Predicates: What are Predicates?

By Carly Forsaith, updated on March 8, 2023

Predicates are a major sentence building block, so it’s useful to know what they look like and how they are built, as it will help you create quality sentences. In this article, you’ll learn all about predicates.

In short:

A predicate is the part of the sentence that describes the action and doesn’t include the subject or any of the subject’s modifiers.

This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.

What Are Predicates?

Sentences have two parts: the subject and the predicate. The subject part contains the subject itself and any determiners and modifiers related to it. The predicate contains the verb and all the words associated with the action that the verb implies. This is illustrated in the following sentence, where the complete subject is in bold and the predicate is underlined.

The children are playing in the park.

In the above example, the predicate explains what the subject does and where it does it. In a longer sentence, the predicate might also explain how the subject does it.

For instance:

The children are playing enthusiastically in the park.

The addition of the adverb 'enthusiastically' enables the predicate to give some extra information on the action the subject is performing.

What if the adverb was instead used as an adjective and placed before 'children'? It would then become part of the subject because, remember, adjectives modify nouns (here, the subject is the noun 'children'), and adverbs modify verbs (verbs describe the action, so they are always part of the predicate). And the sentence would look like this:

The enthusiastic children are playing in the park.

Now let's look at the different types of a predicate.

Simple and Complete Predicates

Complete predicates are what I described above: everything except the subject and the words that relate to the subject. Sometimes, though, you might hear the term 'simple predicate,' and what that refers to is simply the verb. Let's look at an example sentence by way of illustration.

You put the book on your bedside table.

Simple predicate: 'put'

Complete predicate: 'put the book on your bedside table'

Here's another example:

My car broke down last night.

Simple predicate: 'broke down'

Complete predicate: 'broke down last night'

Note that in that second example, the simple predicate is the phrasal verb 'broke down': a verb made up of two words.

Here's one more:

A smaller car would have been cheaper.

Simple predicate: 'would have been'

Complete predicate: 'would have been cheaper'

In the above example, the simple predicate consists of three words because they make up the verb phrase. The verb isn't just 'would' or 'have' or 'been'; it's 'would have been.'

Sometimes, a sentence might only have a simple predicate, or simply put, the only word in the predicate is the verb.

I laughed.

Simple predicate: 'laughed'

Complete predicate: 'laughed'

As all of these examples demonstrate, the simple predicate is just the verb, and the complete predicate is all the words in the sentence except the subject (and the subject modifiers).

Compound Predicates

When a sentence contains compound predicates, it means there are two or more verbs that relate to the same subject.

The little bird launches from the nest and flies off.

The above sentence shows two predicates connected by the conjunction 'and.' The two verbs 'launches' and 'flies' both relate to the subject 'the little bird.' This is a sentence with a compound predicate.

Be careful not to confuse a compound predicate with a compound sentence. Compound sentences contain two separate predicates that relate to different subjects. The following is an example of a compound sentence, not a compound predicate:

The dog barks every time the postman approaches the house.

As you can see, there are two subjects, 'the dog' and 'the postman,' and a predicate for each subject. The fact there are two different subjects makes it not a compound predicate.

Let's have a look at some more examples of compound predicates.

The angry man stormed out and slammed the door.

They agreed to have lunch and talk business.

My sister and I will drive over and drop everything off.

Different Elements of a Predicate

Within a predicate, you can find many different kinds of words; almost any part of speech, in fact. But the two unexpected ones are nouns and adjectives. That's because subjects tend to be nouns, and adjectives modify nouns, so you'd expect to find both of those in the subject part of the sentence, not the predicate.

However, there are some instances where you will find them in the predicate, and that's what we'll go over now.

Predicate Adjectives

A predicate adjective is pretty easy to spot because it follows a linking verb. As a reminder, linking verbs describe the quality of the subject rather than express an action. As you can tell from that definition, linking verbs are pretty descriptive, so it makes sense that they'd be paired with an adjective. Here are some examples of linking verbs:

  • seem
  • sound
  • feel
  • become
  • be
  • look

Because predicate adjectives follow a verb, they find themselves in the predicate part of the sentence. Let's take a look at some sentences that contains a predicate adjective (underlined).

He seems sad.

Their dinner party was amazing.

You look fabulous.

You can also use adjective phrases as predicate adjectives, that is, pairs of adjectives. For example:

You look absolutely fabulous.

