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The Parts Of A Sentence

Updated on July 2, 2014

What are the various parts of a sentence?

In our previous lesson on sentences, we took a look at what a sentence is and the types of sentences that we have in the English language.

In today’s lesson we are going to take a look at the various parts of a sentence. But before we delve into that, let us do a little bit of a recap of our previous lesson by getting to know once more the definition of a sentence.

A sentence is defined as a group of words containing a subject and a verb and which makes sense.

This means that a single word can never pass as a sentence. The definition also makes it clear that even if you have a group of words that does not make sense, then you still do not have a sentence.

A sentence must make perfect sense.


Parts of a sentence

All sentences have the following parts:

  • Subject
  • Predicate

Every sentence is made up of a subject and a predicate. It is impossible to have a sentence without a subject and a predicate.

So what is the subject of a sentence and what is the predicate of a sentence? Let us look at the answers to these questions below.


The subject of a sentence

The subject of a sentence is defined as the thing that the entire sentence focuses on. Others define a subject as the thing which is spoken of in the sentence.

The subject of a sentence can either be a single word or a group of words. Subjects of sentences are always nouns, words that are equivalent to nouns, or pronouns.

A subject can be any of the following:

  • A subject can be a single word. Example: Children like it. (The noun “children” is the subject of the sentence)
  • A subject can be a noun phrase: Example: The boys in my class hate the teacher. (The noun phrase “The boys in my class” is the subject of the sentence)
  • A subject can be a noun clause: Example: What the boys are doing seems foolish. (The noun clause “What the farmer is doing” is the subject of the sentence)
  • A subject can be a pronoun: Example: She likes the child. (The pronoun “she” is the subject of the sentence)
  • A subject can be a proper noun: Example: London is a beautiful city. (The proper noun “London” is the subject of the sentence)

From the examples above, you can clearly see that the highlighted words and groups of words are functioning as subjects in their respective sentences simply because they are the ones being spoken of. They are the ones that their respective sentences focus on.

NOTE: Subjects normally come before the main verbs of the sentence. As you can see from the examples above, all our subjects have verbs coming after them.

WARNING: Some writers are fond of referring to the subject of a sentence as the noun or pronoun in the sentence that is performing the action. So they define the subject as the doer in the sentence. While this definition is true, it is only true to a certain degree simply because not all subjects of sentences perform actions.

Example:

John is happy

We notice easily from the example above that John is the subject of the sentence. But we also notice that although John is the subject of the sentence, he is performing no action.

This is the reason why I say the definition of a subject being “the doer in the sentence” is a very weak and incomplete definition. It needs more flesh to be added to it.

The best definition of a subject should be something like this:

A subject is the noun, noun phrase, noun clause, or pronoun that usually comes before the main verb and performs the action of the verb in the sentence or about which something is said.

Examples:

  • Janet kicked the ball. (Janet is the subject because it comes before the main verb “kicked” and is performing the action of the verb)
  • Africa is a lovely continent. (Africa is the subject of the sentence because it comes before the main verb “is” and is the one which something is said about)

How to find the subject of a sentence

A lot of times people find it quite difficult finding the subject of a sentence because it is not all the time that the subject of a sentence is very obvious. At this point, I'm going to take a moment to show you how to go about easily finding the subject of a sentence. Correctly locating or identifying the subject of a sentence is an extremely important thing as it can help you in numerous ways – especially when it comes to the issue of subject-verb agreement, which we will look at in another lesson.

According to grammarians, one of the best ways to find the subject of a sentence is to first of all find the main verb of the sentence.

All you need to do is to look carefully at the sentence and pick out the main verb. Once you have done this, the next thing you do is to ask the question “who?” or “what?” before the verb. The answer will end up being your subject.

Let us take an example:

John is the one responsible for the problem.

We can simply find the subject of the sentence above by asking the question “who?” or “what?” before the verb “is”.

Let us give it a try: The verb in the sentence above is “is”. We therefore ask “who is?” And the answer is John. John is the subject.

This trick is very useful for cases where the subject is a little bit difficult to fish out. For example:

There they sat until nightfall.

The verb in the sentence is “sat”. We ask the question: “who sat?” The answer is “we”. And “we” is our subject.

Now that we know what a subject of a sentence is and how to go about finding the subject of a sentence, let us now turn our attention to the part 2 of this lesson, which is the Predicate of a sentence.


What is the predicate of a sentence?

The predicate of a sentence can be defined as the part of the sentence which says something about the subject of the sentence.

Some also define the predicate of a sentence as the part of a sentence that is not part of a subject of the sentence.

Personally, I prefer the definition which says of a predicate as the part of the sentence which tells us something about the subject.

The predicate of a sentence is always made up of a verb plus any other additional word(s) after the verb.

Thus in the sentence – The boy was sad because he failed to pass the exams, the predicate of the sentence is “was sad because he failed to pass the exams”. The reason this is the predicate of the sentence above is simply because it is telling something about the subject “boy”. You notice that the predicate is made up of a verb in combination with other words.

But a predicate can also be made up just a verb if there are no other words coming after the verb. A good example is the sentence below:

Jesus wept.

The predicate of the sentence above is the verb “wept”.

NOTE: A predicate always contains at least a verb.

In the following examples, the highlighted groups of words are all predicates of their respective sentences:

  • I lied to the teacher because I did not want to be punished.
  • The teacher has gone abroad.
  • I think I love you.
  • They think they know us.
  • The man slept like a log.
  • English language is quite interesting.
  • Birds fly.

This is where I bring my lesson on the parts of sentences to an end. If you have thoroughly understood this lesson, then I suggest you try your hands on the exercise below.


Short exercise on subjects and predicates

Try your hands on this exercise and see whether you can identify the subjects and the predicates in the sentences below:

  1. Going to school late is not a good habit.
  2. To err is human.
  3. The man has paid all the money.
  4. That John will come today is likely.
  5. I hated you from the very first time I set my eyes on you.
  6. Do you love me?
  7. Killing is a crime that can land you in jail for the rest of your life.
  8. Give me the money now!
  9. Love is such a beautiful thing.
  10. The disgraced politician has committed suicide.

© 2014 myvenn

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