What’s wrong with the following sentences?
- During the days immediately after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the American people.
- Were overcome with feelings of grief, sadness, anger, and fear.
The answer is that neither one of them is a complete sentence. The first one is a subject. It names who is being written about, “the American people.” The rest of the words in that noun phrase give more information about “the American people.” The entire phrase is the subject.
The second phrase is a predicate. It tells what the subject does or its state of being. It contains a verb phrase, “were overcome,” along with additional words to clarify the verb phrase. The verb phrase and the additional words form the predicate.
If the subject and the predicate are placed together, a full sentence is formed:
During the days immediately after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the American people were overcome with feelings of grief, sadness, anger, and fear.
Every well-written sentence must contain a subject and a predicate.
A subject may be composed of one word or it may be a phrase, as in the one above. The following are further examples of subjects:
- The United States Navy
- A man named Mr. Jones
- Thomas Jefferson and John Adams
- All of the seventh graders in the school
- People who live in technologically advanced countries
- The latest generation of cell phones
- New York City
Each one of those subjects names a person, place, thing, or idea. Some of them are singular, meaning they name one person, place, thing, or idea. Others name plural subjects. Notice that each of the last three subjects is composed of a single noun.
The following are examples of predicates:
- is expanding at a rapid pace.
- were instrumental in leading the Thirteen Colonies to independence from England.
- failed the test.
- do not always understand the problems of those who live in poverty abroad.
- is capable of truly amazing things.
- is sometimes referred to as the capital of the world.
- appears to be elusive throughout the world.
- ate too much for dinner.
- is unhappy.
Notice that a predicate may be a single word, a verb, as in number two.
If you link Subject Number One with Predicate Number One, Subject Number Two with Predicate Number Two, and so on, you will create full sentences. You might even link differently numbered subjects and predicates. Some of them will form correct sentences, and others will not make sense or they will not be correct in terms of number or tense.
The set of rules in reference to subjects and predicates can summarized as follows:
- Every sentence must have a subject and a predicate.
- A subject is a noun or a noun phrase. It identifies the person(s), place(s), thing(s), or idea(s) that the sentence is about.
- A predicate is a verb or a verb phrase. It explains what the subject is doing or its state of being.
That’s the subject and the predicate.