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What Is a Predicate, and How Does It Work?

Updated on July 12, 2022Grammar

A predicate is the grammatical term for the words in a sentence or clause that describe the action but not the subject. In other words, the predicate explains what the subject does. For all intents and purposes, a predicate includes all the words in a sentence or clause except the subject (and words that modify the subject). 

Predicates are one of the core building blocks of English sentences, so it’s good to understand how they work. Below, we answer your questions like, What is a predicate in a sentence? and How do you use a predicate? while explaining the different types of predicates through plenty of predicate examples. 

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What is a predicate in a sentence?

In English, a complete sentence or clause requires two parts: an action and the person or thing that’s performing the action. While the subject describes who is doing the action, the predicate describes the action itself. Along with subjects, predicates are a necessary part of English sentence structure

I ate.

subject: I

predicate: ate 

Godzilla roars.

subject: Godzilla

predicate: roars

Predicates always include at least one verb to represent the action, even if that verb is be. In complete predicates (which we explain below), a predicate can also include other words and phrases that modify the action, such as prepositional phrases or direct and indirect objects

There are a few different types of predicates, each with its own unique qualities. Let’s take a more detailed look at each now. 

What is a simple predicate?

A simple predicate is the most basic form of the predicate. It consists of only the main verb and auxiliary verbs, also known as helper verbs. 

The little pig went to the market. 

The simple predicate in this example is only the word went

We have been waiting for hours!

In this example, the simple predicate includes the verb “waiting” and the auxiliary verbs “have” and “been.” 

Modal verbs like can, might, will, or must are also auxiliary verbs, so they too are part of the simple predicate. 

I might be wrong. 

What is a complete predicate?

A complete predicate includes the simple predicate as well as all other words that describe the action. Essentially, the complete predicate is all the words in a sentence or clause except the subject and words that describe the subject. 

The little pig went to the market

Using the example above, “went” is the simple predicate, but the entire phrase “went to the market” is the complete predicate. The modifiers “the” and “little” are not part of the complete predicate because they relate to the subject. 

As you can see, the complete predicate can sometimes include nouns like “market” if they’re part of descriptive phrases that do not relate to the subject. 

What is a compound predicate?

A compound predicate includes two or more verbs that all share the same subject. 

He showered, shaved, and dressed in his finest clothes for his cat’s birthday party. 

The verbs “showered,” “shaved,” and “dressed” all use the same subject, “he.” In this example, all the verbs belong to the same clause and therefore to the same compound predicate. 

However, be careful with sentences that have more than one clause. In these cases, each clause has its own different predicate. 

He showered, shaved, and dressed in his finest clothes for his cat’s birthday party, but the cat never showed.  

In this example, there are two separate predicates: the original compound predicate and the second predicate “never showed” that uses a new subject, “the cat.” 

What are predicate adjectives and predicate nominatives?

Predicate adjectives and predicate nominatives are special types of predicates used only with linking verbs like be, seem, or become. The action with linking verbs is simply existing, so predicates with linking verbs describe the state of the subject. 

A predicate adjective is when the words following a linking verb are adjectives or adjective phrases that modify the subject. 

Devaj was happy with the first date

In this example, the simple predicate is “was,” the past tense of the linking verb be. The adjective “happy” describes the subject “Devaj,” making it a predicate adjective. The prepositional phrase “with the first date” relates to the adjective “happy,” so it too is part of the predicate adjective. 

Similarly, a predicate nominative is when the words following a linking verb are nouns or noun phrases, again modifying the subject. 

Amirah became the company’s first CEO under the age of 30. 

This example also uses a linking verb, this time “became.” Following the verb is a noun phrase centered on the word “CEO,” which describes the subject “Amirah,” making it a predicate nominative. All the words after “became” relate to the noun “CEO,” so they work together as a noun phrase, making them part of the predicate nominative too. 

How do you use a predicate in a sentence?

All types of sentences have predicates, but sometimes they are used in different ways. 

Declarative sentences are the most straightforward: the subject comes before the simple predicate. This is the standard way to make a sentence and the most common sentence type. Likewise, exclamatory sentences follow this same format but with an exclamation point at the end! 

Everyone loves my new outfit!

subject: everyone 

simple predicate: loves

complete predicate: loves my new outfit

Imperative sentences, or commands, are a little different because their subject is assumed, which means it’s not included. People will understand that the subject is whomever the speaker is talking to. Although imperative sentences don’t include their subject, the predicate still acts normally. Often, an imperative sentence starts with the simple predicate. 

Meet me after class. 

subject: although it’s not stated, we can assume the subject is you

simple predicate: meet

complete predicate: meet me after class

Interrogative sentences, or questions, are when the predicate becomes tricky. When asking a question in English, you typically split up the predicate and stick the subject somewhere in the middle. A lot of the time, you put an auxiliary verb before the subject and the main verb after the subject. 

Did you cry during the movie?

The word “did,” the past tense of the auxiliary verb do, comes before the subject “you.” The main verb “cry,” along with the rest of the complete predicate, follows afterward. 

In questions that use interrogative pronouns like who or what, the interrogative pronoun usually comes first, followed by an auxiliary verb, then the subject, then the rest of the complete predicate. 

Why did I eat the entire pint of ice cream

Interrogative pronouns sometimes work together with other nouns. In these cases, keep them together before the auxiliary verb. 

What time did you take the dog out

No matter which type of sentence you’re dealing with, make sure you use the correct subject and object pronouns. The subject pronouns are used only as the subject of a sentence or clause, while object pronouns are commonly used with the predicate. 

How do you identify the predicate in a sentence?

Simply put, the complete predicate includes all the words in a sentence that don’t relate to the subject. In a sentence with only one clause, if you can identify the subject, you can also identify the predicate by whatever is not the subject. 

In the middle of a cold night during winter break, they quietly went to the dark basement.

In this example, “they” is the subject, so every word except “they” is the complete predicate. That includes the prepositional phrases that describe when and where the action took place, all the adjectives that describe the prepositional objects, and the adverb that describes the verb. 

If a sentence has more than one clause, it will have more than one predicate because each clause requires at least one predicate. 

When the ring was destroyed, the hobbits returned to their home

In this example, the main predicate is “returned to their home,” which is connected to the main subject “the hobbits.” However, the subordinate clause “when the ring was destroyed” has its own separate predicate that includes the words “when” and “was destroyed,” which are connected to the clause’s subject “the ring.” 

Be careful with adjectives and adjective phrases that describe the subject. These are part of the subject, not the predicate. 

At the age of thirty, Charlie had never eaten a pear. 

In this example, the adjective phrase “at the age of thirty” is not part of the predicate because it describes the subject, Charlie, instead of the action of eating a pear. In this case, the complete predicate is only “had never eaten a pear.” 

Predicate FAQs 

What is a predicate?

A predicate is the grammatical term for the words in a sentence that describe the action. Along with the subject, the predicate is one of two necessary parts that make a complete sentence. 

How do you use a predicate in a sentence?

Typically, the predicate comes after the subject in a sentence. In some cases, part of the predicate comes before the subject, such as with questions or when starting a sentence with a prepositional phrase that relates to the action. 

What are the different kinds of predicates?

A simple predicate refers only to the verbs, while a complete predicate refers to all the words in a sentence unrelated to the subject. Predicate adjectives and predicate nominatives are used with linking verbs like be to describe the subject. A compound predicate has two verbs that both share the same subject. 

What is an example of a predicate in a sentence? 

In the sentence, “the dog ate my homework,” the simple predicate is “ate” and the complete predicate is “ate my homework.” The subject is “the dog.” 

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