What Is the Predicate of a Sentence? (with Examples)

by Craig Shrives

Predicate

The predicate is the part of a sentence (or clause) that tells us what the subject does or is. To put it another way, the predicate is everything that is not the subject.

Easy Examples of Predicates

In each example below, the predicate is shaded. (The subjects of the sentences aren't.)
  • Elvis lives.
  • Adam lives in Bangor.
  • The telegram contained exciting news.
  • The girls in our office are experienced instructors.

Real-Life Examples of Predicates

At the heart of every predicate is a verb. In each example below, the verb in the predicate is shown in bold.
  • True friends appear less moved than counterfeit. (Greek philosopher Homer)
  • Words empty as the wind are best left unsaid. (Homer)
  • People can come up with statistics to prove anything. Forty percent of all people know that. (Homer Simpson)
  • With $10,000, we would be millionaires! We could buy all kinds of useful things like … love. (Homer)
predicate of a sentence

Quick Video

Here is a video summarizing this lesson on the term "predicate":

More about Predicates

A clause contains a subject and predicate too. The examples below are all clauses not sentences.
  • who lives with our mother
  • (The subject is "who.")
  • which was somewhat unexpected
  • (The subject is "which.")
  • that points to the North Pole
  • (The subject is that.)
Spotting predicates can get quite complicated because it's not uncommon for a clause with its own predicate to feature within a sentence-level predicate.
  • Jane is my youngest sister, who lives with our mother.
  • (Look at the clause "who lives with our mother." It has its own subject ("who") and its own predicate ("lives with our mother"). The clause is part of the longer sentence-level predicate.)

Some Common Predicate-related Terminology

If you find yourself discussing predicates, it won't be too long before you come across these terms: Let's look at them one at a time.

Compound Predicate

A compound predicate tells us two (or more) things about the same subject (without repeating the subject).

This is a simple predicate:
  • Rachel lives in Dublin.
  • (This tell us just one thing about the subject ("Rachel"). This is not a compound predicate.)
These are examples of compound predicates:
  • Rachel lives in Dublin and speaks Irish.
  • (This tell us two things about the subject ("Rachel").)
  • The telegram was late but contained exciting news.
  • They need to absorb nitrogen and keep above 20 degrees.
Remember that a compound predicate tells us at least two things about one subject. So, the following sentence is not an example of a compound predicate:
  • Rachel lives in Dublin, and she speaks Irish.
  • (This is a compound sentence. It has two subjects ("Rachel" and "she"). Each subject has one simple predicate.)
  • Rachel and her brother live in Dublin and speak Irish.
  • (The predicate tells us two things about the subject ("Rachel and her brother"). Even though it has two elements, this is one subject. It is called a compound subject.)

Predicate Adjective

A predicate adjective is an adjective that describes the subject of a linking verb. (The linking verbs are divided into the "status" verbs (e.g., "to be," "to appear," "to become," "to continue," "to seem," "to turn") and the "sense" verbs (e.g., "to feel," "to look," "to smell," "to taste," "to sound").

Read more about linking verbs.

In each example, the predicate adjective is in bold.
  • Your proposal was risky.
  • (The linking verb is "was.")
  • No one is happy all his life long. (Greek actor-tragedian Euripides)
  • (The linking verb is "is.")
  • Sometimes, only one person is missing, and the whole world seems depopulated. (French writer Alphonse de Lamartine)
  • (The linking verbs are "is" and "seems.")
  • I feel beautiful when my makeup looks great. (Senegalese model Khoudia Diop)
  • (The linking verbs are "feel" and "looks.")

Predicate Nominative

A predicate nominative (also called a "predicate noun") is a word or group of words that completes a linking verb and renames the subject. (A predicate nominative is always a noun or a pronoun.)

In each example, the predicate nominative is in bold.
  • Your proposal was a risk.
  • (The linking verb is "was.")
  • Diamonds are a girl's best friend, and dogs are a man's best friend. Now you know which sex has more sense. (Actress Zsa Zsa Gabor)
  • (In both cases, the linking verbs are are. Note that a predicate nominative is often a noun phrase, i.e., a noun made up of more than one word.)
  • I could have been a contender. I could have been somebody. (Actor Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy in the 1954 film "On the Waterfront")
  • (In both cases, the linking verbs are "could have been." Note that a linking verb can include auxiliary verbs too.)
A predicate nominative can be made up of more than one noun. In other words, it can be a compound predicate nominative.
  • Your proposal was an opportunity and a risk.
  • ("An opportunity and a risk" is a compound predicate nominative.)
  • I will be your employer, your advisor and your friend.
  • ("Your employer, your advisor and your friend" is a compound predicate nominative.)
Predicate nominatives and predicate adjectives are known as subject complements.

Why Should I Care about Predicates?

Jeepers, that's a lot of terminology to describe how we construct sentences, especially as we can all do it on autopilot. Right now, you're probably thinking that you don't need to know about predicates. But, actually, there are two good reasons to learn about predicates.

(Reason 1) Be clear on when to use a comma before "and."

Writers often ask whether they need a comma before "and." (The answer applies equally to other conjunctions like "but" and "or.") A big part of the answer to this question relates to compound predicates. Look at these two correctly punctuated sentences:
  • John is smart and articulate.
  • John is smart, and he is articulate.
Here's the rule: When "and" joins two independent clauses (i.e., clauses that could stand alone as sentences), use a comma.

Let's examine the first example. It may well have a compound predicate adjective that tells use two things about the subject ("John"), but the first example is a simple sentence (i.e., it has just one independent clause). That's why there's no comma before "and."

The second example is a compound sentence. It has two independent clauses. Either clause could stand alone as a sentence. That's why there's a comma before "and." So, when "and" is used to merge two "sentences" into one, use a comma. When "and" is used to make two points about the same subject (i.e., when it's just a compound predicate), don't. Here are three real-life examples:
  • The British constitution has always been puzzling and always will be. (Queen Elizabeth II)
  • (This is a compound predicate. It tells us two things about the "British constitution," but it's just one "sentence" (independent clause).)
  • I have the heart of a man, and I am not afraid of anything. (Queen Elizabeth I)
  • (This is a compound sentence. The "and" merges two "sentences" (independent clauses). That's why there's a comma.)
  • My husband has been my strength and stay all these years, and I owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim. (Queen Elizabeth II)
  • (This is a compound sentence. The first "and" joins two parts of a compound predicate nominative (hence no comma), but the second "and" merges two "sentences" (hence the comma). Get it?)

(Reason 2) Don't use an adverb when you need a predicate adjective.

The sentences below are both correct. The two verbs (in bold) are linking verbs and "brilliant," in both cases, is a predicate adjective.
  • The soup is brilliant.
  • The soup looks brilliant.
With some linking verbs, however, writers feel a compulsion to use an adverb because they know that adverbs, not adjectives, modify verbs. Using an adverb to complete a linking verb is a mistake. After any linking verb, the subject complement modifies the subject (here, "the soup") not the verb (here, "tastes").
  • The soup tastes brilliantly.
This is an understandable mistake. An adverb is correct when the verb is not a linking verb.
  • The soup works brilliantly.
Incorrectly using an adverb occurs most commonly with the "sense" linking verbs, especially "to feel" and "to smell."
  • Don't feel badly.
  • (This should be "bad.")
  • His breath smells terribly.
  • (This should be "terrible.")
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

What is a clause? What is a subject? What is a sentence? What is a predicate adjective? Glossary of grammatical terms