The difference between a predicate adjective and a regular adjective (known as an attributive adjective) is that the latter is found right next to the noun. To illustrate:

The cat is hungry(predicate adjective)

The hungry cat paces near its food bowl. (attributive adjective)

Using Participles as Adjectives

There's a particular subset of adjectives called participles, and like regular adjectives, they can also take on the role of a predicate adjective. There are present participles and past participles. They must also follow a linking verb to qualify as a predicate adjective; otherwise, they're attributive adjectives.

Here are some examples of participles as predicate adjectives:

The water feels freezing(present participle)

The cake smells burnt(past participle)

Predicate Nominatives

Predicate nominatives are nouns or pronouns that come after a linking verb. In that way, they're similar to predicate adjectives, but instead of describing the subject, they rename the subject. What does that mean? It means the predicate nominative is just another way of saying the same thing as the subject.

For instance, in the sentence "David is a man," 'David' and 'man' refer to the same person and can technically be used interchangeably. Case in point, you could say, "That man is David."

Let's have a look at some sentences that contain predicate nominatives (underlined):

He is a traitor.

She then became queen.

We were best friends.

Notice how in the final example, there's a predicate adjective ('best') and a predicate nominative ('friends').

You can also get compound predicate nouns. That's when there are two nouns in the predicate part of the sentence:

It's both a pro and a con.

I can't be your boss and your friend.

The specialties today are fondue and crayfish.

Where To Place The Predicate In Different Types Of Sentences

So far, spotting a predicate seems fairly straightforward. You've got the subject and its modifiers first, and then the predicate follows. Right? Well, yes. But that's only part of the story. As sentences get more complex, or as different types of sentences are used, things get more complicated.

I'm going to go over each type of sentence and show you where the predicate would normally be placed. We'll take it one step at a time, starting with the most straightforward one.

Declarative Sentences

Declarative sentences are sort of the default kind of sentence. That was a declarative sentence. So was that. So was that. You get the picture. They don't ask a question, and they don't give an order, they just... are. They give information or state a fact.

The structure of a standard declarative sentence goes like this:

complete subject + complete predicate

Humpty Dumpty + sat on a wall.

Sometimes, however, you might start your sentence with a prepositional phrase that describes the action. Therefore, technically is part of the predicate but is placed before the subject.

For example:

At six o'clock this morning, Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.

Humpty Dumpty is the subject, and everything else is the predicate.

Or, when a sentence has more than one clause, you might see a subject followed by a predicate and then another subject and another predicate, for example. But overall, the structure remains the same.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall and the soldiers found him shattered on the floor.

Imperative Sentences

Imperative sentences are interesting to look at here because they don't have a subject. The subject is implied and is usually the second person singular or plural: 'you.' The imperative mood is a way to give a command or an order or make a request.

Let's take a look at a few examples.

Please be ready when we arrive.

Keep your hands to yourself!

Don't be late.

In the above sentences, since the subject is implied, it is left out, meaning that all that's left is the predicate.

Interrogative Sentences

Interrogative sentences ask a question. This is where the order of things gets a little jumbled up because the subject no longer comes at the beginning of the sentence. First, there'll be an interrogative pronoun and/or auxiliary verb. The structure of a simple interrogative sentence will look something like this:

auxiliary verb + complete subject + predicate

Do + you + want to go shopping? 


interrogative pronoun + auxiliary verb + complete subject + predicate

Why did you go shopping?

Examples of Predicates in a Sentence

That pretty much sums it up. You now have all the basic knowledge you need to know what a predicate is and how to spot one in a sentence. To round up everything we've learned, I'm going to show you some sentences and point out the predicate in each one.

We are so excited about our new place!

subject: we
simple predicate: are
complete predicate: are so excited about our new place

Are you going to the high school reunion?

subject: you
simple predicate: going
complete predicate: going to the high school reunion

Allow me a few days to settle in.

subject: you (implied)
simple predicate: allow
complete predicate: allow me a few days to settle in

The snowy fields look very appealing this morning.

subject: the snowy fields
simple predicate: look
complete predicate: look very appealing this morning

Concluding Thoughts on Predicates

Well, that pretty much sums it up. You have everything you need now to go out into the world and master predicates if you hadn't already. I hope you found this helpful.

Let's sum up what we've learned:

  • Predicates are one of two major elements of sentence structure.
  • The predicate explains what the subject does and can also tell us where and how it's done.
  • There are simple, complete, and compound predicates.
  • Typically, the subject comes first and the predicate second, but this can vary slightly depending on the type of sentence.

If you found this article helpful and would like to learn about more grammar, head to our Grammar Book, which is full of free, in-depth articles about various grammatical concepts.

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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