Predicate in Grammar

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

predicate
"In elementary clauses describing an action, the subject normally indicates the actor, the person or thing performing the action, while the predicate describes the action. But this is rather vague" (A Student's Introduction to English Grammar, 2006). Also see subject. Getty Images

In English grammar, a predicate is one of the two main parts of a sentence or clause, modifying the subject and including the verb, objects, or phrases governed by the verb. Adjective: predicative.

In both grammar and logic, the predicate serves to make an assertion or denial about the subject of the sentence, as in "Merdine sneezes" and "George never smiles."

In the words of Martha Kolln and Robert Funk, "The subject of the sentence is generally what the sentence is about—its topic.

The predicate is what is said about the subject. The two parts can be thought of as the topic and the comment" (Understanding English Grammar, 1998). 

Don't confuse the term predicate with the traditional grammatical terms predicate nominative (a noun that follows a linking verb) and predicate adjective (an adjective that follows a linking verb).

Etymology


From the Latin, "to proclaim" or "make known

Examples and Observations

  • Birds sing, dogs bark, and bees buzz.
  • In B.B. King's hands, the guitar screams, whispers, laughs, cries, and preaches.
  • "We rob banks."
    (Warren Beatty as Clyde Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde, 1967)
  • "The Grinch hated Christmas."
    (Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Random House, 1957)
  • "We should take Bikini Bottom and push it somewhere else!"
    (Patrick in "Squid on Strike." SpongeBob SquarePants, 2001)
  • "Momma was preparing our evening meal, and Uncle Willie leaned on the door sill."
    (Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Random House, 1969)
  • "Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people."
    (Attributed to Admiral Hyman Rickover, Eleanor Roosevelt, and others)
  • "If you build it, he will come."
    (Ray Liotta as Shoeless Joe Jackson in Field of Dreams, 1989)
  • "Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest."
    (Mark Twain)
  • Subject and Predicate
    "'I came. I saw. I conquered.' In each sentence, Julius Caesar showed unity of thought and expressed himself in the most direct way possible. Like Caesar, you should put your faith in the sentence's bare bones: subject and predicate. . . .

    "The predicate, at its core, is a verb that tells what the subject does or is. In Caesar's statements, the predicates are the single verbs came, saw, and conquered. . . . The predicate, in short, is everything that is not the subject. In addition to the verb, it can contain direct objects, indirect objects, and various kinds of phrases . . .."
    (Constance Hale, Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose. Three Rivers Press, 2001)
  • Predicate as Action
    "The predicate typically describes a property of the person or thing referred to by the subject or describes a situation in which this person or thing plays some role. In elementary clauses describing an action, the subject normally indicates the actor, the person or thing performing the action, while the predicate describes the action, as in Kim left and People complained."
    (Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey K. Pullum, A Student's Introduction to English Grammar. Cambridge University Press, 2006)
  • Placement of Subject and Predicate
    "The conventional placement of subject and predicate in conversation helps with the identification. We expect to find the subject (the who or what a sentence is about) at the beginning of the sentence, and once that is identified, we expect the rest of the sentence to tell what the subject does or is like."
    (Thomas P. Klammer, Muriel R. Schulz, and Angela Della Volpe, Analyzing English Grammar. Pearson Education, 2007)
  • Predicates and Arguments
    "Current views of grammar hold that, in selecting a predicate, a language user determines possible syntactic structures. Selecting the predicate GIVE obliges one to construct a sentence on the lines GIVE + Noun Phrase + Noun Phrase (give the dog a bone) or GIVE + Noun Phrase + to + Noun Phrase (give a bone to the dog).
    "The entities that the predicate tells us about are referred to as its arguments. Thus, the sentence Maggie gives the dog a bone has three arguments: Maggie, dog, bone. Sentences are sometimes represented in terms of their underlying abstract predicate/argument structure, using a format in which the predicate appears followed by the arguments in brackets: GIVE (Maggie, dog, bone)"
    (John Field, Psycholinguistics: The Key Concepts. Routledge, 2004)
  • Predicate Words and Complements
    "The relationship between the predicate word, such like DO, SAY, WANT, and SEE, and its 'complements' like SOMETHING, ONE THING, or SOMEONE is not the same as that between a head and a modifier in an attributive relation, if only because a head can normally occur with or without its attribute, whereas predicates like DO, SAY, WANT, and SEE do require their complements (if they are not . . . understood as elliptical). At the same time, it is clear that it is the element SOMETHING which is dependent on the predicates DO, SAY, and WANT, rather than the other way around, for it is the predicate which determines whether or not a complement is possible, and what the range of possible complements is. For example, SEE combines, universally, with the complements SOMETHING, SOMEONE, and PEOPLE, whereas SAY and DO (and in many languages WANT) combine only with SOMETHING."
    (Cliff Goddard and Anna Wierzbicka, "Semantic Primes and Universal Grammar." Meaning and Universal Grammar: Theory and Empirical Findings. John Benjamins, 2002)

Pronunciation: PRED-i-kat