What is a Predicate?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Grammar often contains confusing vocabulary.  For example, noun and verb are terms most of us know.  But what is a predicate? 

A predicate is not a part of speech but a group of words that can have verbs, nouns, adjectives, and adverbs. These words work together to form what some call the verb phrase.

But does a writer need to be able to identify one? Read on to find out.

What is the Definition of a Predicate?

According to Merriam-Webster, a predicate is

“the part of a sentence or clause that expresses what is said of the subject and that usually consists of a verb with or without objects, complements, or adverbial modifiers.”

Grammar Monster says,

“The predicate is the part of a sentence (or clause) that tells us what the subject does or is. To put it another way, the predicate is everything that is not the subject.”

Grammar Monster’s definition is somewhat clearer than Webster’s.  Another direct definition you might see is this: the predicate is what is left after you take the subject out.  (This is called a complete predicate).

To complicate matters, a sentence can have a predicate nominative.  Webster’s tells us that this kind of nominative is

“a noun or pronoun in the nominative or common case completing the meaning of a copula.”

Suddenly a predicate can be part of a noun.  And what is a copula? Confusing, isn’t it? 

Do I Need to Know What Predicate Means?

But does a writer need to know its definition?  No.  Here are a few sentences that demonstrate what you really need to know.

Yesterday the restless dog is being let out of the house to run around.

A writer does not need to know that the predicate is all the words after dog. But the writer does need to realize that the tense of the verb is incorrect.  The sentence should be

Yesterday the restless dog was being let out of the house to run around.

Let’s try this with another sentence:

Ann and Noelle running after the dog to catch him before he ran into the street.

Knowing the predicate, which is all the words after Noelle, is not needed to fix the sentence.

However, this sentence has a subordinate clause, so is there a second predicate after he?  A sentence with a compound predicate has two verbs joined by a conjunction, as in

Ann and Noelle ran after the dog and caught him.

The writer doesn’t need to know the type of predicate but that the sentence is missing a verb.

Ann and Noelle went running after the dog to catch him before he ran into the street.

How to identify predicates

Start by locating the verb.  An easy way to do that is to change the tense (or time) of a sentence.  Do that because sentences sometimes have verbals.  Verbals are words that look like verbs in a sentence but are not functioning as one. A group of words with a verbal is not a sentence.

I love drinking root beer with my pepperoni pizza.

A simple way to locate verbs is to change the tense of a sentence. Do that by using a time word such as yesterday.

Yesterday, I loved drinking root beer with my pepperoni pizza.

No way would you say:

Yesterday, I loved drank root beer with my pepperoni pizza.

After you identify the verb, then that word and everything after it is the predicate.

what is a predicate?
Searching for Predicates

Can a sentence have several predicates?

Yes. Because of the way they are classified, every sentence will contain at least two.

  • A simple predicate.  This is the verb of a sentence.
  • Complete predicate.  The verb and all its modifiers.
  • Compound predicate.  A sentence with one subject and two verbs.

The following sentence has two:

I hate learning about predicates.

Hate is the simple predicate, and hate learning about predicates is the complete predicate.

This sentence scores a three out of three:

I hate learning about predicates but love learning about butterflies.

Hate and love are the compound predicates.

You Need to Know How to Identify Verbs

This post is not meant to disrespect teachers who feel they need to teach predicates.  They choose to teach grammar through the lens of definition.

However, when you analyze grammar by function, you tend to think about what a word does.  This leads to less reliance on definitions and more on what a verb needs to do in a sentence.

Therefore, to make sure a sentence is grammatically correct, identifying the verb is more important than labelling predicates.

Bottom Line

 As a Grammar Nerd, I enjoy learning about predicates, but I agree with teachers on the other side of the pond who don’t understand why it is taught in the states.

This quote is from Grammar.Your Dictionary:

“I am an English teacher from the UK.  I do not understand the American fascination with predicates.” James Kirk

By the way, remember that word “copula?” Merriam-Webster defines a copula as the link between the subject and a linking verb. I can understand that definition better than the one given by Investopedia:

“Copula is a probability model that represents a multivariate uniform distribution, which examines the association or dependence between many variables. Put differently, a copula helps isolate the joint or marginal probabilities of a pair of variables that are enmeshed in a more complex multivariate system.” 

Please don’t ask me what that means.

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