Predicators or Main Verbs in English Grammar

W.C. Fields (1880-1946)
W.C. Fields (1880-1946). Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

In clauses and sentences, the predictor is the head of a verb phrase. The predicator is sometimes called the main verb. Some linguists use the term predicator to refer to the whole verb group in a clause.

Examples and Observations

Here are a few examples of the predictor found in pop culture and literature:

  • "What can occur in a clause is very largely determined by the predicator. For example, it is a crucial property of the verb like that it permits occurrence of an object (indeed, it normally requires one in canonical clauses)."
    (Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey K. Pullum, A Student's Introduction to English Grammar. Cambridge University Press, 2006)
  • "The predicator is the central syntactic element in a sentence. This is the case because it is the predicator which determines the number of complements that will occur and, indeed, whether a particular element is a complement or an adjunct."
    (Stephan Gramley and Kurt-Michael Pätzold, A Survey of Modern English, 2nd ed. Routledge, 2004)
  • "She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B."
    (Dorothy Parker, in a review of a theater performance by Katharine Hepburn)
  • "I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there."
    (Henry David Thoreau, Walden, 1854)

Essential and Nonessential Sentence Elements

  • "Traditionally, the single independent clause (or simple sentence) is divided into two main parts, subject and predicate. . . . The predicate can consist entirely of the Predicator, realised by a verbal group, as in 1 below, or the Predicator together with one or more other elements, as in 2:
    1. The plane landed.
    2. Tom disappeared suddenly after the concert. It is the predicator that determines the number and type of these other elements. Syntactically, the Subject (S) and the Predicator (P) are the two main functional categories. . . .
    "The two clause elements in 1, the Subject (the plane) and the Predicator realised by the verb landed are essential constituents. In 2 on the other hand, the predicate contains as well as the predicator (disappeared), two elements, suddenly and after the concert, which are not essential for the completion of the clause. Although they are to a certain extent integrated in the clause, they can be omitted without affecting the acceptability of the clause. Such elements will be called Adjuncts (A)."
    (Angela Downing, English Grammar: A University Course, 2nd ed. Routledge, 2006)

Predicators and Subjects

  • "The predicator has a fairly straightforward definition. It consists only of verbal elements: an obligatory lexical verb and one or more optional auxiliary verbs. In addition, only these elements can function as predicator, and they cannot have any additional functions. Subjects, however, are more varied in form--they can be noun phrases or certain types of clauses--and these forms can have other functions as well: noun phrases, for instance, can also function as objects, complements, or adverbials. For this reason, subjects are defined in terms of their position in a clause and their relation to the predicator." (Charles F. Meyer, Introducing English Linguistics. Cambridge University Press, 2010)

Functions of the Predicator

  • "[I]n addition to its function to specify the kind of process of the clause, the Predicator has three other functions in the clause:

1. it adds time meanings through expressing a secondary tense: for example, in have been going to read the primary tense (have, present) is specified in the Finite, but the secondary tense (been going to) is specified in the Predicator.
2. it specifies aspect and phases: meanings such as seeming, trying, helping, which colour the verbal process without changing its ideational meaning. . . .
3. it specifies the voice of the clause: the distinction between active voice (Henry James wrote 'The Bostonians') and passive voice ('The Bostonians' was written by Henry James) will be expressed through the Predicator."​ (Suzanne Eggins, Introduction to Systemic Functional Linguistics, 2nd ed. Continuum, 2004)

Pronunciation: PRED-eh-KAY-ter

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Predicators or Main Verbs in English Grammar." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). Predicators or Main Verbs in English Grammar. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Predicators or Main Verbs in English Grammar." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 22, 2023).

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