Subject and Predicate

The subject is the person, place, or thing that is the topic of the sentence. The predicate is what is said about the subject.



The balloon

floated up through the trees.

New York City

is a major cultural center.

The zoo worker

was attacked by a tiger.

In most cases, as in the preceding examples, the subject of a sentence comes first, followed by the predicate. However, there are instances when the subject is placed after the predicate, omitted from the sentence, or placed inside the verb.

    • Into the valley of death rode the six hundred. (subject follows the predicate)
    • Wash the car by tonight. (subject you is understood)
    • Are your parents coming tomorrow? (subject is placed inside the verb)
    • There are three ships coming into the bay. (There occupies the place of the subject, but three ships is still the subject of the sentence.)

Forms of the Subject

The most common forms of the subject are nouns, pronouns, and proper nouns.

    • The stock market is strong right now.
    • Why don’t you pick up some lettuce for tonight?
    • Carol almost flunked algebra this semester.

At times, noun phrases and clauses, gerunds and gerund phrases, and infinitive phrases can also function as the subject.

Noun phrase:

The girl on the swing is my niece.

Noun clause:

What they said isn’t true.


Swimming is a major Olympic sport.

Gerund phrase:

Playing chess kept him occupied for hours.

Infinitive phrase:

To see clearly is an artist’s greatest task.

Complete Subject. The noun or pronoun and all its modifiers are known as the complete subject.

    • The ship in the harbor seemed small and frail.
    • What he said in the car surprised us all.
    • The trees, which had been damaged in the storm, were cut down the next day.

Simple and Compound Subjects. The noun or pronoun is known as the simple subject. It is important to identify the subject because it controls the form of the verb used in the sentence.

    • The ship in the harbor seemed small and frail.
    • Daffodils open in early spring.
    • The trees, which had been damaged in the storm, were cut down the next day.

The compound subject is composed of two or more nouns, pronouns, or phrases or clauses to express the topic of a sentence.


The Democrats and Republicans fought a bitter campaign.


She and I used to be best friends.

Noun clauses:

What he wanted and what he got were two different things.

Gerund phrases:

Working at home and commuting electronically are more popular now.

Forms of the Predicate

The predicate always contains a verb. An action verb generally will have an object as well as various verb modifiers. A linking verb will have a complement along with its verb modifiers. Thus, the predicate usually is composed of a verb, object or complement, and verb modifiers.

Predicate with Action Verbs. The most common form of predicate is one in which the verb describes some sort of action. The verb is followed by a direct object (DO) and, in some cases, by an indirect object (IO).

    • Indiana Jones sent his partner (IO) the secret code (DO).
    • I brought four sandwiches and one pizza.
    • Michael Phelps won six gold medals (DO) in the 2004 summer Olympics.
    • She gave him (IO) a rose (DO)
      Note: the object of a preposition is never an indirect object.
    • She gave a rose (DO) to him (O OF PREP).

Some action verbs can drop their objects and still make sense. The predicate then consists of the verb only.

    • They have been practicing.
    • We were reading.
    • The reporter disappeared.
    • The weather changed.

Action verbs can also take complements. Nouns, pronouns, prepositional phrases, adjectives, and verb phrases can serve as complements in the predicate.

    • He taught the dog to roll over. (The infinitive phrase to roll over is the complement.)
    • I called him a prince. (The noun prince is the complement.)
    • They made camp on the hill. (The prepositional phrase on the hill is the complement.)
    • She acted her part beautifully. (The adverb beautifully is the complement.)
    • We saw the tornado heading this way. (The participial phrase heading this way is the complement.)
    • She lay down in the tall grass. (The adverb down and the prepositional phrase in the tall grass are the complement and indicate direction and location.)

Predicate with Linking Verbs. Linking verbs that express being, seeming, or becoming need a predicate adjective or verb complement to complete them. The more common of these verbs include seem, become, grow, taste, smell, appear, look, feel, and sound.

    • He seems nervous. (He seems is incomplete. The adjective nervous acts as the predicate adjective.)
    • I feel that you should apologize for your outburst. (The noun clause that you should apologize for your outburst is the verb complement.)

Compound Predicate. At times a sentence will contain more than one verb, object, or complement. These structures are known as compound verbs, compound objects, and compound complements.

    • The rookie hits and fields like Ichiro Suzuki. (Two verbs function as the compound verb.)
    • I gave away my coat and boots. (The two nouns coat and boots serve as the compound direct object of the verb gave.)
    • Mark’s first week abroad was long and lonely. (The two adjectives long and lonely are the compound complement.)