What are Predicates? - Definition and Examples

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  • 0:05 What Goes into a Sentence
  • 2:04 Predicate Basics
  • 4:31 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Bonn

Amy has taught college and law school writing courses and has a master's degree in English and a JD.

A predicate is a necessary component of each sentence, so it's important to know what one is and how to identify one. This lesson goes over the basics of predicates as well as how knowing about them can help answer other grammatical questions.

What Goes Into a Sentence?

Of all the grammar rules flying around out there, there's one that may be the most important of them all. That rule is that for a sentence to be complete, it must contain a subject and a verb. The subject of a sentence is what the sentence is about. The subject usually, though not always, performs the action of the verb. Remember that a verb expresses an action or occurrence. An example of a really simple complete sentence would be, 'Sally screamed.'

This sentence is as basic as they come, but even at just two words, it's a complete sentence with a subject performing an action. Let's make our simple sentence a bit more complicated: 'My silly sister Sally screamed at the mailman.'

We now have more than just a simple subject, Sally. The entire phrase, 'My silly sister Sally' is our complete subject. A complete subject includes the simple subject as well as all of the describing words that go along with it. Our complete subject in this sentence includes the descriptive phrase, 'My silly sister.'

So, now that we know what our complete subject is, what is all the other stuff in the sentence? The rest of the sentence, 'screamed at the mailman,' is the predicate. The predicate in a sentence expresses what the subject does. The predicate in a sentence also always includes a verb. You can have a predicate that consists of just the verb, or it can consist of the verb as well as the descriptive words that come along with it.

We can build on our earlier rule that states that for a sentence to be complete, it must contain a subject and a verb and say that a complete sentence must include a subject and a predicate. This rule still essentially says the same thing because a predicate can be just a verb by itself or a verb with some additional description. In other words, a predicate could be just the word 'screamed,' or the phrase 'screamed at the mailman.' In our second example, the phrase 'screamed at the mailman' would be our complete predicate, which would consist of the verb as well as the descriptive words that go along with it.

Predicate Basics

Now that we know what a predicate is, what can we do that we couldn't do before? Understanding the basics of what a predicate is and what it does in a sentence is not some hugely complicated task that will unlock all of life's great grammar mysteries for you. What it will do is help you grasp the basics of what goes into a complete sentence, so you can be extra sure that your sentences are written the right way.

It's important to be familiar with basic grammatical terms so that you know what you're working with. The term 'subject' will likely come up a lot more than will 'predicate' when you discuss writing effective sentences. But, you'll want to know the difference between the two, how to identify each and how they are both essential within a sentence.

There's one cool trick that you can do once you know what a predicate is and how to find it in a sentence. When you answer the phone and someone asks for you by name, do you say, 'This is she,' or 'This is her'?

Here's how you figure it out. When you have a linking verb like 'is' - or another form of the verb 'to be' - and you have a noun or pronoun following that linking verb, you need that noun or pronoun to be in the subjective, or nominative, case. For example, pronouns in the subjective, or nominative, case would include:

  • I
  • You
  • He
  • She
  • It
  • We
  • They

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