placing “whom?” or “what?” after it. The answer (if there is one) is the direct object.

Compare the following:
Direct Object
  • The advertising executive drove a flashy red Porsche.
Indirect Object
  • Her secret admirer gave her a bouquet of flowers.

The second sentence above contains an indirect object. An indirect objectOpens in new window, which like a direct object is usually a noun or pronoun, is in a sense, the recipient of the direct object.

To determine if a verb has an indirect object, separate the verb and ask “to whom?” “to what?” “for whom?” or “for what?” after it. Hopefully the answer is the indirect object.

Not all verbs are followed by objects. Observe carefully the verbs in the sentences below:

  • The guest speaker rose from her chair to protest.
  • After work, Pickford usually jogs around the field.

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Verbs that take objects are known as transitive verbs. Verbs that do not take object or not followed by objects are called intransitive verbs.

Some verbs can be either transitive verbs or intransitive verbs, depending on the context:

Consider the following:
With Direct Object
  • I hope the Senators win the next game.
Without Direct Object
  • Did we win?

Subject Complements

In addition to the transitive verb and the intransitive verb, there is a third kind of verb called a linking verbOpens in new window. The word or phrase which follows a linking verb is called not an objectOpens in new window, but a subject complementOpens in new window.

The most common linking verb is the verb “be.” Other linking verbs include: “become,” “seem,” “appear,” “feel,” “grow,” “look,” “smell,” “taste,” and “sound,” among others.

Linking verb with subject complement:
  • He was a radiologist before he became a full-time yoga instructor.
  • Your homemade chili smells delicious.
Transitive verb with direct object:
  • I can’t smell anything with this terrible cold.
Intransitive verb with no object:
  • The interior of the beautiful new Buick smells strongly of fish.

Note that a subject complement can be either a noun (“radiologist,” “instructor”) or an adjective (“delicious”).

Object Complements

An object complement is similar to a subject complement, except that it modifies an object rather than a subject.

Consider the examples below:
    • The driver seems tired.

    Just as explained above, the adjective “tired” modifies the noun “driver,” which is the subject of the sentence. Sometimes the noun can be the object, as in the next sentence:

    • I consider the driver tired.
    • In this case, the noun “driver” is the direct object of the verb “consider”, but the adjective “tired” is still acting as its complement.

Generally, verbs which have to do with perceiving, judging, or changing something can cause their direct objects to take an object complement:

  • Paint it black.
  • The judge ruled her out of order.
  • I saw the Prime Minister sleeping.

In any case, you could rephrase the last part of the sentence into a sentence of its own using a subject complement: “it is black,” “she is out of order,” “the Prime Minister is sleeping.”

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