Subject and Predicate

Written by tutor Charlotte C.

Understanding Subject and Predicate is the key to good sentence writing. The subject of a complete sentence is who or what the sentence is about, and the predicate tells about that subject.

The dog ran.

The dog is the subject of the sentence, because the sentence is telling something about that dog. And what is it telling? It says that the dog ran. So in this example the subject is “dog” and the predicate is “ran.”

The dog ran after the cat.

Here we have more detail, but the subject is still “dog.” How can we know that the subject is “dog” and not “cat” since the sentence seems to be about both animals?

To determine the subject of a sentence, first find the verb and then ask “who?” or “what?” In this sentence, the verb is “ran.” If we ask, “who ran?” the answer is, “the dog ran.” This is how we know that “dog” is the subject of the sentence.

What is the subject in the following sentence:

Yesterday after lunch the students were complaining about the short recess.

The sentence is telling about several different things: yesterday, lunch, students, and recess. How can we know which of those is the subject of the sentence? We first find the verb: “were complaining.” Next we ask, “who were complaining?” And immediately we recognize that “the students” are the subject of the sentence. The predicate always includes the verb, and tells something about the subject; in this example, we see that the students “were complaining about the short recess.”

The “Understood You”

In some sentences the subject is not so easy to find. Here is an example of a sentence that seems to have no subject:

Go sit down in that chair.

We see the verb is “go sit,” but who is doing that action? The only noun present is “chair” but certainly the chair is not about to “go sit!”

In this sentence the speaker is giving a direct command to another person, and might have said, “You go sit down in that chair.” The rule to remember for a sentence that is a command is that if the subject is not named, we can assume that subject is “you.”

“There” is Not the Subject

Another example to watch for is a sentence that begins with “there” and has a form of the verb “to be.” Even though the word “there” is at the beginning of the sentence, next to the verb, it is not the subject. See if you can find the subject and predicate in this sentence:

There were three different desserts arranged on the table.

First find the verb: “were arranged.” Then ask, “who or what were arranged?” The answer is “three different desserts,” which is the correct subject.

Simple Subject and Simple Predicate

The subject of a sentence includes the noun or pronoun along with all the words that modify, or describe it. The simple subject is the noun or pronoun all by itself.

The light blue shirt with the colorful pattern was her favorite top.

In this sentence “shirt” is the simple subject, and all the descriptive words tell us more about that shirt. The subject is “shirt” and all its modifiers (the light blue shirt with the colorful pattern), but the simple subject is simply “shirt.”

The predicate of a sentence is based on the simple predicate, which is the verb. All the other words in the predicate tell more about the subject, and some of the words can modify the verb. In the example above, the word “was” is the verb, and therefore it is the simple predicate.

Compound Subject and Compound Predicate

Sometimes a sentence has a compound subject, when there are two or more nouns in the subject:

Bobby and his friends ran outside to play basketball.

The verb is “ran” and we ask, “who ran?” The answer is “Bobby and his friends” which comprise the subject.

A compound predicate includes two or more verbs that relate to the subject:

The little girl picked up her doll and climbed into bed.

The verbs are “picked up” and “climbed.” We ask, “who picked up? who climbed?” The answer is the same for both verbs: “the little girl.”

Writing Better Sentences

How can knowing about Subject and Predicate help you become a better writer? Take a look at the following examples and see if you can find the subjects and predicates.

At the movies with friends and eating popcorn with lots of butter and salt.
The rapidly approaching train on the rickety tracks, shivering as it rounded the curve.

Both examples have action, and both are telling something about the nouns, but neither one is an actual sentence because neither one has Subject and Predicate. Let’s rewrite the examples and create complete sentences:

1. While we were at the movies, my friends and I were eating popcorn with lots of butter and salt.

Now we can find the verb, “were eating,” and ask “who?” The answer is a compound subject, “my friends and I.”

2. The rapidly approaching train swerved on the rickety tracks, shivering as it rounded the curve.

The rapidly approaching train shivered as it rounded the curve on the rickety tracks.

Both rewrites of this example now include a verb, “swerved” or “shivered,” with “train” as the same subject in each version.

Subject and Verb Agreement

One more important point to keep in mind is that the subject and predicate must “agree” in number:

The man holding the boxes is next in line.

Even though the word “boxes” is plural, the verb is singular because the subject of the sentence is the singular noun “man.” Remember that when deciding if the verb should be singular or plural, only consider the subject of the sentence!

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