What Is a Predicate?

G. Wiesen

A predicate is part of a sentence or clause in English and is one of two primary components that serves to effectively complete the sentence. Sentences consist of two main components: subjects and predicates. Subjects are the primary “thing” in a sentence which the rest of the words then describe through either a direct description or by indicating what type of action that subject is performing. The predicate is this secondary aspect of the sentence and usually consists of a verb or adjective, though complicated sentences may have multiple verbs and a number of descriptions affecting the subject.

In the sentence, "The cat purred," the words "the cat" for the subject of the sentence, and "purred" is both a predicate and an intransitive verb.
In the sentence, "The cat purred," the words "the cat" for the subject of the sentence, and "purred" is both a predicate and an intransitive verb.

It can be easiest to understand predicates by first understanding subjects and how sentences are constructed. A sentence just about always has a subject, though it can be implied in some way and not necessarily directly stated. In a simple sentence like “The cat slept,” the subject is “the cat,” which is a noun phrase consisting of the direct article “the” and the noun “cat.” Subjects can be longer and more complicated, but they are usually fairly simple in nature.

The predicate of a sentence is then basically the rest of the sentence, though this is not always the case for longer and more complicated sentences. In “The cat slept,” the predicate is quite simple and merely consists of the word “slept.” This is simple because “slept” is an intransitive verb, which means that it requires no further description or objects to make it complete. The sentence could be expanded as “The cat slept on the bed,” but this is not necessary and merely adds a descriptive component to the predicate through the prepositional phrase “on the bed.”

In a somewhat more complicated sentence, such as “The man gave the ball to his son,” the subject of the sentence is still quite simple: “The man.” The predicate in this sentence, however, has become substantially more complicated and consists of the rest of the sentence: “gave the ball to his son.” This has been made more complicated because the verb “gave” is transitive, specifically ditransitive, which indicates both a direct object and an indirect object.

The act of “giving” requires that there is a direct object, which is the item given, and an indirect object, which is who or what it is given to. In this instance, the predicate consists of the verb “gave” and the direct object “the ball” with a connecting preposition “to” and the indirect object “his son.” Predicates can become even more complicated as an idea expands, such as a sentence like “The rock rolled off the table, landed on top of a skateboard, and proceeded to roll down the hill until it was stopped by a wall.” In this sentence, the subject is only “The rock,” which means that the rest of the sentence is the predicate.

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