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In English grammar, a predicate is one of the two main parts of a sentence or clause. (The other main part is the subject.) It is usually defined as a word group that comes after the subject to complete the meaning of the sentence or clause. The predicate is the portion of the sentence that contains the verb (or verb phrase); in very short, simple sentences, it might be only a verb. The predicate tells what happened to the subject or what state it's in. In the case of verbs that aren't actions, those that describe states of being are called stative verbs. Examples include is or believe.
Key Takeaways: Predicates
- A clause has a subject and a predicate.
- To be a sentence (an independent clause), there must be a subject and a predicate, and it needs to be a complete thought.
- A simple predicate is a verb; a complete predicate is everything that's not the subject.
Sentences Vs. Clauses
A sentence cannot be complete (independent) unless it has both a subject and a predicate; otherwise, a group of words is just a phrase or a clause. For example, a complete sentence could be "Go!" It has both a subject (You, understood, is the subject, as the sentence is in the imperative voice) and a verb (go). A complete sentence could also be something like "Could you please go there?" (Subject: you; predicate: could go over there please).
But something like "after he heard the news" or "who was the fastest runner" aren't full sentences but dependent clauses. The groups of words each have a verb (predicate) and a subject, but they aren't a complete thought. (Though posed as a question, Who was the fastest runner? is a complete thought.)
Types of Predicates
A predicate may be many words or just a single word: the verb. In this first example, the verb laughed is the predicate of the sentence:
- Felix laughed.
A predicate may be a word group made up of a main verb and any helping verbs. In the next example, will sing is the predicate. Notice that the helping verb (will) comes before the main verb (sing).
- Winnie will sing.
A predicate may also be a complete verb phrase-that is, the main verb and all the words related to that verb except the subject. (This construction is called the complete predicate.) In this last example, the predicate is the verb phrase is always greener on the other side:
- The grass is always greener on the other side.
Depending on how detailed you need to get with your analysis of a sentence and its parts, you can also label compound predicates. A predicate is compound if one subject has more than one verb associated with it, joined with a conjunction. In this example, the subject Sandy has two predicates joined by and. She prefers to run first and then eat breakfast afterward.
- Sandy prefers to run first and then eat breakfast afterward.
Notice that this sentence doesn't have two independent clauses. There is just one subject for both verbs. The words that follow the conjunction (and), do not make up an independent clause. Thus, there is no comma placed before and. (This is a very common mistake in writing. Watch for it.)
Whether it's just one word or many words, the predicate usually follows the subject and tells us something about it.
Finding the Predicate
Finding predicates isn't difficult; it just takes some examination of the sentence. You just have to understand who is doing what. First, find the subject and then the verb (or verbs). Anything that isn't the subject of the sentence is the predicate.
- After the long hike up the mountain, the tour group rested and took in the views.
The tour group is the subject, the verbs are rested and took in, and everything but the subject is the predicate. Even though the dependent clause comes at the start of the sentence, it still tells something about when the group rested, making it an adverbial phrase. It's not the subject of the sentence and thus belongs in the predicate.
If you are to find the simple predicate, it's just the verb or verb plus a helper. If you are asked to find the complete predicate, it consists of all the words besides the subject.
Examples of Predicates
In each of the following sentences, the predicate is in italics.
- Time flies.
- We will try.
- The Johnsons have returned.
- Bobo has never driven before.
- We will try harder next time.
- Hummingbirds sing with their tail feathers.
- Pedro has not returned from the store.
- My brother flew a helicopter in Iraq.
- My mother took our dog to the vet for its shots.
- Our school cafeteria always smelled like stale cheese and dirty socks.