English basics lesson: Subjects and predicates

Welcome to Kaplan’s English basics lessons! In these tutorials, we’ll walk you through the basics of the language’s grammar and get you speaking real, conversational English as soon as possible. This week, we will cover the basics of how to build a declarative sentence in English. Let's start by looking at its basic components.

 

Parts of a sentence

Even the smallest sentences in the English language must contain two components to be grammatically correct: a subject phrase and a predicate. Both subject phrases and predicates are abstract grammatical structures, and can contain just one, or very many words (or sometimes none at all!). Let’s take a look at a brief description of each, as well as some examples.

 

Subject phrase

The subject describes the ‘agent’ or ‘theme’ of a sentence, usually in the form of a person, place or thing. It can take the form of a single noun, or an entire string of nouns, verbs and adjectives, and typically precedes the main verb of a sentence. The subject can be complex or simple. For example:

I like soup.

Ben ate the apple.

My name is Raphael.

The man sitting over there is reading a newspaper.

The world’s foremost expert on volcanoes, who is currently on a research trip in South Korea, disputed the claims that Godzilla was the cause of the damage to Tokyo.

It is important to remember that although a subject can be implied in a sentence, it is always present as an abstract grammatical structure. An example of this is in imperative sentences – sentences that give orders or instructions:

Go now!

Run!

Please, eat!

In these cases, the subject is not spoken, but it is implied by the context of the conversation. In all of these sentences, the subject is "you".

 

Predicates

Predicates describe, or give further information about, the subject of the sentence. They always contain a verb phrase, and sometimes include object phrases, adjective phrases, adverb phrases and/or prepositional phrases.

First, let’s see some examples of predicates with just a verb:

Eric ran.

Brian dances.

Next, we can see some predicates that contain a verb and an object phrase:

Sheila fixed the car.

He ate the pizza.

Georgina gave the ring to Charlotte.

Here are some predicates that contain a verb and a prepositional phrase:

I ate sushi yesterday.

Jonathon ran out the door.

Amy slept under the stars.

 

Exercise

Look at the five sentences below. Which is the entire subject phrase and which is the predicate?

1. Jimmy likes elephants.

2. The girl drank a glass of water.

3. The big green bicycle lay broken on the floor.

4. My favorite book is The Wind in the Willows.

5. Kerry’s mother’s cat was asleep on the rug.

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