What is a subject? What is a predicate?

What is a subject? What is a predicate?

What is a subject?

What is a predicate?

You might have heard of these terms before; however, many people have forgotten or never fully understood the meaning or the use. 

Still, you should know the terms if for no other reason than to ensure that all of your sentences have at least one subject and one predicate.  (There are a couple of exceptions that I will mention later.) So this blog is a wee reminder of a grammar lesson.

For almost all academic writing, your sentences should have at least one of each to make them complete.

Here is the easiest way to think of subject and predicate and to check your sentences.

Note: In the examples, the subjects have been underlined once and the predicates have been underlined twice.

The subject is the “who” or “what” in the sentence.  In other words, who is acting in the sentence or being acted upon?

          John dropped his pencil.  (John is the subject.)

          Melanie had her pencils stolen. (Melanie is the subject.)equation

The predicate is what the subject does or what happens to the “who” or “what.”

          John dropped his pencil.  (dropped his pencil is the complete    predicate.)

          Melanie had her pencils stolen. (had her pencils stolen is the     complete predicate.)

Sentences can have several subjects. (Compound subjects)

          Jerome, Susan, Frank, and Justin passed the math exam.

Sentences can also have more than one predicate. (Compound predicates)

          The puppy raced across the floor, slid into the wall, and fell down the stairs.

Of course, sentences can have more than one subject and more than one predicate in the same sentence.

          Elaine and Emily jumped up and ran for the door.

Compound sentence will have at least two subjects and two predicates, but they are separated into independent clauses.

          Theodore loves the theatre, but his brother loves baseball.

wolfSometimes the subject comes in the middle or even the end of the sentence.

          Slowly and cautiously, the old wolf crawled through the tall grass.

How do I know if my sentences have subjects and predicates?

While proofreading, ask yourself two questions:

          1.       Who or what is acting (or acted upon) in this sentence?

          2.       What is the subject doing? (or what happened to it?)

If you are missing an answer to one of these questions, your sentence is probably a sentence fragment. 

Not to worry too much though.  If you catch mistakes during the proofreading / editing stage, you have time to make corrections.

Let’s ask the questions with a couple of examples.

Example 1

                    The old woman trotted across the street.

                    Who?  - The old woman

                    Action? – trotted across the street

                    Result – We are good to go with this sentence.

Example 2

                    Rambled down the street, across the lawn, and into a cluster of blooming bushes.

                    Who? – Hmm, nothing there!

                    Action? – rambled down the street…

                    Result – This sentence needs a subject.  Who or what rambled?

                    Fix:    The dilapidated truck rambled down the street, across the lawn, and into a cluster of blooming bushes.

Example 3

                    The skinny boy with the checkered shirt and blue cap.

                    Who? – The skinny boy.

                    Action? – There is no action!

                    Result – This sentence needs a predicate.

                    Fix:    The skinny boy with the checkered shirt and blue cap could not stop talking.

I mentioned exceptions above. 

When writing fiction, you will often have dialogue, and dialogue breaks most academic writing rules because people do not speak in formal English as a rule (pun intended).

Note:  Next week, I will be writing more about using dialogue when writing.bubbles

Also, imperative sentences can have an implied subject.


                    Stop poking your brother in the eye!

The sentence above has no printed subject, but the implied subject is “you.”

So, don’t forget to ask yourself those two questions when proofreading and editing your sentences for academic writing. 

Who is acting?

What are they doing?

If you would like more information or help, check out the online courses (click here for coupons) or send me your questions.  I am always ready to help students of all ages.

Fix My Sentences!


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