Predicate Nominative

by Craig Shrives

What Is a Predicate Nominative? (with Examples)

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

Examples of Predicate Nominatives

In the examples below, the linking verbs are in bold and the predicate nominatives are shaded.
  • John was a policeman.

  • A dog is man's best friend.
  • (A predicate nominative can also be a noun phrase, i.e., a noun made up of more than one word.)

  • She will be the fairy.
  • (A linking verb can consist 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")
  • (A linking verb can include auxiliary verbs too.)
Here is a video summarizing this lesson on predicate nominatives.

Predicate Nominatives versus Predicate Adjectives

Not everything that follows a linking verb is a predicate nominative. Remember that a predicate nominative is a noun (or a pronoun) that renames the subject. Let's take a closer look at linking verbs. The linking verbs include the following:
  • The verb to be (in its various forms, e.g., am, are, is, was, were, will be, has been, have been).
  • The "sense" verbs (e.g., to feel, to look, to smell, to taste, to sound).
  • The "status" verbs (e.g., to appear, to become, to continue, to grow, to seem, to turn).
You will notice that lots of these linking verbs will typically be followed by adjectives that describe the subject. For example:
  • John is brilliant.
  • (The adjective brilliant is a predicate adjective not a predicate nominative. Of note, predicate adjectives and predicate nominatives are classified as subject complements, but they are not the same.)

  • It feels great.
  • (The adjective great is a predicate adjective not a predicate nominative.)
Now compare these two examples:
  • The sea is dangerous.
  • (The adjective dangerous is a predicate adjective not a predicate nominative.)

  • The sea is a danger.
  • (The noun a danger is a predicate nominative.)
predicate nominative

What Is a Compound Predicate Nominative?

A predicate nominative can be made up of more than one noun. In other words, it can be a compound. For example:
  • The new law is an opportunity and a risk.
  • (An opportunity and a risk is a compound predicate nominative.)

  • I will be your employer, your friend, and your uncle.
  • (Your employer, your friend, and your uncle is a compound predicate nominative.)
By far the most common question related to predicate nominatives is whether to say "It was me" or "It was I." Here's the quick answer. Both are correct.

"It was me" is what everyone says (and so is acceptable through common usage). "It was I" fits the ruling that predicate nominatives are in the subjective case (aka the nominative case).

However, for many people, the so-called correct version ("It was I") sounds pretentious or wrong. Here's the final advice: If you're speaking, do what comes naturally to you. If you're writing, restructure your sentence to avoid both versions.
  • I was the one.
  • (The context of whatever you're writing will likely lend itself to a better option than this one.)
Read more about subject complements.

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