English Grammar Review
Sentences and Choices

Sentence Parts

This is a lesson about the vocabulary of sentence grammar, especially the four most important words: subject, predicate, complement, and object.

In summary, a sentence has a subject and a predicate, and that predicate often has a complement, and that complement can sometimes be an object.

Note: Three of the four words have to do with the action in each sentence. That is the stuff that readers want to read. Writing that focuses exclusively on subjects is little more than a list.

Every complete sentence has two parts: a subject and a predicate.

This can be interpreted two ways:

(1) The structural view: All the words in every complete sentence are either in the subject part of the sentence or in the predicate part of the sentence.

You won.

Your proposal won the contract.

The proposal you submitted last month won the contract for the project in Karachi.

(2) The narrative view: Every complete sentence must have an actor and an action, usually a noun and a verb.

You won.

Your proposal won the contract.

The proposal you submitted last month won the contract for the project in Karachi.

Most writing teachers talk about the narrative view. When they say subject, they are talking about the actor, often a single noun or pronoun. When they say predicate, they are talking about the action, often a single verb.

Also, in the nomenclature of English grammar, the phrase complete predicate corresponds to the structural view, and the phrase simple predicate corresponds to the narrative view.

We can be more specific and descriptive in our definitions of these two words:

subject = A word, phrase, or clause that names the person, place, or thing that the predicate talks about.

predicate = The part of a sentence that:
(1) tells what the subject does, or
(2) tells what is done to the subject, or
(3) tells what state of being the subject is in.

A complement is something that completes the action of the verb:

Hakim built ____.

A complement can be considered anything that answers the question What? after a verb.

This brings up the topic of transitive and intransitive verbs. These are based on the Latin word trans, a preposition that meant "across." When we use a transitive verb, the action by the actor must be carried across the verb to a complement that completes the action.

Hakim built prototypes.

Intransitive verbs do not need to carry any meaning across to a complement.

Yasmin arrived.

Transitive verbs have a special type of complement: the object.

Hakim built prototypes.

The object can be a word, a phrase, or a clause.

Hakim needs a new computer. [word]

Hakim prefers to work in a team. [infinitive phrase]

Hakim understood that the team was not yet formed. [clause]

All of the objects in these examples are direct objects; they are directly affected by the action of the verb.

Indirect objects are indirectly affected. They are often presented as the object of prepositions to or for.

Hakim built a prototype for me.

Another type of verb, the linking verb, also requires a complement to answer the question What? after the verb.

Farida is ____.

They seem ____.

Most linking verbs are verbs of being. Examples:

is . are . was . were . will be . has been . could be

Other common linking verbs are descriptive. Examples:

appear . become . look . seem

Complements for linking verbs are usually nouns, pronouns, or adjectives.

Farida is our accountant.
[another way to identify the subject]

They seem productive.
[describes the subject]

Complements after linking verbs have names like predicate noun, predicate pronoun, predicate complement, subject complement, and predicate nominative. If you don't need to be a scholar of English grammer, there is little reason to memorize them.

Lesson: Sentence Parts
Module: Sentences and Choices
Course: English Grammar Review