Subject and predicate

Every complete sentence contains two parts: a subject and a predicate. The subject is what (or whom) the sentence is about, while the predicate tells us something about the subject. In the following sentences, the predicate is enclosed in braces ({}), while the subject is highlighted.

  • Judy {runs}.
  • Judy and her dog {run on the beach every morning}.

To determine the subject of a sentence, first isolate the verb and then ask a question by placing who? or what? before the verb—the answer is the subject.

In the following sentence,

  • The audience littered the theatre floor with torn wrappings and spilled popcorn.

the verb is littered. Who or what littered? The audience did. The audience is the subject of the sentence. The predicate (which always includes the verb) relates something about the subject: what about the audience? It littered the theatre floor with torn wrappings and spilled popcorn.

Unusual Sentences

Imperative sentences give a command or an order and differ from conventional sentences in that their subject (which is always you) is understood rather than expressed. In the following example,

  • Stand on your head.

you is understood before stand.

Be careful with sentences that begin with there 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, as in the following example:

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

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

Every subject is built around a noun or pronoun that, when stripped of all the words that modify it, is known as the simple subject. Consider the following example:

  • 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 pepperoni pizza example, the simple predicate is would satisfy—in other words, the verb of the sentence.

A sentence may have a compound subject —a simple subject consisting of more than one noun or pronoun—as in these examples:

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

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

Copyright notice for HyperGrammar 2

© Department of English, Faculty of Arts, University of Ottawa
A tool made available online by the Translation Bureau, Public Services and Procurement Canada

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